Emergent Identity Masculinity and the Representation of Rape on the Early Modern Stage, 1590-1620


Emergent Identity Masculinity and the Representation of Rape on the Early Modern Stage, 1590-1620

By Andrew Bretz

PhD Dissertation, University of Guelph, 2012

Abstract: This thesis is an investigation of the representation of the figure of the man who raped on the early modern stage. The early modern “man who raped” must be distinguished from the modern term “rapist” insofar as the modern term ascribes an ontological or sociological position to the individual male that was alien to the early modern world view. The shifting value of “rape” in the early modern period presaged more modern conceptions of rape as “an experience imposed on an embodied subject, a violent sexual assault that in its corporal nature destabilizes the intersubjective personhood of the victim”. As such, the shifting values of the term also prefigured more modern conceptions of masculinity and the successful performance of masculine values.




The figure of the man who raped on the early modern English stage often was not merely the monster against which successful forms of masculine behaviour could be contrasted – often such characters found a sympathetic audience. And often, that audience was encouraged and directed through paratextual and dramaturgical devices to see themselves in and identify with the man who raped, for he could be redeemed. This thesis uses the lens of the Roman play to investigate sexual assault because Roman plays clarified masculine ideals for the early moderns; Rome, civilization, manliness, stoic self-control and virtus on the early modern stage were all coincident terms that articulated sexual difference and therefore the construction of the male subject (Kahn 15). The first section looks extensively at the English inheritance of Roman and Anglo-Saxon laws on sexual assault, while the subsequent chapters turn to early modern drama more closely. The plays under study are Marston’s Wonder of Women, Heywood’s Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Middleton’s Hengist, King of Kent, and Fletcher’s Bonduca.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Guelph

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