Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Melissa E. Sanchez


Studies on the traffic in women have usefully illuminated the ways in which women function as objects under patriarchy; this dissertation expands that paradigm to address trafficking women — women who operate as agents, rather than objects, of exchange. The female protagonists of the plays I examine — William Shakespeare's Hamlet (1603/1604) and All's Well That Ends Well(1623), Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe's Dido, Queen of Carthage (1594), and the anonymous Arden of Faversham (1592) — deliberately pursue relationships with men and other women to bring themselves financial and social benefit. In attending to the ways in which women are imagined to befriend, love, or lust after men and women, I focus on how women achieve and seek to achieve those affective aims, noting the key role that money and class play in enabling women to get what they want. What these women want, I argue, has not always fit comfortably with what certain strands of feminist criticism have wanted women to want. In particular, analysis guided by tenets of cultural feminism, which tends to read women as driven by desires to form close interpersonal relationships marked by egalitarianism and warmth, has stopped us from seeing these women as fully rational and has shifted attention away from the economic and political underpinnings of their affective ties. In my analysis of Hamlet and Dido, for example, I break from a tradition that has framed discussions of female rulers in terms of the queen's private feelings rather than public concerns, highlighting the ways in which both Gertrude and Dido exert not just sexual but also political agency. While gender is my primary category of analysis, this dissertation attests to the ways in which social class presents an equally if not more powerful force in structuring imaginative possibilities for the men and women of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage. This is particularly clear in drama that depicts the middle-class domicile and its master, mistress and servant relationships. In All's Well, Helena's ability to achieve her desires, in contrast to Diana's almost certain failure to do the same, or, in Arden, Susan's inability to be innocent in Alice's crime exposes the limits of using female agency as a proxy for gender or social parity, for, as all the plays I examine demonstrate, personal agency invariably comes at the literal and figurative expense of others. Through analysis of these plays and other contemporary writings, this dissertation shows how early modern women are variously imagined not only to resist but also consciously to participate in, benefit from, and perpetuate gendered, economic, and social hierarchies.