Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Melissa E. Sanchez


This project reassesses the political configuration of poor women’s agency in early modern English culture. It examines the dramatic representation of women whose virtue was always in question: poor women, low-rank maidservants, sex workers, and “masterless women.” It argues that literary representations of poor women’s agency illuminate the gendered, racial, and colonial logics of England’s socio-political hierarchies. Playwrights depict poor women as political actors whose compliance with the dominant order is neither natural nor given but taught through shame, criminalization, and sexual violence. This project focuses on one material space where such pedagogy takes shape: London’s Bridewell Hospital, a workhouse, prison, and charitable institution founded to reform “lewd” women. When “Bridewell” is staged as a setting, I suggest that it is not just a backdrop but a political filter atop the action of the scene that freezes the play and the woman’s expression of agency in place and thus exposes how this configuration of identity and agency is useful to the national order. Understanding “Bridewell” as a cultural shorthand for the mutual constitution of racial, class, and sexual hierarchies, this project proposes new ways of reading marginalized female characters in Renaissance drama—not as minor comic characters but as political actors who knowingly negotiate sexual and racial dimensions of the social order.


Available to all on Saturday, July 05, 2025

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