Award Date

12-1-2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Committee Member

Evelyn Gajowski

Second Committee Member

Stephen Brown

Third Committee Member

Denise Tillery

Fourth Committee Member

Joseph A. Fry

Number of Pages

175

Abstract

This dissertation analyzes dowry in three Shakespeare plays—The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and The Merchant of Venice. The analysis aims to show that the dowry negotiations and agreements are the most important component of the patriarchal structure of marriage depicted in Shakespeare’s plays. Since dowry agreements signal the impending transition from feme sole to feme covert, they are appropriated by the women in the three plays under consideration as the first stage in a process to assure subjectivity after their marriages. To maintain subjectivity, Katharina, Bianca, Juliet, Portia, and Jessica seek to create and occupy a liminal space between the subjectivity allowed a feme sole and the obliteration of the legal and social identity demanded by their new status as femes covert. Since dowry negotiations and agreements signal the impending change from subject to object, the women use them as the first stage of opportunity in their quests to maintain subjectivity after marriage.

In the introduction, I provide the theoretical foundation for the feminist reading of the three plays as well as emphasize the importance of dowry to the arranged and companionate marriage in early modern England. In the body of the dissertation, chapters 2 through 5, I analyze dowry’s relationship to the arranged and companionate marriages that occur in the plays under consideration. In Chapter Two, I explore the transition from shrew to good wife negotiated by Katharina in her arranged marriage to Petruchio; I also explore the transformation of Bianca from good girl to shrew after her companionate marriage to Lucentio. Chapter Three considers the inherent conflict between the arranged marriage proposed by Juliet’s father and her companionate marriage to Romeo. Juliet secretly marries her beloved, but the overwhelming power of the Capulet/ Montague feud leads to the tragic ending of the play. In Chapter Four, I analyze the Dowry Lottery, its mechanics for selecting Portia’s ideal husband and its aftermath as well as Jessica’s transformation from Jewish feme sole to Christian feme covert. I conclude with a discussion Shakespeare’s use of dowry as a character development device and to reveal the father’s authentic relationships with their daughters.

Keywords

Dowry; Marriage

Disciplines

English Language and Literature

Language

English


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