Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Anne Stevens

Second Committee Member

Richard Harp

Third Committee Member

Kelly J. Mays

Fourth Committee Member

Michael Tylo

Number of Pages



This dissertation considers the complex roles that nascent Bardolatry, the rise of women

writers, and the persistence of satiric impulses played in engineering the teasing relationships of eighteenth-century courtship fiction. I argue that in a period reputedly dominated by sentiment, women’s comedy largely hinged on anti-sentiment, particularly in its appropriation of the antithetical wooing practices so pervasive in Shakespeare’s romantic comedies. Such a perspective endows female authors (and their protagonists) to assume control of the discursive field and resituates the love story into a love game. I begin by tracing the continued influence of the Elizabethan culture of jest, aligning it with eighteenth-century debates regarding women’s speech and sexual propriety. I then illustrate, through satirical cartoons and ephemera, the growing taste for levity in love. Contravening the mawkish declarations of sentimental couples, these couples revel in biting vitriol and acerbic wit. In my analysis, I use three representative plays from Shakespeare to exemplify three distinct facets of adversarial couples. As You Like It anticipates those romantic bonds which are engineered through physical or emotional disguise, The Taming of the Shrew forecasts those couples whose affection stems from splenetic humour, and Much Ado about Nothing prefigures those pairs whose temperaments are more alike than they are different—even if they affect otherwise. To illustrate Shakespeare’s influence on women writers, I draw on select works from the following authors: Aphra Behn, Mary Davys, Susannah Centlivre, Charlotte Lennox, Eliza Haywood, Frances Sheridan, Joanna Baillie, Hannah Cowley, Elizabeth Inchbald and Jane Austen. Using a synthesis of game theory, speech act theory, philosophies of language, and play theory, I outline the ways in which teasing couples exhibit true attachment even as they ostensibly refuse it. In so doing, they create egalitarian relationships which depend upon mutual love and affective choice.


Courtship; Eighteenth-Century; Romantic Comedy; Shakespeare; Women Writers


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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