Description: Fantasies about warrior women circulated in many forms of writing in early modern England: travel narratives such as Sir Walter Ralegh's The Discoverie of Guiana (1595) portray Amazon encounters in the New World; poems like Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1596) depict women's skill with a spear; and the plays of Shakespeare, John Fletcher, and others stage the adventurous feats of women on the battlefield. In this dissertation, I analyze the social anxieties that emerge when warrior women threaten gender hierarchies in the patriarchal society of early modern England. The battlefield has traditionally been a site for men to prove their masculinity against other men, so when male characters find themselves submitting to a sword-wielding woman, they are forced to reimagine their own masculine identities as they become the objects acted upon by women. In their experience of subjectivity, these literary warrior women often allude to the historical Queen Elizabeth I, whose reign destabilized ideas about gender and power in the period. Negative evaluations of warrior women often indicate anxiety about Elizabeth as an Amazon-like queen. Thus, portrayals of warrior women often end with a celebration of patriarchal dominance once the male characters have successfully contained the threat of the warrior woman through marriage or death. I argue that these depictions of containment indicate a common desire to maintain patriarchal superiority during and after Elizabeth's reign.
Date: May 2013
Creator: Oxendine, Jessica Grace
Partner: UNT Libraries