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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Articulating Agency: Women in Shakespeare's History Plays

  • Author(s): Sloan-Pace, Emily
  • Advisor(s): Freccero, Carla
  • et al.

Shakespeare's history plays contain some of the most beloved (Falstaff) and the most reviled (Richard III) of all characters in the corpus. While a number of male characters achieve "life" in these works, women appear sparingly. Though women regularly assume starring roles in the comedies and tragedies, the history plays remain largely the purview of men and a warlike masculinity that allots little place for either the feminine or the domestic. My work finds a space for those women who do inhabit the plays, arguing that, while they may at times be vilified, they exercise a tremendous amount of agency and engage in a gendered and historical performance validated by the drama. Starting primarily from the work of Jean Howard and Phyllis Rackin, I seek to expand the potential readings of women in the history plays, looking at the ways they challenge and participate in traditional historical narratives. In the representations, and successes, of women such as Joan Puzel, Margaret of Anjou, and Mistress Nell Quickly, Shakespeare's histories rewrite the almost exclusively masculine domain of the source texts, inserting an alternative and feminine voice into the construction of the historical account.

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