Performing Silence, Performing Speech: Genre and Gender in Stuart Drama
Nesler, Miranda Garno
I argue that, during the Jacobean and Caroline periods, the three dramatic forms of closet drama, masque, and commercial theatre participated in recreating and critiquing conduct manual vocabularies of speech and silence—particularly those aimed at women. Using narratology, gender theory, and cultural materialism to examine drama, my dissertation traces representations of women’s speech and silence through the three dramatic forms to reveal a shared concern about why, how, and when women used or withheld their voices. This concern links the literary and performance histories of commercial plays like _The Tamer Tamed_, masques like _Tethys’ Festival_, and closet dramas like _The Tragedie of Mariam_, all of which embody female speech and silence. These works not only use women as subject matter and engage female viewers; they also invite women to actively collaborate in the dramatic process, providing instruction and space for constructing feminine subjectivity, authorship, and performativity. The dramatic forms and women’s silent performances exist within a reflexive relationship. Just as the connections among dramatic forms allow women to perform across them, so too do women’s performances reveal the intense interrelations of the forms. Rather than functioning as distinct genres, the dramatic forms converge as a single body that creates a narrative about women’s voices and how women transgressed conduct recommendations to actively shape representations of their own cultural positions. Ultimately, the narrative emerges from a synthesis of the three forms and reveals that separation is anachronistic and hinders our ability to understand Stuart drama’s cultural commentary.