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The whore in earlier seventeenth-century drama

posted on 2023-05-26, 20:15 authored by Marlowe, Karen Patricia Alex
Such was the popularity of the whore as a dramatic figure in the earlier seventeenth century that one could be forgiven for accusing the playwrights of an obsession with the more prurient side of life. But, the significance of her role is in fact not confined to probing particular areas of sexual experience but extends beyond to encompass many areas of tension within man and society. Originally this thesis was intended simply to explore an expanding concept of the whore as a negative image of destruction, one which reflects a growing interest in the state as a secular entity. The discovery, however, of an apparently altered relationship between the whore and her society within certain plays, at least a variation in the patterning of guilts and sympathies, led to modification of this aim or rather to a further development in my argument. The Introduction establishes a working definition of whoredom which takes into consideration prevailing attitudes towards women and sexual activity, and briefly examines the whore's early dramatic function as essentially a personal threat to the soul. From this I move into a description of the whore's expanding and more secular-oriented destructiveness. Chapter I looks at the whore's activities as a threat to the institution of marriage, noting also some attempts to deal with the problem of judgment and reintegration. Chapters II and III deal with a further extension of the whore's social disruptiveness, presenting her as a saboteur not only of personal and marital stability but of state law and order, on both political and economic levels. But interestingly it is here, in certain of the Court and especially in the city satires, that the whore changes from being an isolated example of disorder, exterior to society and attacking its well-established order, to being merely a typical participant in a predatory and deceiving world, and her greed or lust becomes metaphorically identified with all man's greeds - for power, money, status, as well as sex. Satiric assertion this may be, but such is its dramatic strength that it does suggest a changing attitude towards man and society, at least as expressed in the plays, a growing scepticism or insecurity. And this is confirmed elsewhere in the drama. In Chapter IV, the plays described are concerned very much to question man's or society's ability to act and judge adequately, using the motif of whoredom to demonstrate both the natural fallibility of man and the limitations of the codes defining behaviour. In Chapter V, the loss of confidence and the relativity of judgment is such that the deviant role of whore may take on a tragic stature. Finally, the various earlier arguments are brought together in a concluding review.


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Copyright 1982 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D)--University of Tasmania, [1984?]. Bibliography: l. 274-299

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