Law, gender and culture : representations of the female legal subject in selected Jacobean texts
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This thesis addresses some of the extant gaps in law and literature criticism using an historical cultural criticism of law and literature that focuses on the Jacobean female legal subject in cases of divorce and adultery. It examines the intellectual milieu that constructs law and literature in this period to contribute to research on female subject formation, and looks specifically at how literature and law work to construct identity. This thesis asks what views Jacobean literature presents of the female legal subject, and what do those views reveal about identity and gender construction? Chapter one offers some essential historical contexts. It establishes the jurisprudential conditions of the period, defines the ideal female legal subject, touches on recent historical scholarship regarding women and law, explores how literature reveals law's artificiality, and links the Inns of Court to the theatres. Chapter two focuses on women and divorce. The first sections discuss the theology and ideology which impacted on divorce law. The latter sections examine Elizabeth Cary's Tragedy of Mariam, ca. 1609, and two manuscript accounts of Frances Howard's 1613 divorce trial, William Terracae's poem, A Plenarie Satisfaction, ca. 1613, and The True Tragi-Comedie Formarly Acted at Court, a play by Francis Osborne, 1635. These texts reveal the legal construction and frustrations of married women, and illustrate a gendered divide in attitudes towards women's legal position. Chapter three examines women and adultery law. It then juxtaposes representations of women justly accused of adultery, like the real-life Alice Clarke, and the fictional Isabella in John Marston's The Insatiate Countess, 1613, and unjustly accused, like the virtuous wives in Marston's play. This chapter reveals how male anxiety creates the stereotypes that constrain the female legal subject within systems of patrilineal inheritance. As a whole, this thesis uses literature to explore the Jacobean female legal subject's relationship to her husband and to the law, and, in some cases, it challenges the assumption that women were effectively constrained by legal dictates which would keep them chaste, silent and submissive. Literature, in some cases, works alongside law to sustain constructed identities, but radical literature can undermine law by challenging the stereotypes and identities law works to maintain.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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