UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

'By gift of my chaste body' : women as gifts in early modern England and its drama van Deijck, Andrea

Abstract

This thesis explores various facets of women’s participation in the gift system of early modern England, such as giving, refusing, withholding, and rejecting. Using historical and dramatic examples, I argue that women were able to transform themselves into sexual gifts, thus becoming subject and object in the exchange and resisting their objectification by men. The agency this afforded them was paradoxical and disquieting in the male-dominated society; gifts were considered acceptable and yet the agency was transgressive because women were supposed to be obedient and retiring. Women’s gifts allowed them to make and reject marriage proposals, thus circumventing male authority and their own objectification in an age when women were often passed between men in marriage. The drama was one medium for working out the cultural conflicts associated with woman as gift, and in the process, genre was interrogated and sometimes transformed as plays which raised the issues and conflicts could not always fully contain them. Genre was, in turn, used to comment on the issue of woman as gift by the playwrights who sought to work through the issues of women’s gift-giving.

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