Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Queen's Three Bodies: Representations Of Female Sovereignty In Early Modern Women's Writing, 1588-1688
by Casey-Williams, Erin V., Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, 2015, 357; 3738504
Abstract (Summary)

Sovereignty, a mechanism of power around which a state is organized, has emerged as a way to understand the twenty-first-century biopolitical moment. Thinkers including Michel Foucault, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, and Roberto Esposito find sovereignty essential to understanding modern regimes of bodily domination and control. These thinkers look back to early modern England as an originary moment when older theories of sovereign power became attached to emerging modern political systems. Despite the sophistication of these arguments, however, no recent biopolitical theory accounts for the situation of women in historical or current system of power, nor do they discuss the role gender has played in the development of sovereignty.

My project addresses this ideological and historical gap by examining how sovereignty was being discussed, challenged, and appropriated by literary figures from 1588-1688. In the years leading up to and spanning the Interregnum, sovereignty splintered and became available to formerly disenfranchised individuals, especially women writers. Such women not only appropriated and challenged traditional sovereignty in their texts, but also influenced contemporary and future understandings of power, politics, and gender. Each of my four chapters serves as a test cases of a woman writer engaging with and transforming sovereignty.

I first examine Elizabeth Cary’s closet drama The Tragedy of Mariam, Faire Queen of Jewry (1612); I then move on to Mary Wroth’s epic romance The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, Part 1 (1621) and Part 2 (completed and circulated in manuscript 1629). In the third chapter, I examine Katherine Philips’ Poems, circulated in manuscript during the Interregnum, and published posthumously in 1667; my final chapter then moves to Margaret Cavendish’s utopian fiction and work of natural philosophy, The Blazing World. These women challenged traditional notions of body and power, offering their own new understandings of sovereign agency; they enable us to more fully the genealogical progression of sovereignty and to incorporate the category of gender into twenty-first century understandings of biopolitics.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cable, Lana
Commitee: Greiman, Jennifer, Murakami, Ineke
School: State University of New York at Albany
Department: English
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 77/04(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Philosophy, British and Irish literature, Gender studies
Keywords: Biopolitics, Cary, Cavendish, Philips, Sovereignty, Wroth
Publication Number: 3738504
ISBN: 978-1-339-28930-4
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