Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts




Often, women stand out as being some of the most interesting and ambiguous characters in English drama. In this study, I examine moments in five Renaissance plays in which female characters reject the extreme dichotomies that were used by society to describe women. In the first portion of the paper, I look at the ways in which malcontents are similar to unconventional female characters in that they both challenge existing patriarchal structures. Secondly, I explore the characters of Mellida, Sophonisba, and Desdemona who begin to assert their own desires, while at the same time, they continue to embody more traditional notions of femininity. Finally, I look at the Duchess of Malfi, who perhaps more than any character in Renaissance drama, consciously creates a new kind of life in which she is not limited by reductive and arbitrary binaries concerning the definitions of women.