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Poor Women in Shakespeare
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  • Page extent: 268 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.57 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 822.3/3
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: PR2991 .M345 2007
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Shakespeare, William,--1564-1616--Characters--Women
    • Women--England--History--Renaissance, 1450-1600
    • Women and literature--England--History--16th century
    • Women--England--Social conditions
    • Poor in literature

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521868860)

Poor women do not fit easily into the household in Shakespeare. They shift in and out of marriages, households, and employments, carrying messages, tallying bills, and making things happen; never the main character but always evoking the ever-present problem of female poverty in early modern England. Like the illegal farthings that carried their likenesses, poor women both did and did not fit into the household and marriage market. They were both essential to and excluded from the economy. They are both present and absent on the early modern stage. In the drama, they circulate between plots, essential because they are so mobile, but largely unnoticed because of their mobility. These female characters represent an exploration of gender and economic roles at the bottom, as England shifted from feudalism to empire in the span of Shakespeare's lifetime. We find their dramas played out in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

• The first study in this area to focus exclusively on poor and homeless women in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries • Includes an extensive research bibliography on poverty and vagrancy • Includes a chapter on the popular play The Roaring Girl, widely studied on drama courses


Introduction: maid, wife, and widow: re-organizing early modern women; 1. Free and bound maids: poor women in early industrial England; 2. Pregnant maids: the new bastardy laws; 3. Playhouse, courtroom, and pulpit: poor women in the news; 4. Masterless women in early modern London; 5. Poor women in the New World; Bibliography.


'For McNeill, 'the drama provides a living document of the changing economic conditions of … 'early capitalism', which forced poor women to shift into the limited freedom of provisional labor and then shifted them back into bondage in the workhouse and plantation'. She analyses these social moves through examining the 'words for women' located in the texts that dramatize them. Exploring plays, pamphlets, conduct books, court records and more, she provides a fascinating look at the diverse roles poor women played, both onstage and in their daily lives.' Theatre Research International

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