Patriotic women: Shakespearean heroines of the 1720s

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This paper discusses three adaptations of Shakespeare's history plays written during the 1720s. These texts, I contend, counter claims that positive representations of women during this period were confined to the domestic sphere. In these plays women are active participants in the public realm of politics and commerce. The heroines of Ambrose Philips’ Humfrey Duke of Gloucester (1723), Aaron Hill's King Henry the Fifth (1723) and Theophilus Cibber's King Henry the Sixth (1724), rather than being driven by love and domestic duty, act on political motivation. Patriotism, which characterises these women, is the primary political slogan of all three plays. These female protagonists exemplify the value of a patriotic political conduct that crosses party lines. Their unpartisan or universal brand of patriotism anticipates the opposition views expressed by Bolingbroke in the following decade. This paper also addresses the broad consensus amongst Feminist critics that women in adaptations of Shakespeare provide little more than mere ‘breeches roles’ titillation. The histories of Philips, Hill and Cibber represent heroines who, no less than their male counterparts, exercise control during political crises. These women are not objects of titillation but subjects for emulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-298
Number of pages10
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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