Term of Award

Spring 2023

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature

Committee Chair

Mary Villeponteaux

Committee Member 1

Julia Griffin

Committee Member 2

Sarah McCarroll


The works of William Shakespeare have been well explored, but there is a lack of criticism that examines how the depiction of women is shaped by the genre of the play. Linda Bamber is one of the few critics who have explored this connection between gender and genre. However, while she focuses on the plays’ psychological dynamics, I examine the social dynamics between characters in my study of gender and genre. I suggest that, in both tragedy and comedy, isolation is a strong marker of unhappiness for Shakespeare’s female characters. Examining three tragedies, I find that Lady Macbeth, Goneril, Regan, and Ophelia’s growing isolation is a key factor in their tragic endings. I then demonstrate that this pattern unexpectedly occurs in the comedies The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice. Renaissance comedies are usually understood to end in the unification of a community, which is what makes the isolation of Katherine and Jessica so surprising. In The Taming of the Shrew, Katherine is an outcast who is only further isolated after marrying Petruchio. By observing the way she is dehumanized and isolated, despite her eventual acceptance of her society’s cultural norms, it becomes clear that Katherine is not included in the happy, communal ending of her play. Similar to Katherine, Jessica is excluded from the community in The Merchant of Venice. She abandons her Jewish faith and father for a Christian husband, but she is not fully accepted in her new community. While not explicitly excluded, Jessica is also not included in the Christian community; while the Christian characters are celebrating their new marriages and/or newfound wealth at the end of the play, Jessica remains silent and is not included in their joy. Katherine and Jessica’s isolation from their communities complicates the comedic endings of these plays and brings our understanding of genre and what makes a comedy a comedy into question.

Research Data and Supplementary Material