An "excess of amity": Women's relationships on the Restoration and early eighteenth-century stage

Date of Completion

January 2008


Women's Studies|Theater|Literature, English|Gender Studies




This project considers the Restoration and early eighteenth-century theater's literal embodiment of discourses surrounding relationships between women. What exactly did it mean for an economically and socially heterogeneous audience to see and hear women exchanging oaths of fealty, warm embraces, and declarations of love? Unlike the safer world of fiction, the period's intimate and interactive theater entailed an immediacy that bred feelings of identification and exposure between players on the stage and audience members in the pit and box. By examining the types of relationships between women that were allowed to be staged amidst such dramatic transference, we can realize more fully the period's shifting and at times contradictory attitudes about those relationships and about women in general. From a socio-historical perspective, I first trace how cultural stereotypes about women find expression in the women-as-competitors trope that occurs prolifically in the period's comedy and tragedy. In the remainder of my project, I consider those texts which offer moments that undercut or dismantle this trope. Informed by performance and queer theory, I explore these representational fissures as they occur across a continuum of desire that includes homosocial, homoerotic, and homosexual expressions. Examining plays by canonical dramatists (such as Wycherley and Congreve) and less canonical dramatists (such as Pix and Trotter), I argue that the drama from 1660 to 1732 gave early voice to the period's increasingly ambivalent discourses on female communities, romantic friendships, and sexual transgressions. ^