Representing Women on Seventeenth-Century English Stages

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
17 February 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module looks specifically at women and representations of women on various kinds of stages in England between 1600 and 1700.

From the all-male professional theatre and salacious private court masques of the early part of the century, to the 'closet dramas' during the Civil Wars, and finally the Restoration of the monarchy and the professional stage from 1660 forward, we will consider the many manifestations of women in the theatres of this fascinating and turbulent century.

We will investigate performance conditions alongside broader cultural contexts, using the techniques of feminist historiography and practice-as-research to understand the changing role of women in relation to the professional stage, as well as in private performance spaces, throughout the seventeenth century.

Module aims

This module aims to:

  • Train students in feminist historiographic methodologies and practice-as-research techniques, as applicable to English drama of the seventeenth century.

  • Provide students with an understanding of the major historical and cultural contexts of seventeenth-century England and their relationship to the drama and performance practices of the same period.

  • Help students ask appropriate research questions about representations of women on seventeenth-century English stages.

  • Expose students to the under-represented history of women on seventeenth-century stages in England.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the various ways in which women participated in seventeenth-century theatre in England, including as playwrights and performers, in their cultural contexts.

  2. Demonstrate a historiographical approach to English seventeenth-century plays, ask appropriate questions of the historical evidence available, and access early printed texts in online repositories as appropriate.

  3. Demonstrate an understanding of and ability to apply relevant practice-as-research techniques.

  4. Articulate the links between performance conditions, cultural contexts, and surviving texts in helping us understand the ways that women were represented on seventeenth-century stages in England.

Module information

The module begins with Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker's gender-bending city comedy The Roaring Girl, which will be considered alongside the real-life inspiration for its protagonist, Mary Frith. Beginning here disrupts any pre-conceived notions students may have about the operations of gender in the early modern period. As we move through the century, students will exposed to evidence of women involved in performance of various kinds--from court masques to closet dramas - as well as representations of women on professional stages in plays such as John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (1630).

As we move into the Restoration, we consider the role of women as professional playwrights, including Aphra Behn and Susanna Centlivre, as well as professional actors and celebrities. Throughout, we'll navigate the space between the past and present, thinking about how these various forms of performance would have been understood and documented in their own time, as well as how they can make meaning for us today.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

Ten three-hour sessions.

The module will be taught through a balance of lectures and seminars / practical workshops (10 3-hour sessions), with the option for online learning as necessary.

These will be made accessible through lecture capture (Listen Again); slides and other teaching materials will also be made available through Moodle.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Formative: Group tutorial, 30 minutes    0% 
Coursework   Scene Performance (group performance of 100-150 lines plus Q&A)    35% 
Coursework   Online Portfolio (three Moodle forum posts throughout the term of 200 words each, 600 words in total)     5% 
Coursework   Critical Essay OR Annotated Scene and Reflective Essay (3,000 words)  25/03/2024  60% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Nora Williams, email:



External examiner

Dr Christina Papagiannouli
University of South Wales
Research Fellow
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 18 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

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