Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program


First Advisor

Aaron Kitch


The aim of this Honors project is to investigate representations of female virginity in Renaissance English dramatic works. I view the period as one in which the womb became the site of a unique renewal of cultural anxieties surrounding the stability of the patriarchy and the inaccessibility of female sexual desire. I am most interested in virginity as a “bodily narrative” dependent on the construction and maintenance of performance. I analyze representations of virginity in female characters from four works of drama originating in the Jacobean period of the English Renaissance, during and after the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. Across four chapters, I examine the characters of Isabella from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (1604), Beatrice-Joanna from Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling (1622), the Jailer’s Daughter from Shakespeare and Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen (1634), and Helen from Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well (c. 1602-1605). To establish a framework for my readings, I situate each work in its contemporary cultural context, drawing upon Catholic and Protestant religious doctrines, period medical texts, and popular culture. I intend to explore the complex, often contradictory nature of the forms of virginity the plays depict. Still, I hope by uncovering the opportunities these four characters are provided by their virginity, that I can widen the confines of the category.