Printer Friendly

"What gay, vain, pratting thing is this": Discourses of femininity in Thomas Shadwell's adaptation of Timon of Athens.


"Women are of two sorts," claimed Bishop Aylmer during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, some were "wiser, better learned, discreeter, and more constant than a number of men" and the other "worse sort of them" were:
Fond, foolish, wanton, flibbergibs, tattlers, triflers, wavering,
witless, without council, feeble, careless, rash, proud, dainty,
tale-bearers, eavesdroppers, rumour-raisers, evil-tongued,
worse-minded, and in every way doltified with the dregs of the devil's
dunghill (Stretton 2005, 52).

While perhaps expressed somewhat harshly, Aylmer's speech is a starting point to understanding the common view of English women during the Elizabethan era. (1) It was feared that the everyday tendency of women was inclined towards the "worse sort" and therefore they needed instruction on how to behave in a better fashion. There were several ways that these directives were conveyed to women. A popular method was instruction manuals, of which there were many published during the Restoration the era including: Richard Allestree's The Ladies Calling (1673), Francis Boyle Shannon's Several Discourses and Characters Addressed to the Ladies of the Age (1689) and Theophilus Dorrington's The Excellent Woman Described by Her True Characters and their Opposites (1692). However, given most women (and indeed many men) could not read, a more effective way of transmitting these messages was through the theatre. In a time long before access to multiple media platforms or even widespread literacy, the theatre served a representational and a didactic function as a site which could educate its audiences.

Shakespeare, who was writing at the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the beginning of James I, understood this and typically characterised his women as maids, wives/mothers, or widows. He makes this point rather explicitly in Measure for Measure, with his Duke asking Mariana if she is married, to which she replies "no, my lord," and so he asks if she is a maid and again she replies "no, my lord," when he then asks if she is a widow, she replies "neither, my lord"; his final word on the matter is "Why, you are nothing then: neither maid, widow, nor wife" (Act V, Scene 1, lines 169-176). (2) However, during the Restoration era, which began with the reign of Charles II in 1660, the plays of Shakespeare were routinely adapted in order to make them fit for the new stages. Representations of 'femininity' and 'woman' were re-negotiated following a tumultuous period in English history and the evidence of this can be seen in the Shakespearean adaptations; as Alfred Harbage (1941, 6) writes, "Plays leave their texts for the ages to judge".

The potential power of the theatre to instruct and influence was well understood during this time and therefore it is hardly surprising that we can find within the published texts, discourses designed to teach and to warn. One area where this is especially evident is within the theatrical depictions of women; indeed, in 1662, following his restoration to the English throne, King Charles II issued a letters patent instructing that women would henceforth play female roles so that they may be "useful and instructive representations of humane life, to such of our good subjects as shall resort to see the same" (Cibber 1888, lix).

The argument here is not that the Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare's works represent how Restoration women saw themselves. Most of our understanding of the discourses of femininity during this time are drawn from texts largely written by men. The few we have that were written by women are primarily from what Merry Wiesner-Hanks (2008, 11) terms the "women worthies", these being largely noble women and royalty. Rather, the intent here is to take a feminist/new historicist approach to demonstrate that the Restoration theatre served a didactic function, both educating and warning audiences about the everyday roles of women during the era. Through an examination Thomas Shadwell's adaptation of Timon of Athens, along with instruction manuals written during this time, this paper will discuss the three dominant roles evident on the Restoration stage: gay (3) (which showed women what they were), ideal (which showed them what they should aspire to be) and fallen (what they should fear to become).

Restoration theatre, actresses and adaptations

In 1642, at the beginning of the civil war between the Royalists (who supported King Charles I, also called Cavaliers) and the Parliamentarians (supporters of the Puritan government, also called Roundheads), the theatres of England were closed. Charles I was defeated and subsequently executed in 1649, leaving the Parliament in control. During this era, the staging of plays was permanently banned and many of the playhouses were destroyed. There were some 'musical entertainments' produced by Sir William Davenant at Rutland House; however, given the proclamation against 'playing' by the Puritan parliament, these were careful not to present themselves as 'stage-plays'. It was during one of these performances that Mrs Coleman appeared in The Siege of Rhodes in 1656 and is considered by some to be the first English actress (Gilder 1931, 141; Wheatley Volume I Part II 1892, 294; Cole & Chinoy 1995, 92). It should be noted that this assertion is not one which is commonly accepted, given that Rutland House was a private venue and that Mrs Coleman was singing rather than acting; as noted by W. Macqueen-Pope (1952, 26), the performance was amateur in nature and "Queens had done as much before her".

The consensus amongst most theatre historians is that the first performance by a professional English actress occurred on December 8th, 1660 in a production of Othello which was staged at the Vere Street Theatre in London (Malone 1790, 107; Waldron 1804, 3; Galt 1831, 14; Doran 1864, 51). The date of the performance and the name of the play were recorded by Thomas Jordan (1664, 24) in his book of poetry A Royal Arbor of Loyal Poesie with a prologue and an epilogue written to "introduce the first woman that came to act on the Stage". What was not recorded was the name of the woman who played Desdemona in this production. Speculation since the mid-eighteenth century has given the title alternatively to Margaret Hughes, Anne Marshall, Mary Betterton (nee Saunderson) and Mrs Norris. There is little to no evidence currently to show any of these women were the Vere Street Desdemona. Subsequent writing about Restoration actresses has tended to repeat gossip from the era and to condemn their behaviour, yet little reference is made to the artistic impact these women had on the stage. Allardyce Nicoll (1967, 71), a renowned theatre historian, wrote that the actors of the Restoration were "worthy of the highest praise" while the actresses "succeeded in dragging down the playhouse".

During the Restoration era, the works of Shakespeare were adapted, altered and rewritten. While there were other reasons for these adaptations of Shakespeare's, including changing political affiliations and new technologies in the theatres, many of the alterations were made because of the actresses (Merchant 2013). Between 1660 and 1700, there were around twenty-one of these adaptations. Some, such as William Davenant's Macbeth (1664) and Nahum Tate's King Lear (1681) were so popular that they replaced the original well into the 1700s. These re-written texts were altered by the playwrights in ways which enabled them to include the three everyday representations of femininity: the 'gay' woman, the 'ideal' woman, and the 'fallen' woman.

This paper takes a new historicist approach by examining Thomas Shadwell's adaptation of Timon of Athens through the lens of Restoration culture. New historicism recognises that all texts are created as part of "a network of material practices in a particular time and place" and as a result are connected to other texts and discourses (Parvini 2012, 92). This is what Louis Montrose (1997, 242) terms the "historicity of texts and the textuality of history," recognising that the past we have access to today will never be complete or authentic. However, we can find traces in the remaining texts which afford glimpses into the past, tracing meaning through the "privileged position of hindsight" (Parvini 2012, 85). By analysing contemporary texts, in this case behavioural instruction manuals from the Restoration, we are afforded a greater understanding of the culture in which the Timon adaptation was written and performed.

Shakespeare's play Timon of Athens was most likely first performed in 1605 and it tells the story of a generous and wealthy man, Timon, who loses his money and his friends. After being rejected by those he had previously helped, Timon leaves society to live in the wilderness and, whilst there, discovers gold in a cave. Word of his new-found wealth spreads and Timon is soon visited by people wanting to share again in his fortune. He sends them away, giving the gold to a soldier (Alcibiades) to fund his attack on the city and ultimately dies alone in the wilderness. Shakespeare's text had two female characters, prostitutes, who were travelling with Alcibiades and who spoke with Timon after his financial downfall and rejection of humanity. Therefore, the original play already possessed examples of fallen women. This meant that Shadwell's 1678 adaptation, the full title of which was The History of Timon of Athens: The Man-Hater, added a gay woman, Melissa, and an ideal woman, Evandra. The adaptation appeared to have been relatively popular, with The London Stage (Van Lennep 1965) recording at least 21 performances between its premier in 1678 and 1710. Although this would not seem like a great number today, during this time performances were changed frequently and the only adaption with a greater number was the Davenant/Dryden/Shadwell version of The Tempest which had thirty-one known performances between 1674 and 1710 (Merchant 2013, 272-273).

Theatre, audiences, and the 'everyday'

Theatre-going, and more importantly audiences, changed between the pre-Civil War era and the Restoration. Much of what we know about theatre audiences during the Early Modern era come from the plays themselves and from non-literary texts such as letters, diaries and anti-theatrical publications. One of the earlier theorists on the topic was Alfred Harbage, who published Shakespeare's Audiences in 1941. Through his extensive research he argues that "The theatre was a democratic institution in an intensely undemocratic age" and that, while theatre-going may not have been an everyday activity for most Londoners, he estimates that around thirteen percent went to the theatre at least once a week prior to their closing in 1642 (Harbage 1941, 11 & 41). Women were known to have attended the theatre in the Early Modern era, even if they were not permitted to perform on its stage prior to the Restoration.

Carl Thomas, in his 1952 PhD dissertation The Restoration Theatre Audience: A Critical and Historical Evaluation of the London Playhouses of the Latter Part of the Seventeenth Century 1660-1700, also uses a wide variety of sources to determine the kinds of audiences in attendance during the Restoration, including "biographies, criticisms, satires, prologues, epilogues, plays, periodicals, and theatrical documents" (3). Thomas (1952, 93) argues that theatre-going during the era was more popular than previous historians have suggested. He cites Francois Maximilien Mission, a French visitor to London during the latter part of the seventeenth century, to show that audiences were made up of "all classes," including "men of quality...chaste and modest ladies...many women "seeking fortune" who sat all together in the pit" (Thomas 1952, 93).

Theatre's didactic function

The didactic possibilities inherent in performances have been well known since the birth of theatrical tradition. In Ancient Greece, playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides both agreed that the theatre's function was to teach; Euripides claiming, "we improve the people in the cities" and Aeschylus stating, "for children it is the schoolteacher who instructs; for gown-ups, it is the poet" (Gregory 1997, 2). This didactic quality continued into the medieval era, where the theatre was designed to be instructive and often focused on women characters who were either whores or virgins (Cartwright 2004, 135). During this time, the theatre was used by the Catholic Church to present Biblical stories and morality plays. The intention behind these performances was to teach the congregation the correct way of behaving. As the majority of those viewing the plays were not able to read, and even less would have had the capacity to read the Latin in which the Bible was printed, the theatre was a key mode of mass communication.

Although the Church may no longer have been regulating the theatres, the Tudor and Stuart monarchies certainly did. The early modern era, which saw the birth of professional theatre in England as well as its subsequent dismantling and ultimate return, was fraught with political and dynastic uncertainties and the potential power of the theatre to educate and incite was well understood. Consequently, plays and performances were closely regulated and nothing was permitted to be performed without a licence. Playwrights and performers could (and sometimes did) find themselves accused of sedition and/or treason based on productions. An example of this can be seen in the supposed performance of Shakespeare's Richard II by the Chamberlain's Men, which was said to have been commissioned by conspirators on the night before the Earl of Essex's insurrection in 1601 (Hammer 2008, 1). The play features the deposing and killing of a king and it was claimed by Francis Bacon to have been performed in an attempt to "bring from the Stage to the State" the events of the tragedy (Scott-Warren 2013, 208). Elizabeth I, upon learning of the performance and Essex's rebellion, is famously quoted as having said "I am Richard II. know ye not that?" (Nichols1780, 525). If this really did happen, then it speaks volumes about the suspected power of the theatre in this time.

Representational (or mimetic) theatre also has a long history and was evident during the Early Modern era. The most cited example of a desire for more authentic representation on the stage comes from Shakespeare himself. Hamlet, which was first performed between 1599 and 1602, features a scene in which the prince instructs a group of players who are about to perform for the court. He tasks them to "suit the action to the word, the/word to the action" and to "hold, as 'twere, the/mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature,/scorn her own image, and the very age and body of/the time his form and pressure" and criticises actors who "imitated humanity so abominably" (Act III, Scene II, lines 18-19, 21-24, 35).

The didactic and representational nature of the early modern theatre was seen as both positive and negative by different factions. The late 1500s onward gave rise to a new genre of writing known as "anti-theatrical invective" and amongst these texts can be found the common criticism that the stage was a purveyor of vices caused by the "infectious sight of plays" (Ingram 2000,167). William Rankins' A Mirrour of Monsters is one example of a well-known anti-theatrical text; in this book actors are accused of being sent from Satan to "deceive the world, to lead the people with enticing shows to the devil to seduce them to sin" (as cited in Pollard 2004, 126).

While criticisms of the theatre were regularly published, there were also supporters who argued that playgoing was a beneficial pastime. The anonymous author of The Stage-Players Complaint (1641, 5) argued that for gentlewomen, plays "teacheth them how to deceive idleness; than, for the ignorant, it does augment their knowledge." The Stage-Players Complaint highlights the didactic and representational function of the pre-interregnum theatre. The Restoration's playwrights carried on this tradition and within the adaptations of Shakespeare's works, we see the attempts to "teacheth" the women of the audience by holding "as 'twere, the/mirror up to nature" (Hamlet Act III, Scene II, lines 21-22). The lesson that can most commonly be seen within the plays was that women fell into three categories: gay, ideal and fallen.

Ideal, gay and fallen--Shadwell's Timon of Athens and the women of the Restoration

Of the three roles seen in the Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare's works, the most common was the gay woman. This character was the female wit; she was one of Bishop Aylmer's "Fond, foolish, wanton, flibbergibs". The gay woman represented those female characters who spoke with wit and enjoyed sexualised banter, but did not cross the line into engaging in sexual activities. However, given the many warnings in the various instruction manuals from the era, it was clear that many women were considered to fall within this category in real life and that this was of concern to Restoration commentators.

Edward Ward, in Female Policy Detected published in 1695, warns young men against "the arts of designing women", telling them that:
Nothing tends more to the destruction of youth, or renders them more
incapable of considering their own welfare than the conversation of
intriguing women... whose evil communication corrupts good manners and
will make you (if deluded by them) disobedient to the laws of God,
undutiful children to your parents, unjust servants to your masters,
ill husbands (when you marry) to your wives, bad fathers to your
children and slaves to others, as well as your own devices (A2).

Ward specifically advises the youths of London to guard against "the lust and subtlety of those private madams, whose gay apparel and false pretence to modesty, gives them covert in reputable families" (A3). His chapters cover the "designing" woman's allurements, inconstancy, love, revenge, pride and ingratitude (Ward 1695).

Francis Boyle Shannon's Several Discourses and Characters Addressed to the Ladies of the Age (1689) also sought to encourage ladies to "abandon the idle follies, and pastimes of a vain London life" (n.p.). The text covers discourses such as "the inconstancy of most ladies" and "the vain folly of such ladies who think to show their wit" (n.p.). Jeremy Collier's A Short View of the Immorality of the Stage (1698) takes issue with the constant depictions of "smutty" and "profane" women on the Restoration stage, accusing the writers of making "licentiousness and irreligion...a mark of honour" (146).

As a character, the gay woman was seen on the stage prior to the Restoration; perhaps the best example was Beatrice in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Her parrying of wits with Benedick was considered so superior that William Davenant included both characters in his mashed-up adaptation of Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing, which he titled The Law Against Lovers (1662). The gay woman became a staple of the Restoration theatre in both new plays and in the adaptations. We can see this in the inclusion of a sister for Miranda, called Dorinda, in the William Davenant/John Dryden re-writing of The Tempest in 1667, which was subsequently revised by Thomas Shadwell in 1674. She is also evident in the re-writing of the character Valeria in Nahum Tate's 1681 Coriolanus, a small role in the original whose primary function was to be a messenger, but in Tate's hands she becomes a "Restoration coquette. She enters "Gawdily and Fantastically Drest, followed by Six or Seven Pages." Her airs and graces are amusing enough, but hardly suit their surroundings" (Spencer 1927, 266).

Perhaps the most blatant example of an added gay woman can be seen in Thomas Shadwell's adaptation of Timon of Athens. The character Melissa was inserted into the plot as Timon's fiancee; self-obsessed, shallow and immature, Melissa represented the worst the late seventeenth century thought of superficial women and could be seen to be holding a 'mirror' up to the women of the audience. Indeed, although Timon may not necessarily have been the 'youth' to whom Ward was addressing in Female Policy Detected, the character of Melissa was the kind of woman he was warning them about:
Endeavor not to continue a woman's love by gifts, for every present you
make her may be the purchase of a rival: besides, they love gifts, and
if you use them to it, they will love you no longer that you are giving

Melissa's first appearance in Timon of Athens (1678) comes in Act II with her maid Chloe, another new minor female character:
Melissa:  What think'st thou, Chloe? Will this dress become me?

Chloe:    Oh, most exceedingly! This pretty curl Does give you such a
          killing grace, I swear That all the youth at the Lord Timon's
          masque Will die for you.
Melissa:  No: But dost thou think so, Chloe? I love To make those
          fellows die for me, and I All the while look so scornfully,
          and then with my Head on one side, with a languishing eye I
          do so Kill 'em again: Prithee, what do they say of me,
          Chloe? (17) (4)

There is no depth to this dialogue; Melissa's motivations do not seem to exist beyond seeking pleasure and making men fall in love with her. However, she does take pains to emphasise to Chloe later in the scene that while she loves to have all the "young blades follow, kiss my hand, admire, adore me, and die for me" she is careful to ensure that "nothing shall corrupt my honesty/those admirers would make one a whore...and that undoes us" (18).

Melissa easily and quickly transfers her affections between men according to their financial status. For example, when informed of Timon's bankruptcy she immediately denounces him:
Seen by a bankrupt?! No base poverty Shall ever enter here. Oh, were my
Alcibiades Recalled, he would adore me still, And would be rich too

Melissa's variable loyalties are clear here; she was originally in love with Alcibiades, who was banished, then she ensnared Timon and now that he has lost his money, she transfers her affections to Alcibiades once more. She is an example of the kinds of shallow and artificial women, given to "false pretences of modesty", as described by Ward (1695, A3).

The second main female character type seen on the Restoration stage was the ideal woman. During this era, the ideal woman was seen as a paragon of virtue who exhibited the most desirable feminine characteristics, including "piety and devotion, meekness, modesty, submission" (Marsden 1991, 54). Restoration women were meant to be silent, pious, loving and devoted; they were Bishop Aylmer's "wiser, better learned, discreter and constant sort". These ideals appear in numerous instruction manuals for late seventeenth century women, including The Ladies Calling in which the author warns his female readers against vanity which would 'contaminate the purity of their souls' (Allestree 1673, n.p.). Theophilus Dorrington, in his 1692 instruction manual The Excellent Woman Described by Her True Characters and their Opposites extols the benefits of virtue over vice:
Virtue is the health, vice is the sickness of the soul; and as the
health of the body improves and maintains its beauty and strength, so
does virtue for the soul; and vice, on the contrary, weakens, deforms,
and gives pain and trouble (ix).

Dorrington goes on to say that "there is not any thing that can recommend virtue to the world with so much force and advantage, as the examples of those that eminently practice it" (A3).

Within the Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare's works, the playwrights added in such examples of women practicing virtue. William Davenant's 1674 adaptation of Macbeth greatly enlarged the role of Lady Macduff, showing her as a counterpoint to the ambitious and scheming Lady Macbeth. In John Dryden's 1679 adaptation of Troilus and Cressida, the character of Cressida is rewritten to be faithful to her Troilus. Coriolanus' wife, Virgilia, is already a virtuous woman in the original play, yet in the Tate adaptation she is raped and subsequently dies in Coriolanus' arms, asking that he take her "unspotted soul, in this last sigh" (Tate 1682, 61).

Within Shadwell's adaptation of Timon of Athens, Evandra can be seen to serve a dual role, as both the ideal women and as the fallen woman. She is the epitome of loyalty, having been Timon's mistress before his obsession with Melissa and as such she demonstrates a key virtue of the ideal woman, constancy. According to Dorrington (1692, 113 &118), constancy was something which should be "used in good things" and he argues that when two people are brought together in love "the separation of them must be impossible". Melissa is perfidious, a vice to which women are prone, but Evandra is constant. A good example of this can be seen in Evandra's reaction to learning of Timon's engagement to Melissa:
I am hastening to my death, then you'll be happy, I'll ne'er shall
interrupt your joys again, Unless the memory of me should make You drop
some tears upon my dust; I know Your noble nature will remember that
Evandra was, and once was dear to you, And loved you so, that she could
die to make you happy (Shadwell 1678, 32).

In this exchange, it can be seen that Evandra is willing to die, since without the man she loves her desire to live is diminished. There is a single mindedness in her love for Timon and when Evandra learns of his financial downfall she tells him:
I have heard and felt all thy afflictions;
I thought I never should have seen thee more;
Nor ever would, hadst thou continued prosperous.
Let false Melissa basely fly from thee,
Evandra is not made of that course stuff (50).

Her reaction is the opposite of Melissa's, she proves that money was never a motivating factor in her love. It is Evandra who suggests to Timon that he leave Athens and all of his creditors behind; she then follows him into banishment and pledges everything she has to him. When Melissa hears a rumour of Timon's discovery of buried treasure, she changes her affections once more and seeks him in the wilderness. However, she makes her intentions clear to Chloe, should the rumour prove false:
I doubt not but with my love I'll charm
Him back to Athens...
If he be not, my promise shall be in vain;
For I'll be sure to break it; thus you saw
When Alcibiades was banished last,
I would not see him; I am always true
To interest and myself (70).

In Act IV, Evandra and Melissa argue over the love of Timon and the characters of the two women are clearest here. Melissa attempts to convince Timon that her rejection of him was a test of his love for her:
Melissa:   I loved thee then much more
           Than all the world--but thou art false I see
           And any little change can drive thee from me,
           And thou wilt leave me miserable.
Evandra:   Mind not that crocodiles tears,
           She would betray thee.
Melissa:   Is there no truth among mankind?
           Had I so much ingratitude, I had left
           Thy fallen fortune, and ne'er seen thee more:
           Ah, Timon! Couldst thou have been kind, I could
           Rather have begged with thee, than have enjoyed
           With any other all the pomp of Greece;
           But thou art lost and hast forgotten all thy oaths.
Evandra:   Why should you strive to invade another's right?
           He's mine, forever mine: These arms
           Shall keep him from thee.
Melissa:   Thine! Poor mean fool! Has marriage made him so?
           No - thou art his concubine, dishonest thing;
           I would enjoy him honestly (71).

Timon choses his ideal woman over Melissa, telling her to "be gone, or thou'lt provoke me to do a thing unmanly, and beat thee hence" (71).

In the final act of Shadwell's play, Evandra proves her everlasting love for Timon by stabbing herself immediately after his death. Melissa receives the ending a Restoration audience would see as deserving. Alcibiades returns to Athens as a conquering hero and rejects Melissa, calling her a "gay, vain, prating thing" (83). Hazelton Spencer (1927, 287) maintains that the character of Melissa is the weakest part of Shadwell's interpretation: "She is so consistently in the mercenary key that it is not always convincing. Evandra is possibly too violent a contrast; subtler characterisation of both women would vastly improve the play".

The third character type commonly seen on the Restoration stage was the fallen woman; she was a character to be feared and served as a warning to the audience of what could happen to women who transgressed the sexual norms and expectations of the era. The fallen woman was a fictionalised account of the male fear of female sexuality. Historically, women's bodies have been seen as "inherently need of mastery and discipline" and the dramas of the early modern era would place the female body on the stage in order to "idealise or vilify it, to establish a means of identifying which behaviours were acceptable and which were not" (Amster 2001, 8-9). Shakespeare's works featured a number of female characters who could be considered fallen women, including the sisters Goneril and Regan in King Lear and the scheming Cressida in Troilus and Cressida. Indeed, the Restoration adaptations rarely needed to add fallen women to their adaptations of earlier texts as many already existed in the originals. Shakespeare's Timon of Athens featured two prostitutes, Phrynia and Timandra, who travelled with Alcibiades and encounter Timon in the wilderness. In the original, the two women ask Timon if he has more gold and he responds, "Enough to make a whore foreswear her trade,/And to make whores, a bawd" yet he instructs them to "be whores still" and to spread the pox, to "plague all" (Act IV, Scene III, 150, 157, 182). The punishment for Phrynia and Timandra is that they must continue as prostitutes.

In Shadwell's adaptation, the scene with the whores remains, however Evandra also serves in part as the fallen woman. She becomes an example to the women in the audience that devotion is key, but chastity is also important. As her relationship with Timon was out of wedlock, Evandra can be considered unchaste, making the character 'fallen'. During her first appearance, she makes it clear that her relationship with Timon was sexual "The only treasures a poor maid possest/I sacrific'd to you, and rather chose/to throw myself away" (Shadwell 1678, 13). It is this very 'sacrifice' which causes Timon to choose Melissa over Evandra for marriage:
Why should I not love this woman best?
She has deserved beyond all measure from me;
She's beautiful, and good as angels are;
But I have had her love already.
Oh most accursed charm, that thus perverts me! (33)

During their confrontation in the wilderness, Melissa throws one last insult at Evandra, claiming "I am no whore as she is" (71). The play keeps coming back to Evandra's unchaste state; it is remarked upon by Timon, Melissa and Evandra herself. She is consequently punished for her sexual transgressions, dying with Timon in the wilderness.


The adaptations of Shakespeare's works during the Restoration provide useful insights into the discourses of femininity espoused by the era's male writers. The theatre during this time served a didactic and representational function and the play texts are a window into the 'examples' the playwrights were providing to their female audiences. Although the Restoration era has been heavily criticised for its sexuality and licentiousness, in particular for its use of actresses to titillate the male audiences, when we compare the adaptations to other texts printed at the time, we can see a cohesiveness in the messages (or rather lessons) for women. Given the low literacy levels of women during the era, the theatre was an ideal medium to disseminate these lessons. Thomas Shadwell's Timon of Athens illustrates this effectively through the inclusion of Melissa and Evandra into the story and by leaving the scene with the two prostitutes at the end of the play. Shadwell's adaptation showed women what they were (gay), what they should be (ideal) and what they should most fear becoming (fallen).


Allestree, Richard. 1673. The Ladies Calling. Oxford: n.p.

Amster, Mara Ilyse. 2001. ""Who is't can Read a Woman?": Sexuality and Legibility in Early Modern Discourses." PhD thesis, University of Rochester, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing (3023726).

Cartwright, Kent. 2004. Theatre and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cibber, Colley. 1888. An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber. London: John C. Nimmo.

Cole, Toby and Helen Krich Chinoy. 1995. Actors on Acting. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks.

Collier, Jeremy. 1698. A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage: Together with the Sense of Antiquity upon this Argument. London: Printed for S. Keble.

Doran. Their Majesties' Servants: Annals of the English Stage, from Thomas Betterton to Edmund Kean. Actors, Authors, Audiences. Volume 1. London: Wm. H. Allen & Co.

Dorrington, Theophilus. 1692. The Excellent Woman Described by Her True Characters and their Opposites. London: Printed for Joseph Watts.

Galt, John, 1831. The Lives of the Players. Volume 1. London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley.

Gilder, Rosamund. 1931. Enter the Actress: The First Women in the Theatre. Boston: Houghton and Mifflin Company.

Gregory, Justina. 1997. Euripides and the Instruction of the Athenians. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Hammer, Paul E. J. 2008. "Shakespeare's Richard II, the play of 7 February 1601, and the Essex rising." Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (1): 1-35.

Harbage, Alfred. 1941. Shakespeare's Audiences. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ingram, William. 2000. "Part two: players and playing." In English Professional Theatre, 1530-1660, edited by Glynne Wickham, Herbert Berry and William Ingram, 153-286. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jordan, Thomas. 1664. A Royal Arbor of Loyal Poesie. London: R. Wood

Macqueen-Pope, W. 1952. Ladies First. London: W. H. Allen.

Malone, Edmond. 1790. An Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the English Stage, and of the Economy and Usages of our Ancient Theatres. London: Henry Baldwin.

Marsden, Jean. 1991. The Appropriation of Shakespeare: Post-Renaissance Reconstructions of the Works and the Myth. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Merchant, Melissa. 2013. "The Actress and Shakespeare." PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

Montrose, Louis A. 1997. "Professing the Renaissance: The Poetics and Politics of Culture." In Twentieth Century Literary Theory: A Reader, 2nd edition, edited by K. M. Newton, 240-246. New York: St Martin's Press.

Nicoll, Allardyce. 1967. A History of English Drama 1660 - 1900: Volume I, Restoration Drama, 1660-1700. London: Cambridge at the University Press.

Nicols, John. 1780. Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica. London: Printed by and for John Nicols.

Parvini, Neema. 2012. Shakespeare and Contemporary Theory: New Historicism and Cultural Materialism. London: Bloomsbury.

Pollard, Tanya. 2004. Shakespeare's Theater: A Sourcebook. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.

Rankins, William. 1587. A Mirrour of Monsters. Wherein is plainly described the manifold vices, & spotted enormities, that are caused by the infectious sight of playes, with the description of the subtile slights of Sathan, making them his instruments. London: Printed by John Charlewood for Thomas Hackett.

Scott-Warren, Jason. 2013. "Was Elizabeth I Richard II? The authenticity of Lambarde's 'conversation'." The Review of English Studies 64 (264): 208-230.

Shadwell, Thomas. 1678. Timon of Athens, or, the Man-Hater. London: printed by J.M. for Henry Herringman.

Shakespeare, William. 2008.The Norton Shakespeare. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Stephen, Walter Cohen, Jean Howard and Katharine Eisaman Maus. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Shannon, Francis Boyle. 1689. Several Discourses and Characters Addressed to the Ladies of the Age. London: Printed for Christopher Wilkinson.

Spencer, Hazelton. 1927. Shakespeare Improved: The Restoration Versions in Quarto and on the Stage. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Stretton, Tim. 2005. Women Waging Law in Elizabethan England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tate, Nahum. 1682. The Ingratitude of a Common-Wealth, or the Fall of Caius Martius Coriolanus. London: printed by L.M. for Joseph Hindmarsh.

The Stage-Players Complaint. 1641. London: Printed for Tho: Bates.

Thomas, Carl. A. 1952. "The Restoration Theatre Audience: A Critical and Historical Evaluation of the London Playgoers of the Latter Part of the Seventeenth Century 1660-700." PhD thesis, The University of Southern California, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing (DP31994),

Van Lennep, W. 1965. The London Stage 1660 - 1800, Part 1: 1660 - 1700. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Waldron, F. G. 1804. The Shakespearean Miscellany: Containing a Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts; Biographical Anecdotes if Theatrical Performers; With Portraits of Ancient and Modern Actors (of many of whom there are not prints extant) Scarce and original Poetry, And Curious Remains of Antiquity. London: Printed by Barker & Son.

Ward, Edward. 1695. Female Policy Detected, or The Arts of a Designing Woman Laid Open. London: Printed for Benjamin Harris.

Wheatley, Henry (ed). 1892. Diary of Samuel Pepys. New York: Croscup & Sterling Company Publishers.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. 2008. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Author biography

Melissa Merchant is a Lecturer and Early Career Researcher in the School of Arts at Murdoch University. Her research has focused on adaptation studies, Early Modern drama, Shakespeare and more recently popular culture and media representations, as well as disability and the media. This article has been adapted and expanded from a paper originally presented at the European Shakespeare Research Association's 2013 conference in Montpellier.


Corresponding author:

Melissa Merchant, Murdoch University

Email: address

(1) The time period discussed in this paper include Elizabethan (1558-1603), Jacobean (1603-1625), Caroline (1625-1649), Interregnum (1649-1660) and Restoration (1660-1685).

(2) All Shakespearean quotations in this paper are from The Norton Shakespeare (2008).

(3) The term 'gay' in this instance is drawing on the definition that was commonly in use during the Early Modern Era, gay meaning "dedicated to social pleasures; dissolute, promiscuous; frivolous, hedonistic" (from the online Oxford English Dictionary).

(44) The original 1678 publication of Timon of Athens has been used for this paper. The copy used is from the British Library.
COPYRIGHT 2018 The University of Western Australia, Women's Studies
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2018 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Merchant, Melissa
Publication:Outskirts: feminisms along the edge
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 1, 2018
Previous Article:Tropfest, masculinity and the gendered everyday.
Next Article:From polite society to the Pilbara: The ingenue abroad in Evelina and The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |