Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In this project, I address the problems of ethics and agency for women’s speech in Shakepseare’s Roman plays—Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus, and Coriolanus—and the narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece. Regardless of their rhetorical skill, virtue, or agency, it seems that the Roman women in these works are doomed to fail: either their lives become unlivable or they lose the people most important to them. This prompts the project’s initiating question: why do Shakespeare’s Roman women speak if their words have no long-term effect? For these characters, rhetorical success in Shakespeare’s Rome is dependent upon a particular combination of rhetorical techniques, but these tactics result in questionable agency and ethics within Rome’s patriarchal system. This project answers whether or not female speech can be both ethical and persuasive by first investigating the roots of ethical speech in Shakespeare’s Rome. Ethical speech arises out of complex social mores that define virtue and propriety for women, but traditionally ethical speech cannot create lasting persuasion. Women who challenge the limits of tradition persuade effectively; however, they do so with tragic consequences. Only Cleopatra, the one woman who speaks outside of Roman influence, successfully defies norms in order to achieve rhetorical success and rewrite her own tragedy. Although men and women in Shakespeare’s Rome face similarly contradictory demands on their rhetoric and civic duty, Roman culture makes exceedingly unfair demands of women’s limited agency: as a result, there is no successful, ethical female rhetoric within this imperfect world, not so long as women attempt to maintain the very society that restrains their agency.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Student has submitted appropriate documentation to restrict access to LSU for 365 days after which the document will be released for worldwide access.

Committee Chair

Zerba, Michelle