Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Bill Harbin


Historically, the female playwright has been plagued by a lack of visibility. Long hindered by a limited number of women writers as role models, by the few receptive stages on which to mount their works, and by a public accustomed to a male dominated stage practice, female playwrights nevertheless in the last two decades have produced an extraordinary body of work, signifying a new thrust in the American theatre. Ten playwrights have been selected as representatives of this movement: Tina Howe, Rosalyn Drexler, Rose Goldemberg, Mary Gallagher, Adele Shank, Lavonne Mueller, Wendy Wasserstein, Ntozake Shange, Beth Henley and Marsha Norman. These innovative and prolific writers have invigorated the American stage and influenced their contemporaries, both male and female; two of them received Pulitzer Prizes. Since these playwrights were themselves influenced by preceding pioneers, their predecessors are examined to indicate the continuity of a phenomenal movement in drama. Similarly, the study acknowledges lesser know writers of their own era. As a collective, the ten female writers represent the creative impulse of the 80's. Each has a distinctive body of plays, has had works produced in a major theatre setting, and was significantly productive during the decade of 1973-1983. The individual plays of the ten writers have been examined in terms of thought, as delineated among Aristotle's six elements of drama and interpreted further by Oscar Brockett. My objective has been to focus on ideas, themes, objectives, and trends peculiar to these particular writers or applicable to an even larger collective of contemporary female playwrights. Each playwright has her unique vision, concerns, and style, presenting varying interpretations of human action and of the female in particular in her social, political, and artistic roles. The quest for familial bonds and individual autonomy emerge as constant themes among the selected plays. Despite the diversity, this study clearly celebrates the onset of a growing number of female playwrights in the mainstream of American theatre, and, as such, it adds to the scant critical dialogue available on American women dramatists who significantly contributed to the evolving drama during 1973-1983.