Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

William A. Read


This dissertation traces the impact of censorship on women dramatists from the Renaissance through the late eighteenth century, focusing on the plays of Elizabeth Cary, Aphra Behn, Mary Pix, and Susanna Centlivre. Several types of censorship--politica1, religious, and moral--affected the work of these playwrights, and several agencies--the Master of Revels, the audience, the theatre manager, and the prompter--were involved in censorship of their works. When early modern women wrote for the stage, they confronted the strictures against publication and public exposure. The four playwrights discussed here used a combination of self-censorship and subversive strategies in their work. Self-censorship was particularly significant for Elizabeth Cary, the first Englishwoman to write and publish an original full-length play. Her closet drama, The Tragedie of Mariam (1613), demonstrates the extent to which she had internalized Renaissance gender paradigms but was able to utilize them to make a statement about women's subjectivity. The Master of Revels, who became an important censoring agent for women in the Restoration and eighteenth century, had a direct effect on a promptbook for the revival of Aphra Behn's The Rover. Behn's censored play underwent substantial cuts and emendations in material related to political, religious, and gender issues. In the 1690s, the audience became a strong censoring agent, particularly as the movement for stage reform coincided with the appearance of new women playwrights, including Mary Pix. Although her efforts were lampooned in The Female Wits, Pix demonstrated the ability to please the changing audience in a promptbook for a 1707 production of The Spanish Wives. Efforts to reform the stage culminated in the late 1700s when theatre managers took over the censoring role. A promptbook for David Garrick's production of Susanna Centlivre's The Wonder demonstrates that one hundred and fifty years after Englishwomen began to write for the stage, gender was still an important factor in alteration of their works. Cary, Behn, Pix, and Centlivre persevered despite efforts to silence their voices and helped dispel the idea that when women wrote, their "vertue vanish'd.".