Date of Award

1-12-2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Paul J. Voss - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephen B. Dobranski

Third Advisor

Dr. Paul H. Schmidt

Abstract

This dissertation explores the significance of Queen Esther in early modern England by examining her literary representations in light of historical, religious, political, and social contexts. Although she is often linked to Deborah and Judith, Esther’s multifaceted character allows for greater flexibility in representation than is the case with other biblical heroines. The differing aspects of her character – obedient orphan, beautiful virgin, clever and courageous queen, savior of Diaspora Jews – inspire multiple, at times even contradictory, depictions of Esther in early modern literature. Whether Protestant or Catholic, male or female, Queen or commoner, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English writers appropriate Esther in ways that paradoxically challenge and support women’s traditional roles in society. Chapter One introduces the Esther narrative as presented in the Old Testament and Apocrypha. Chapter Two examines Esther in relation to female authority, focusing specifically on references to Queen Elizabeth as an Esther figure. Chapter Three studies the dramatic interlude Godly Queen Hester, while Chapter Four analyzes works of prose featuring Esther as an exemplum for virtuous and heroic women. Chapter Five studies poetic depictions of Esther, and Chapter Six concludes the study by noting briefly how women authors engaged in the querelle des femmes enlist Esther to refute their opponents.

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