Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lynee Lewis Gaillet - Chair

Second Advisor

Beth Burmester

Third Advisor

Tanya Caldwell


The Restoration and early eighteenth-century theaters of London formed an important mixed-gender rhetorical venue, which was acutely focused on the age-old “querrelle des femmes” (or woman question). The immediate popularity of the newly opened Restoration theaters, the new practice of casting actresses rather than actors in female roles, and the libertine social climate of London from 1660 to the early 1700s created a unique rhetorical situation in which women openly participated as speakers and audience members. Through a methodology combining feminist historiography, performance theory, Bitzer’s rhetorical situation, and Habermas’ notion of the public sphere, this dissertation reclaims the Restoration theatre as one of the earliest public, secular, mixed-gender rhetorical venues in the English-speaking world. London theater of the Restoration and the early eighteenth century presents a feminist kairos for rereading and revisioning the actress from object to subject, from passive receiver to deliverer of performative rhetoric. Overall, the attention given to issues of femaleness in the plays of this period exceeds that of preceding and subsequent periods. The novelty of the actresses, as well as disillusionment with the male-dominated government and system of patriarchy, were major contributing factors that led to the female focus on stage. This phenomenon of female rhetoric also reflects the charisma, elocutionary skill, and visual rhetoric of the best female performers of the period, including: Nell Gwyn, Mary Saunderson Betterton, Elizabeth Barry, Anne Bracegirdle, Susannah Mountfort Verbruggen, Anne Oldfield, and Lavinia Fenton, all of whom are discussed from a rhetorical perspective in this dissertation.