Disordered Appetites: Female Flesh in the Works of Thomas Middleton.
Abstract: This dissertation contends that Thomas Middleton's plays and poetry
exploit an early modern psychocultural anxiety focused on the insubstantiality of symbolic
or linguistic constructs. More specifically, Middleton's works consistently examine the
manipulability and immateriality of patriarchally prescribed female social identities--such
as maid, wife, and widow--that are based entirely ... read moreupon a woman's sexual or marital
relations with men. Employing principles drawn from psychoanalysis and ecofeminism, I argue
that this Middletonian preoccupation bespeaks a more widespread uncertainty in the period
about symbolic structures intended to control or contain female bodies and the natural
world. My analysis of Thomas Middleton's work therefore points to conceptual technologies
that were emergent in the early modern period and which continue to exert influence in the
present day. In the introduction, I describe my guiding principles and theoretical
apparatus by reading the typically Middletonian complications of marital and sexual
identity in two plays, The Witch and The Phoenix. Chapter One moves to a discussion of
female virginity in The Changeling, Middleton's famous collaboration with William Rowley,
and argues that the play taps into cultural anxieties about the potential unreliability of
symbolic technologies for controlling female bodies and appetites. Chapter Two examines
Middleton's early work, The Ghost of Lucrece, and contends that this poem's plaintive ghost
uses images of female corporeality as a rhetorical weapon, unleashing great floods of
blood, milk, and tears that strain the written language of the poem itself. The third
chapter considers how, in The Widow, Middleton's radical deployment of two early modern
theatrical conventions, widow-hunting and cross-dressing, suggests the constructedness of
gender, identity, and even human understanding of reality itself. The concluding chapter
begins with a reading of remarriage in Women Beware Women before proceeding to a closing
discussion of the profound ideological effects of literacy and print culture in early
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2015.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Judith Haber.
Committee: Kevin Dunn, John Fyler, and William Carroll.
Keyword: Literature.read less