Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

Nina S Levine


This study explores the relationship between defamation of women and the marketplaces of print and reputation in the early modern period. The prevalence of defamation cases indicates the extent to which sexual reputation impacted social position for women, particularly in the marriage market. Since reputation was so important for women to remain in the sexual marketplace, slander cases were a venue which women could use to defend their honesty and salvage their future prospects. In the marketplace of print, the potential for defamation shaped the development of print culture with censorship. The advent of the printing press marked a change in the creation and dissemination of written material. Readers circulated and interpreted texts beyond the control of the authors. This thesis places defamation of women into conversation with the power of print. I examine how women's figures are circulated and misinterpreted by reading audiences, and how their bodies can be imprinted upon with slander or transformed when they make contact with the printed page.

In Chapter I, I establish the ties between reputation in the sexual economy and the marketplace of print and what this connection might entail concerning defamation of women. Chapter II explores Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller as a self-consciously printed text whose nature as a commodified pamphlet results in sensational portrayals of female bodies. Within the narrative, Jack Wilton travels through Europe; Nashe's use of bibliographic imagery doubles his main character as a pamphlet page and a court page. As Jack circulates, others' stories become inscribed on his page. As Wilton encounters women, he transforms their figures with sexualized depictions. In Chapter III, I examine the potential for women to be defamed in print circulation through misinterpretation and having their figures imprinted with slander. The Adventures of Master F.J. by George Gascoigne and Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing both explore the circulation of sexual defamation. Master F.J. portrays the potential for textual circulation to empower or defame women through interpretation; as poems and rumors pass among the narrative's characters, sexual slander becomes not merely questionable truth but reality. In Much Ado characters re-write the stories of others; Shakespeare uses bibliographic imagery to portray the dangerous potential for women to be a page which can be printed upon, but also the possibility for women to usurp the masculinized printing press. Analyzing these texts that portray the defamation of women will lead to a deeper understanding of the relationship between printed texts and sexual reputation.