Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Holly Crocker

Abstract

This dissertation explores how the Virgin Mary’s presence in late medieval and early modern drama stages biblical events that distort temporal strictures, disrupting how a viewer would experience the past, present, and future. In this way, past events occur nonlinearly, foreign concepts become implicit, and eternal life no longer exists outside of time. Using queer theories of temporality and history, I explore how the Virgin Mary represents a figure of change, ambivalence, and ambiguity—an evolving symbol and image having no clearly defined referent—one who, at once, inhabits a queer temporality, history, subjectivity, and sexuality. I chart these ideas by closely examining late medieval biblical drama and early modern drama by Shakespeare and Middleton. In addition, this project considers how the Virgin Mary becomes a figure whose history is made or produced by Christian writers, who saw a need to create the missing details of the Virgin’s life. By the second century, apocryphal texts gave the Virgin a life and genealogy, making her more conceivable as Christianity grew in popularity. These embellishments and augmentations fuel theological debates that continue into the twenty-first century and inform numerous literary traditions. My research emphasizes these written and devotional traditions. It shows how the Virgin Mary’s depiction in late medieval and early modern drama presents a fragmented biblical history. Complex textual, devotional, and artistic traditions disrupt normative temporalities and history, creating a queer narrative and queer perceptions of time. Within these dramatic traditions, depictions of the Virgin also require an interrogation of gender and sexuality, which provokes queered readings of other texts and characters. In this sense, queer theory becomes tied to numerous aspects of identity construction; gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, desire, and power, from which theories of queer temporality are bound to affect theory.

Available for download on Thursday, May 15, 2025

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