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Melissa Merchant

Further information

About the author

Melissa Merchant is a Lecturer and Early Career Researcher in the School of Arts at Murdoch University. Her research has focused on adaptation studies, Early Modern drama, Shakespeare and more recently popular culture and media representations, as well as disability and the media. This article has been adapted and expanded from a paper originally presented at the European Shakespeare Research Association’s 2013 conference in Montpellier.

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Publication details

Volume 38, May 2018

“What gay, vain, prating thing is this”: Discourses of femininity in Thomas Shadwell’s adaptation of Timon of Athens



During the Restoration era (1660 to 1700), the plays of Shakespeare were routinely adapted in order to make them fit for the new stages and for the new society in which they were being produced. Representations ‘femininity’ and ‘woman’ were re-negotiated following a tumultuous period in English history and the evidence of this can be seen in the Shakespearean adaptations. Theatrical depictions of women within the plays produced during this time drew on everyday discourses of femininity and were influenced by the new presence of professional actresses on the London stages. In a time before widespread literacy and access to multiple media platforms, the theatre served a didactic function as a site which could present “useful and instructive representations of human life" (as ordered by Charles II in his Letters Patent to the theatre companies in 1662). This paper argues that, on the stage, Restoration women were afforded three roles: gay, ideal or fallen. Each of these are evident within Thomas Shadwell’s adaptation of Timon of Athens.


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