Graduation Term


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


School of Theatre and Dance: Theatre

Committee Chair

Kee-Yoon Nahm


Seventeenth century playwright, Aphra Behn, is often considered one of theatre’s “greats,” as her plays are still widely discussed and produced. Interestingly, all contemporary scholars really know about Behn is her career, for her early life still remains a patchwork of possible theories. One such theory is that she never actually married. Instead, she may have invented a husband and faked his death in order to use the benefits of widowhood to build herself a respectable life as a “woman alone.” This research project is interested in Behn’s potential subterfuge. In what way might Aphra Behn have felt about widowhood if she decided it was necessary for her survival to invent a false narrative about her background? This thesis, in no way, intends to either prove or disprove her marriage; rather it investigates how Behn’s plays showcase the symbolic power of widowhood. Using an historical analysis of the early modern understanding of womanhood and widowhood, alongside a literary analysis of the female characters in The Widow Ranter, The Rover, and The Luckey Chance, this thesis argues that Aphra Behn viewed the widow as a symbol of ultimate feminine power. Building a contrast between Widow Ranter in The Widow Ranter and Florinda, Hellena, Julia, and Leticia from The Rover and The Luckey Chance, this paper highlights how widowhood bestowed autonomy and freedom on early modern women, thus marking widowed women as unusually powerful.


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