Author ORCID Identifier

Document Type


Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2022


early modern drama, ancient royalty, gender, sexuality, critical race studies

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

Professor John Kuhn



Subject Heading(s)

English drama—17th century; Mariamne, consort of Herod I, King of Judea, approximately 57 B.C.-approximately 29 B.C. -- Drama; Sophonisba, -203 B.C. -- Drama; Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, -30 B.C. -- Drama; Critical theory; Racism


This thesis conducts an extensive reading of early modern English playwrights’ interpretation of ancient royalty. I survey a series of seventeenth-century plays concerning Mariamne I, the Carthaginian noblewoman Sophonisba, and Cleopatra VII. I argue that the English stage produced two models of ancient royalty. Mar(r)iam(ne) and Sophonisba personify one model, functioning as white, seemingly obedient figureheads. I document playwrights portraying their men as reducing them to their chastity and fairness, or lack thereof. Despite the inactivity of these objectified women, the qualities that these men obsess over catalyze masculine irrationality. The other model, which Cleopatra embodies, encompasses blackness and defiance. Though contemporary scholarship on these plays discusses the role of sexuality in these texts, scholars do not acknowledge the extent to which these ancient queens were sites of racial imagination, nor the extent to which these two models of ancient royalty were in conversation with another.