Writing the criminalized body: the body in the construction of female subjectivity in English women's writing c.1540-1640

Bishai, Nadia (2005) Writing the criminalized body: the body in the construction of female subjectivity in English women's writing c.1540-1640. PhD thesis, Middlesex University. [Thesis]

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This thesis argues that the criminalized body is the basis for the construction of criminalized subjectivity in English texts, c.1540-1640, focusing particularly on four women writers and their writings: Anne Askew, Elizabeth Tudor, Lady Elizabeth Cary, and Lady Mary Wroth. In doing so, this thesis engages in two areas of early modem English studies that have not yet received critical attention: the historically specific understanding of criminalized, rather than criminal, bodies and subjectivities, as well as the engagement with women writers and their writings from the perspective of crime.

Accordingly, Part One identifies how the criminalized body was understood, its relationship to criminalized SUbjectivity, and the existence of a culture of criminalization in the period. Since early modern crimes were viewed as sinful, unnatural and illegal acts, the criminalized body was seen to break divine, natural and human laws, as well as being physically deformed; either because it was imagined to be so or because it was visibly deformed in some manner. This had
several important consequences. Criminalized bodies were identifiable in society, resulting in a social process of criminalization that preceded, and did not necessarily
involve, members of the judiciary and judicial processes. Also, criminalized bodies could be, and frequently were, located in a wide variety of contexts outside the judicial sphere, such as the political, theological, social, and literary. Together, these consequences evidence the currency of a culture of criminalization in early modern England. Most importantly, the identification of the body as the primary indicator of criminality reveals that it was the basis for the construction of criminalized subjectivity.

This model of physicality and its consequent relationship to subjectivity dictates the employment of an alternative theoretical approach to those currently used by scholars of the period. Accordingly, I have identified Toril Moi's recent
revisionist exposition of Simone De Beauvoir's theoretical formulations in The Second Sex as the most constructive way to think about these early modern criminalized bodies and subjectivities. Moi's re-interpretation of De Beauvoir's
distinctions between the body as, and the body in, a situation offers a powerful tool for projects concerned with the historically specific body, as well as for those concerned with providing a non-reductive, non-essentialist account of embodied subjectivity.

In the light of this, Part Two focuses on various constructions of female subjectivity in the context of criminalization in works by four early modem English women writers. The first two case studies examine two women who were judicially
criminalized, confined, and subjected to judicial interrogation: Anne Askew and Elizabeth Tudor. I attend to the centrality of their bodies to constructions of their subjectivities and the strategies both women employ to de-criminalize themselves in
their writings. Alternatively, the second two case studies examine two women who were not judicially criminalized: Lady Elizabeth Cary and Lady Mary Wroth, but whose works reveal an interest in criminalized female subjectivity. I examine Cary and Wroth's explorations of how women can be criminalized in various social contexts, as well as the centrality of the body to their constructions of fictional
criminalized female subjectivity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: B. > Theses
Item ID: 13474
Depositing User: Adam Miller
Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2015 17:08
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2021 16:46
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/13474

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