Defensive virginity from Spenser to Milton.

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kimberly Reigle, Teaching Assistant (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Michelle Dowd

Abstract: When the English Reformation began, it brought about not only religious changes, but also changes in social practices. With these changes, the virgin—a figure long associated with spiritual purity and lauded by the Catholic Church—was dislocated from her previous prominence in English society. Despite her displacement, the virgin continued to appear frequently in later sixteenth and early seventeenth-century literature. This dissertation considers how early modern English writers constructed virginity in a post-Reformation culture and posits that the tensions between the figure of the virgin and her lack of a cultural niche created a space for writers to examine, formulate, and redefine her.

Defensive virginity, a concept based on a phrase coined by Luce Irigaray, is used in this study as a lens for examining differing literary reconfigurations of virginity in early modern English texts from a variety of genres. Irigaray’s term has not to date been utilized as a frame for analyzing texts, but this investigation shows that defensive virginity appears within early modern literature as a possible venue of female agency, for defensive virginity is an action that inscribes agency on the part of the female character who is depicted as defending her virginity. The chapters in this work are divided into case studies that show the varied representations of defensive virginity over a course of time as a way of demonstrating the prevalence of defensive virginity in the period.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2010
Early Modern, Virginity, Milton, Spenser, Literary analysis
English literature $x Early modern, 1500-1700 $x History and criticism.
Sex in literature.
Virginity in literature.
Spenser, Edmund, $d 1552?-1599.
Milton, John, $d 1608-1674.
Shakespeare, William, $d 1564-1616.
Marlowe, Christopher, $d 1564-1593.

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