Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Theatre & Dance

First Advisor

Oliver Gerland

Second Advisor

James M. Symons

Third Advisor

Bud Coleman

Fourth Advisor

Beth Osnes

Fifth Advisor

Genevieve Love


The theory of the king’s two bodies was a mid-16th century political theory articulated in the Inns of Court to help understand and define the role of the monarch in England. The theory divides the reigning monarch into two entities: a body natural (corporeal, fallible, mortal, and imperfect) and a body politic (spiritual, infallible, immortal, and perfect). The body politic, which is the same body politic for every monarch, renders the body natural perfect, so that any defect created by a king’s age or a queen’s gender did not affect his or her reign. While the theory has been applied to Elizabethan history plays like Richard II, this dissertation identifies further implications of the theory, given its formulation under Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. In looking at gender roles in Elizabethan England and their interpretation on the public stage, this theory permitted portrayals of women beyond the ideal, mythical Elizabethan woman. The theory highlights a particular gender fluidity and identity established in Elizabethan England that has been somewhat ignored in analysis of drama. This dissertation aims to investigate the ramifications of the theory beyond the limits of the monarchy. By identifying traditional roles of women – queens, ladies, wives, mothers, daughters, widows, servants – and then investigating their portrayal in histories and tragedies including Shakespeare’s Henry VI tetralogy, Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, the anonymously written Arden of Faversham, and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it becomes clear how Elizabeth’s use of this theory opened the pathway to a more diverse portrayal of women and gender on the stage.