Date of Award

Summer 8-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Christopher M. Kuipers

Second Advisor

David Downing

Third Advisor

Veronica Watson

Fourth Advisor

Stephen Zimmerly


This dissertation is devoted to the evolution of the inclusion of women’s writing in the present-day literary canon of the English Renaissance and the influence of concerns about gender equity on the formation of contemporary anthologies of Renaissance literature. As a social principle, equity means equal access to a society’s opportunities and resources, such as in schooling (Ferguson). The exclusion of women from writing, publishing, and otherwise participating in the literary tradition and its cultural advantages has been recognized as a central problem for some time in English studies, one that scholars have worked to redress. Lack of gender equity is particularly a problem in those literary traditions of earlier periods, when women were actively discouraged from gaining literacy and rarely granted access to publishing outlets for their writing. Such was the case during the Renaissance of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when male writers, like William Shakespeare, had more publishing rights and opportunities than their fellow female authors, like Virginia Woolf’s posited “Judith Shakespeare,” a figure who suggests that the Renaissance remains an important construction site for achieving contemporary ideals of gender equity.

These inequalities have often been cemented by the modern textbooks used to teach literature, which feature mostly male authors. Moreover, textbooks of literature embody what John Guillory has called the “cultural capital” of the literary canon because, according to Guillory, “the school” is the primary location where literary canons are formed and perpetuated. Therefore, various critics and editors such as Barbara Pace and Paul Lauter have called for revision of the exclusively biased “textbook canon.” Much revision of the traditional university literature curriculum with attention to racial and gender equity has been accomplished, primarily by recovering women and minority writers and by including in anthologies more representative selections of their work. In the field of Renaissance studies, various scholars have also answered this imperative (Callaghan), resulting in many changes in Renaissance literature anthologies.

However, except for contemporary anthologies of Renaissance drama, which have been explored by Lopez and others, there has been little study of the contemporary formation of the textbook canon of Renaissance literature, which includes many genres other than plays. This inquiry is devoted to examining how gender equity has (or has not) been achieved in the contemporary textbook canon of Renaissance literature. In order to assess the various kinds of editorial interventions that have been performed regarding the anthologization of early modern women authors, I apply statistical models for anthologies from Pace, Kuipers, and others.

Because the anthology was also a popular form of publication in the Renaissance, I detail the minimal presence of women authors in the earliest English Renaissance poetry collections, like Tottel’s Miscellany (1557), and subsequent landmark collections like Palgrave’s Golden Treasury (1861). My primary area of investigation, however, is the last several decades of the present, where I survey a range of Renaissance textbook anthologies published during this time. Some of these anthologies, like the Renaissance sections in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, are studied diachronically to reveal relevant changes across editions. Other anthologies are studied synchronically, grouping them by genre or theme. Within individual anthologies, I investigate such areas as the inclusions and exclusions of given authors and texts; the editorial organization, sourcing, presentation, and abridgment of selections; the role of editors’ introductions, headnotes, and bibliographies; various anthology paratexts, such as dust jackets and marketing materials; and other relevant statistical proportions and related evidence that may suggest how contemporary editors and publishers have been motivated by concerns about gender equity. Necessary literary and cultural history also are referenced as needed, such as the differences between the period terms “Renaissance,” “Elizabethan,” and “early modern,” when deployed in anthologies’ titles.

Regarding its theoretical methodology, this investigation is located at the intersection of two existing areas of literary study: the advocacy research of the “recovery movement” (the sector of contemporary canon studies devoted to recovering female authors and their works) and the cultural study of Anglo-American university textbooks, specifically the anthologies published as textbooks for college courses in literature. I employ a “mixed method” (combined qualitative/quantitative methodology) also known as “attending to the anthology’s ‘soft figures’” (Kuipers, “Contemporizing”). The effective starting point is the post-war period when canon-making relocated to the university, and the canon-making college textbook anthology first appeared. Of the dozens of published post-WWII anthologies of English Renaissance, I analyze altogether about 30, dividing them into four general categories based on three variables: relative size and market reach (number of selections, audience, sales figures, re-editions); gender inclusivity (male-only, mixed gender, female-only); and overall design (comprehensive, vs. those limited in genre, theme/topic, and/or subperiod). I argue that there are four discrete textbook types based on these three variables: the “middlemen” anthology, the “marquee” anthology, the “female utopia,” and the passaggio.

Following Chapter One which is an introduction that reviews relevant scholarship on Renaissance studies, canon formation, and the nature of the contemporary textbook anthology, the dissertation chapters are broken down according to these above four types. Chapter Two is a historical examination of the exclusion of women authors from the earliest English Renaissance anthologies down to the immediate post-WWII period, when the modern textbook anthology emerged. The role anthologies play in this period is that of “middlemen,” whose authoritative male editors grant access to the past to a present readership. In Chapter Three, on “marquee anthologies,” anthologists begin to work in committees to address a wider and less specialized student audience. Renaissance literature in two of these best-selling anthologies, The Norton Anthology of English Literature (1962-2018) and The Longman Anthology of British Literature (1999-2010), is studied over the full range of their editions, tracing the shifts over the series in their inclusion of women. Chapter Four, on “female utopias” (as perfect places and as nonexistent places), studies anthologies that include only female authors of Renaissance literature. Here, the desire to represent Renaissance women’s experiences as worthy of study plays a strong role in opening the Renaissance canon, but the absence of male authors has additional pedagogical consequences. In Chapter Five, on passaggio, or the concept of high and low singing registers available to all voices, female and male authors of the English Renaissance exist as co-equals in populating anthologies and representing the Renaissance age. Ultimately, anthologists who have grouped male and female authors of the English Renaissance together project a Renaissance canon that is imagined as “open” to women, yet one not necessarily over-determined by concerns about gender equity.