Coyness and Crime in Restoration Comedy

Peggy Thompson

Women's Desire, Deception, and Agency

189 pages
ISBN 1611483734

Now in paperback

Coyness and Crime in Restoration Comedy examines the extraordinary focus on coy women in late seventeenth-century English comedies. Plays by George Etherege, William Wycherley, John Dryden, Aphra Behn, Thomas Shadwell, William Congreve, Catharine Trotter, Thomas Southerne, John Vanbrugh, and Mary Pix -- as well as much modern scholarship about them -- taint almost all feminine modesty with intimations of duplicity and illicit desire that must be contained. Forceful responses by men, therefore, are implicitly exonerated, encouraged, and eroticized. In short, characters become "women" by performing coyness, only to be mocked and punished for it. Peggy Thompson explores the disturbing dynamic of feminine coyness and masculine control as it intersects with reaffirmations of church and king, anxiety over new wealth, and emerging in liberty, novelty, and marriage in late seventeenth-century England. Despite the diversity of these contexts, the plays consistently reveal women caught in an ironic and nearly intractable convergence of objectification and culpability that allows them little innocent sexual agency. This is both the source and the legacy of coyness in Restoration comedy.


"Meticulously researched, clearly organized, methodically argued, this book strips the veils of elegance and wit from Restoration theater, exposing dismaying prurience, misogyny, and exploitation."--P.D. Collington, CHOICE, Jan. 2013.

"Two new books, Coyness and Crime in Restoration Comedy: Women's Desire, Deception, and Agency by Peggy Thompson and A Race of Female Patriots: Women and Public Spirit on the British Stage, 1688 - 1745 by Brett D. Wilson, contribute to ongoing debates about the representation of women on the Restoration and eighteenth-century London stage.... Wilson and Thompson both bring productive attention to the cultural importance of female characters in the drama in this period. Thompson reveals a particular paradox that has escaped previous attention and may have contributed to the misogynistic expressions in the plays; Wilson, by contrast, shows why we should be returning to some of them in the first place."

--Laura J. Rosenthal, University of Maryland, Eighteenth-Century Life (Fall 2014)

Read a review in Recent Studies in the Restoration and Eighteenth Century here.

Read the University press article here.

About the author:

Peggy Thompson is Ellen Douglass Leyburn Professor of English at Agnes Scott College.


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