In his British history plays, Shakespeare crafted portrayals of powerful female figures; his depictions reveal English anxieties about women and their positions in society under the rule of Queen Elizabeth. As these plays represent a fascinating intersection between literary and historical studies, they yield insight into Shakespeare’s reinterpretation of historical narratives for his audience, within his own social, cultural, and political context. This Independent Study examines several of Shakespeare’s early British historical plays in conjunction with the chronicles he used as sources (Edward Hall’s Chronicle, Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicle, and Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia), in order to understand Shakespeare’s reconstruction of historical figures, and in particular, powerful women. I will analyze Shakespeare’s representation of three Frenchwomen who were involved in military situations: Margaret of Anjou, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Joan of Arc. I argue that these characterizations illustrate the playwright’s perspective on women in positions of power and the broader Early Modern expectations of women. By studying depictions of historical women in Shakespeare’s works, this interdisciplinary study finds that Shakespeare’s representations of women in proximity to power reflect anxieties in response to Elizabeth’s divisive reign.


Prendergast, Thomas

Second Advisor

Welsch, Christina


English; History


Cultural History | European History | Literature in English, British Isles | Women's History


William Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, Elizabethan, England, Shakespearian, Margaret of Anjou, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2019 Rebecca Giver Johnston