A Discussion of the Mercurius Type Within William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Othello, the Moor of Venice King Lear and Macbeth

Date of Graduation

Spring 2006


Master of Arts in Theatre


Theatre and Dance

Committee Chair

Christopher Herr


This thesis examines a new character type, as defined by Camille Paglia in her book Sexual Personae, called the Mercurius. This type, which Paglia argues was invented by Shakespeare, is a strong woman, who has a strong sexual desire and a deceptive nature. She is also characterized by a strong intelligence and the use of eloquent language. This thesis focuses on her role in the tragedies of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; Othello, the Moor of Venice; King Lear; and Macbeth. It identifies Gertrude, Desdemona and Emilia, Goneril and Regan, and Lady Macbeth as canadates [candidates] for the Mercurius type and then examines how their actions are consistent or not with the definition of the Mercurius type. The body of the thesis is organized around the three part definition. First, within tragedy, the Mercurius operates in a daemonic world, where the power of feminine sexual power is ascendant. Second, that their sexual behavior and lack of morals is the root cause of the tragedy itself. Thirdly, they possess a deceptive nature and deceitful language, and they are actively involved in deceptive actions in the crisis moment of the play. This action then causes the tragedy to unfold as it does.


Camille Paglia, Northrop Frye, William Shakespeare, Mercurius, tragedy, typological criticism, feminist criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, female characters in Shakespearean tragedy

Subject Categories

Theatre and Performance Studies


© Scott S. Boston