Thesis Title

Bent and Orphaned: Shakespeare's Disappearing Mothers

Date of Graduation

Fall 2007


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Mary Baumlin


Though Shakespeare is celebrated for his diverse and rich characters, his treatment of mothers is oddly repetitive. These characters are either inexplicably missing from the family unit, or they are corrupted, lacking maternal authority. There is no concrete explanation for the absence of maternal authority. In order to interpret this pattern, this paper investigates the cultural and theological context of Shakespeare's time, specifically focusing on the Protestant Reformation and its effects on both English mothers and the cult of the Virgin Mary. Next, it examines six of Shakespeare's plays, Titus Andronicus, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, and The Tempest and the treatment of mother in these plays. This paper argues that the effects of the Protestant rejection of the Virgin Mary are reflected in Shakespeare's revision of motherhood. It concludes that the rejection of maternal authority in Shakespeare's work is a symptom of the theological shift in England from Catholicism to Protestantism. In doing so, the paper maintains that the elimination of maternal authority in Shakespeare's work mirrors England's necessary rejection of medieval Catholicism in order to make the transition into Protestant individualism.


Shakespeare, mother, motherhood, Protestant Reformation, Virgin Mary

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Alisha Joy Tuttle