“Unsex me here”: The Inordinate Criminalization of Female Violent Offenders in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, King Lear, and Titus Andronicus

Senior Capstone Experience by Annalie Buscarino ’21

Submitted to the Departments of English and Sociology

Advised by Dr. Rachel Durso and Dr. Courtney Rydel

Description: Shakespeare’s female violent offenders suffer from punishments that occur offstage, threaten their femininities, and double as criminal acts. However, interdisciplinary scholarship situates their identities in a liminal position between female embodied criminality (criminality resulting from one’s adherence to femininity) and female metamorphosed criminality (criminality resulting from one’s deviation from femininity). By close reading Macbeth, King Lear, and Titus Andronicus, I investigate how the criminal framing of Lady Macbeth, Goneril and Regan, and Queen Tamora respectively justifies punishments that are unseen, gendered, and criminal. I ultimately found that each of Shakespeare’s female violent offenders employ both female embodied and female metamorphosed criminalities, weaponizing their femininities in order to access masculine power through crime. However, because the criminological binary cannot accommodate individuals who employ androgynous criminalities, the texts ultimately eliminate the identities of Shakespearean female violent offenders from the worlds of their plays. My findings indicate that institutions inordinately punish criminal women for their liminal identities in order to deter them from disrupting heteronormative hierarchies. However, recognizing the androgynous agency of Shakespearean female violent offenders can liberate them from the liminality that otherwise renders their punishments rhetorically unseen.

Read Annalie’s SCE below:

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