100 books like Renaissance Drama by Women

By S.P. Cerasano (editor), Marion Wynne-Davies (editor),

Here are 100 books that Renaissance Drama by Women fans have personally recommended if you like Renaissance Drama by Women. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth

Alison Findlay Author Of Love's Victory: By Lady Mary Wroth

From my list on women playwrights in Shakespeare’s day.

Why am I passionate about this?

Most people have not heard of a female playwright before Aphra Behn so I’ve been passionate about restoring the work of Shakespeare’s ‘sisters’, or female contemporaries, to the stage and to public awareness. Early play scripts by women are often dismissed as ‘closet drama’: unperformed, not written for performance, and unperformable. To challenge such assumptions, I staged productions of female-authored plays, most recently Wroth’s Love’s Victory. A good deal of writing about women’s drama now exists, including my book Playing Spaces. I have made this selection to encourage you to discover the plays for yourselves. I hope you enjoy reading, and perhaps watching or acting, them.

Alison's book list on women playwrights in Shakespeare’s day

Alison Findlay Why did Alison love this book?

I was immediately excited to read this book, which is the best biographical study of Mary Wroth, author of the Love’s Victory.

It informed my work on editing the play by giving a meticulously-researched insight into Wroth’s life as an aristocratic woman: her struggles in love (with her first cousin William Herbert), and her determination to write. Importantly, it corrected earlier assumptions about Wroth’s relationship with her husband Robert Wroth.

It has been thought that she was satirizing him in the foolish character of Rustic in her play, but Hannay’s book taught me to identify him with the sympathetic character of the Forester.

It also clarified Wroth’s relationships with her family and the politics of the royal court in which they were involved.

By Margaret P. Hannay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Despite her fascinating life and her importance as a writer, until now Lady Mary Wroth has never been the subject of a full-length biography. Margaret Hannay's reliance on primary sources results in some corrections, as well as additions, to our knowledge of Wroth's life, including Hannay's discovery of the career of her son William, the marriages of her daughter Katherine, her grandchildren, her last years, the date of her death, and the subsequent history of her manuscripts. This biography situates Lady Mary Wroth in her family and court context, emphasizing the growth of the writer's mind in the sections on…


Book cover of Three Tragedies by Renaissance Women

Alison Findlay Author Of Love's Victory: By Lady Mary Wroth

From my list on women playwrights in Shakespeare’s day.

Why am I passionate about this?

Most people have not heard of a female playwright before Aphra Behn so I’ve been passionate about restoring the work of Shakespeare’s ‘sisters’, or female contemporaries, to the stage and to public awareness. Early play scripts by women are often dismissed as ‘closet drama’: unperformed, not written for performance, and unperformable. To challenge such assumptions, I staged productions of female-authored plays, most recently Wroth’s Love’s Victory. A good deal of writing about women’s drama now exists, including my book Playing Spaces. I have made this selection to encourage you to discover the plays for yourselves. I hope you enjoy reading, and perhaps watching or acting, them.

Alison's book list on women playwrights in Shakespeare’s day

Alison Findlay Why did Alison love this book?

This very handy anthology includes the only modern edition of The Tragedie of Iphigenia (1557-9), by Jane Lumley, the first person to translate Euripides into English and the first English woman to write a full-length play.

It is a surprisingly modern-sounding script, featuring a father sacrificing his daughter, not unlike Stannis Barathean in Game of Thrones, and I loved producing and taking part in a production in 2013-14. Also included are Antonius translated by Mary [Sidney Herbert], Countess of Pembroke, and Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam.

Unlike the anthology above, this edition publishes the plays in their original old spelling so you can get a feel of Renaissance English. Diane Purkiss offers a concise introduction and notes at the back of the book.

By Diane Purkiss (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Three Tragedies by Renaissance Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This volume contains unmodernized versions of plays by each of the three leading Renaissance women dramatists: Elizabeth Cary's "The Tragedie of Mariam" (1613), the story of the plight of a woman married against her will to an unbending tyrant; June Lumley's version of Euripides' "Iphigenia" (1550), the earliest surviving translation of a Greek tragedy; and Mary Sidney's "Antonie" (1590), a blank verse translation of a French Senecan play. Intended for private production, all three were able to address contentious political issues - the nature of the good ruler, resistance to unjust authority - which were seldom permitted on the public…


Book cover of Imperfect Alchemist

Alison Findlay Author Of Love's Victory: By Lady Mary Wroth

From my list on women playwrights in Shakespeare’s day.

Why am I passionate about this?

Most people have not heard of a female playwright before Aphra Behn so I’ve been passionate about restoring the work of Shakespeare’s ‘sisters’, or female contemporaries, to the stage and to public awareness. Early play scripts by women are often dismissed as ‘closet drama’: unperformed, not written for performance, and unperformable. To challenge such assumptions, I staged productions of female-authored plays, most recently Wroth’s Love’s Victory. A good deal of writing about women’s drama now exists, including my book Playing Spaces. I have made this selection to encourage you to discover the plays for yourselves. I hope you enjoy reading, and perhaps watching or acting, them.

Alison's book list on women playwrights in Shakespeare’s day

Alison Findlay Why did Alison love this book?

I found this historical novel about the life of Mary Sidney Hebert, the Countess of Pembroke really enjoyable because it offers me the fantasy of filling in the gaps in the historical record about one of the early women writers.

I find it impressive because it draws on years of research on Mary Sidney Herbert by the author who is a renowned literary critic. Miller tells Mary Sidney Herbert’s story ingeniously by paralleling it with the life of a fictional character, Rose, who serves as her waiting woman.

Although I know the historical facts, the twists and turns in the narrative successfully cast new light on how I read Mary Sidney Herbert’s poetry and her play Antonius, though, for me, the co-authorship that the novel imagines remains entirely fictional.

By Naomi Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Imperfect Alchemist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A remarkable life lost to history is brought into sharp focus

England, 1575. Young Mary Sidney is bearing a devastating loss while her father plans her alliance to Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. But Mary is determined to make her mark on the world as a writer and scientist.

As Mary Sidney Herbert steps into her new life with the earl at his home, Wilton House, an unusual friendship is forged between her and servant Rose Commin, a country girl with a surprising artistic gift, that will change their lives for ever.

Defying the conventions of their time, mistress and…


Book cover of The Convent of Pleasure and Other Plays

Alison Findlay Author Of Love's Victory: By Lady Mary Wroth

From my list on women playwrights in Shakespeare’s day.

Why am I passionate about this?

Most people have not heard of a female playwright before Aphra Behn so I’ve been passionate about restoring the work of Shakespeare’s ‘sisters’, or female contemporaries, to the stage and to public awareness. Early play scripts by women are often dismissed as ‘closet drama’: unperformed, not written for performance, and unperformable. To challenge such assumptions, I staged productions of female-authored plays, most recently Wroth’s Love’s Victory. A good deal of writing about women’s drama now exists, including my book Playing Spaces. I have made this selection to encourage you to discover the plays for yourselves. I hope you enjoy reading, and perhaps watching or acting, them.

Alison's book list on women playwrights in Shakespeare’s day

Alison Findlay Why did Alison love this book?

This modern edition gives readers a sample plays by the remarkable Margaret Cavendish, who privately published 2 volumes of plays in 1662 and 1668 though many were probably written earlier.

I find her plays fascinating for the ways they deal explicitly with women’s experiences in love, in war and in marriage.

In this selection Love’s Adventures Parts I and II features a cross-dressing heroine in pursuit of her intended husband; Bell In Campo Parts I and II, dramatizes the experience of a superheroine leading an army, while The Bridals and The Convent of Pleasure satirize love and marriage.

I love The Convent of Pleasure’s depictions of same-sex retreat and desire. Cavendish’s witty prefaces on the difficulties of writing plays for a woman are included as appendices to Shaver’s edition.

By Margaret Cavendish, Anne Shaver (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Convent of Pleasure and Other Plays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673), until recently remembered more as a flamboyant eccentric than as a serious writer, was in fact the most prolific, thought-provoking, and original woman writer of the Restoration. Cavendish is the author of many poems, short stories, biographies, memoirs, letters, philosophical and scientific works (including The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World, the first work of science fiction by a woman), and nineteen plays. "The Convent of Pleasure" and Other Plays collects four of Cavendish's dramatic works that are among the most revealing of her attitudes toward marriage and her desire for…


Book cover of Kingship, Madness, and Masculinity on the Early Modern Stage: Mad World, Mad Kings

Carole Levin Author Of The Reign and Life of Queen Elizabeth I: Politics, Culture, and Society

From my list on to enjoy Shakespeare in the twenty-first century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated with Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare since I was a child and read a kid biography of the queen and saw a Shakespearean comedy. The two topics are completely intertwined—Elizabeth saw Shakespeare’s plays at court and the strong women in Shakespeare’s plays reflect the queen. Elizabeth and Shakespeare have been both my passion and my profession. I have loved teaching and writing about them. One of my favorite things to do is to go see Shakespeare plays and to see portraits of the queen at museums. This passion has so enriched my life. The queen and the playwright have been very good to me. 

Carole's book list on to enjoy Shakespeare in the twenty-first century

Carole Levin Why did Carole love this book?

Today concerns over madness and disability are very much with us, especially if they connect with issues of power and masculinity. This was also true in the age of Shakespeare. Christina Gutierrez-Dennehy’s collection of essays on the topic of mad kings on the Renaissance stage is very readable and interesting, and tie in with contemporary issues. The book is divided into three sections: distracted kingship, fractured masculinity, and performed madness. The plays under discussion include Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, Henry VI, and All’s Well That Ends Well. Gutierrez-Dennehy brilliantly and explicitly brings the topics raised in the collection into the twenty-first century

By Christina Gutierrez-Dennehy (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kingship, Madness, and Masculinity on the Early Modern Stage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book provides a fascinating study into the history of kingship, madness and masculinity that was acted out on the early modern stage. Providing students of early modern history, theatre and performance studies and disability studies with interesting case studies to inform their upper level seminars and research.

Throughout the volume the authors engage with the field of disability studies to show how disability and mental health were portrayed and what that tells us about the period and the people who lived in it. Showing students, a new dimension of early modern Europe.

The chapters uncover how, as the early…


Book cover of Shakespeare, the Queen's Men, and the Elizabethan Performance of History

Amy Lidster Author Of Publishing the History Play in the Time of Shakespeare: Stationers Shaping a Genre

From my list on Shakespeare and history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Lecturer in English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, where I specialize in early modern drama (including Shakespeare) and book history. Since my undergraduate degree, I have been fascinated by historical drama, poetry, prose, and the often-porous boundary between ’truth’ and fiction during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Most of my research–including a major project on ‘Wartime Shakespeare’ that produced two books and a public exhibition at The National Army Museum in London–explores the profound impact of the stories we tell about the past and what they reveal about concerns and interests in the present. 

Amy's book list on Shakespeare and history

Amy Lidster Why did Amy love this book?

I love this book because it spotlights performance contexts and conditions–what it means to stage history during the Elizabethan period–and, through this focus, provides fresh, nuanced interpretations of the plays it considers, including some by Shakespeare and others performed by Queen Elizabeth’s Men.

It is another formative book for me, especially because it negotiates ideas and representations of ‘truth’ in historical drama. Walsh’s book offers a compelling account of the communal construction of history and the interplay between presence and absence, which has also helped me understand my own methods as a critic and historian.

By Brian Walsh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shakespeare, the Queen's Men, and the Elizabethan Performance of History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Elizabethan history play was one of the most prevalent dramatic genres of the 1590s, and so was a major contribution to Elizabethan historical culture. The genre has been well served by critical studies that emphasize politics and ideology; however, there has been less interest in the way history is interrogated as an idea in these plays. Drawing in period-sensitive ways on the field of contemporary performance theory, this book looks at the Shakespearean history play from a fresh angle, by first analyzing the foundational work of the Queen's Men, the playing company that invented the popular history play. Through…


Book cover of Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance

Helen Hackett Author Of The Elizabethan Mind: Searching for the Self in an Age of Uncertainty

From my list on how Shakespeare thought about the mind.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always loved all things Elizabethan, and I especially love spending time with books and manuscripts where voices from the period speak to us directly. Wanting to understand how Shakespeare and his contemporaries understood themselves led me to investigate their ideas about relations between mind and body, about emotions, about the imagination, and about the minds of women and those of other races. I’ve learned that the Elizabethans grappled with many conflicting ideas about the mind, from classical philosophies, medieval medicine, new theologies, and more – and that this intellectual turmoil was essential fuel for the extraordinary literary creativity of the period.

Helen's book list on how Shakespeare thought about the mind

Helen Hackett Why did Helen love this book?

A brilliantly researched and argued book that transformed the intellectual landscape.

In the 1980s and 1990s many writers on Shakespeare and his contemporaries asserted that when reading their works we had to put aside modern concepts of selfhood as anachronistic. To some extent they were right: Elizabethan and Jacobean ideas about the self were different from ours; but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.

Maus shows that Elizabethan and Jacobean authors were obsessed with what they called ‘the inward self’ or ‘the inner man’, and that their drama was shaped by this preoccupation with disparities between a performed public self and a concealed inner self. There’s also a fascinating chapter, wittily called "A Womb of his Own", on how male writers appropriated childbirth metaphors to represent their intellectual creativity.

By Katharine Eisaman Maus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This text explores the preoccupation of many Renaissance writers' with the inwardness and invisibility of truth. The perceived discrepancy between a person's outward appearance and inward disposition, it argues, influenced the ways in which English Renaissance dramatists and poets conceived the theatre, imagined dramatic characters and reflected upon their own creativity. Reading works by Kyd, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson and Milton in conjuction with sectarian polemics, gynaecological treatises and accounts of criminal prosecutions, the author delineates unexplored connections among religious, legal, sexual and theatrical ideas of inward truth. She reveals what was at stake ethically, politically, epistemologically and theologically when a…


Book cover of The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company, 1594-1613

David McInnis Author Of Shakespeare and Lost Plays

From my list on to understand the history of Shakespeare's theatre.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Shakespeare scholar with a particular interest in theatre history and the repertories of the London commercial playing companies of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries. I’m particularly fascinated by the hundreds of plays written during this period that have not survived, whether as the result of fire, vandalism, censorship, or more mundane causes like a lack of interest in or opportunity for publication. The surviving plays from the period are the distinct minority; yet the plays lost to us were known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, who often wrote in response to what else was being performed across London.

David's book list on to understand the history of Shakespeare's theatre

David McInnis Why did David love this book?

This is the book that inaugurated a whole field of Shakespeare studies—repertory studies—that focuses on the commercial concerns of the London playing companies, treating plays as commodities used by companies to make money, and examining the strategies used by companies to remain competitive in the theatrical marketplace. Knutson’s work de-emphasises the significance of playwrights and focuses instead on playing companies.

By Roslyn Lander Knutson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company, 1594-1613 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Most modern scholars regard William Shakespeare and his repertory company as the pre-eminent theatre group of its day; Roslyn Lander Knutson contends that they were also practical entrepreneurs who both shaped and responded to current theatrical tastes and whose playhouse practices closely paralleled those of their competitors. In ""The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company"" Knutson demystifies Shakespeare and his company by providing a clear vision of the dynamics of play production and play-going in Shakespeare's England, taking Shakespeare and his company down from their lofty pedestal where Victorian scholars placed them. She argues that Shakespeare and his company should not be…


Book cover of This Is Shakespeare

Tom Fletcher Author Of Ten Survival Skills for a World in Flux

From my list on navigating an unstable world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a recovering ambassador, now running an Oxford college. After almost 25 years in diplomacy, including working in no 10 for three prime ministers, I realised that education is upstream diplomacy. If we are to find a way through the challenges ahead – from climate change to pandemics and economic crisis to artificial intelligence – we must act, urgently, to upgrade why, what, and how we learn. I set out to ask hundreds of the most inspirational people on the planet what they wished they had known, and what they would share with the next generation if this was their last day. 

Tom's book list on navigating an unstable world

Tom Fletcher Why did Tom love this book?

A book of immense humanity and authenticity, which reminds us of how the great themes of great literature and art can offer solace and guidance in moments of fragility. By helping us go back to Shakespeare with less insecurity or baggage, the book opens up new perspectives on how others have grappled with these questions about how to be human. And it reminds us that we are allowed to question, challenge, and have fun.

By Emma Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked This Is Shakespeare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A THE TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019

'The best introduction to the plays I've read, perhaps the best book on Shakespeare, full stop' Alex Preston, Observer

'It makes you impatient to see or re-read the plays at once' Hilary Mantel

A genius and prophet whose timeless works encapsulate the human condition like no others. A writer who surpassed his contemporaries in vision, originality and literary mastery. Who wrote like an angel, putting it all so much better than anyone else.
Is this Shakespeare? Well, sort of.

But it doesn't really tell us the whole truth. So much of what…


Book cover of William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Sculpting the Elephant

From my list on mixed relationships.

Why am I passionate about this?

I married Indian born Atam Vetta when mixed relationships were rare and viewed with hostility not just in the UK. In 1966, they were illegal in South Africa and in most Southern States of the USA (until Loving v Virginia). In India they are not illegal but many upper-caste Indians do not approve of marriage outside of caste. In the UK attitudes have revolutionised. Mixed relationships are no longer rare and it is predicted that by 2075 the majority of the population will be of mixed ancestry. There are mixed relationships in all three of my novels. My aim was to explore what we have in common whilst being honest about the challenges. The ultimate prize is an enhanced understanding and the creativity that comes with crossing cultures.

Sylvia's book list on mixed relationships

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

Shakespeare’s tragedies resonate in most cultures because they address the human condition. That is why Romeo and Juliet have spawned West Side Story, many films, and Russian ballets. I personally organised the Joe and Zara workshop with a mixed group of teenagers working on a modern take on the story. The young people in this ten-minute video from the workshop are impressive. 

Othello too is tragic. Othello describes how Desdemona would come again ‘greedy –to hear tales of adventure sorrow and suffering. ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed and I loved her that she did pity them.’ I relate to that.

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked William Shakespeare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The second Oxford edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works reconsiders every detail of their text and presentation in the light of modern scholarship. The nature and authority of the early documents are re-examined, and the canon and chronological order of composition freshly established. Spelling and punctuation are modernized, and there is a brief introduction to each work, as well as an illuminating and informative General Introduction. Included here for the first
time is the play The Reign of King Edward the Third as well as the full text of Sir Thomas More. This new edition also features an essay on Shakespeare's…


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