Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Revelations of a Genealogy: Biblical Women in Performance during Twentieth-Century American Feminisms

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Scott Magelssen (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Susana Pena (Committee Member)


This dissertation treats dramatic representations of biblical women by women that have emerged in the last century within milieus informed by emerging and shifting feminisms. I begin my study with proto-feminist Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and then trace a genealogy of the dramatization of biblical women during twentieth-century American feminisms through the works of female artists. These performers and playwrights include Salome dancers, Florence Kiper Frank, Lorraine Hansberry, Marsha Norman, Madonna, and others. The goal of my project is to argue that theatre and performance provide what feminist theologian Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza describes as a “hermeneutics of creative imagination and ritualization” that “retells biblical stories and celebrates our foresisters in a feminist key.” Feminist religious scholars like Fiorenza, as well as feminists such as Hélène Cixous and artists such as Sandra Cisneros, have urged similar re-visionings of biblical women towards feminists ends. These projects, however, tend to privilege critical and non-dramatic texts, particularly the creative writings of contemporary women that endeavor to rewrite biblical women through a feminist perspective. Marjorie Procter-Smith, a scholar of feminist liturgy, ritual studies, and performance theory, cites the need for historical reconstruction, but that which “involves not only remembering with the mind but also remembering with the body.” While Fiorenza and Procter-Smith do not extend their claims to include drama in the reconstruction of feminine memory, the goal of my research is to argue that theatre and performance fulfill this type of hermeneutic. My project asks “Does, or how does, theatre and performance provide an embodied ‘creative and imaginative hermeneutic’ to reclaim and reshape feminine religious and social identity?”