Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Representing Childhood: The Social, Historical, and Theatrical Significance of the Child on Stage

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Jonathan Chambers

Second Advisor

Scott Magelssen (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Arthur Samel (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ronald Shields (Committee Member)


In this dissertation I explore the social, historical, and theatrical significance of dramatic representations of childhood. In three case studies, one each on childhood in the Early Modern, Modern, and Contemporary periods, I focus on the relationship between larger social, industrial, and philosophical changes, real-world childhood(s), and dramatic representations of those childhoods in playscripts of the time. At each of the moments highlighted, childhood, and the forces that work to shape it, exist at a moment of crisis. These moments are characterized by the convergence of a variety of narratives of childhood ranging from the established to the emergent and, as such, make space for historically significant representations. Childhood is not a natural, nor even strictly biological concept. In fact, childhood is a concept that is changed to suit the needs of a given historical context. More specifically, childhood is made up of a series of discourses influenced by shifts in industry, religion, philosophy, and technology, as well as by the changing needs of adults in response to these forces. From being a valuable source of labor and/or income to objects of sentimentality, Western childhood is engaged in a perpetual process of revision. In each my case studies, which are focused on the work of William Shakespeare, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Martin McDonagh, I explore the ways in which each playwright draws on contemporary social tensions to create child characters that are uniquely situated as sites in which historical tensions are negotiated. Ultimately, by drawing on the organizing metaphor of the blank page that is central to each of history, childhood, and representation, I frame the represented child as the “playscript” of Western society.