Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The fool's replies: Toward a poetics of folly in Shakespeare's comedies
by Cuthbertson, Thomas H., Ph.D., Indiana University, 2014, 237; 3613685
Abstract (Summary)

This project examines the ethical implications of relationships between Shakespeare’s fools and their audiences. More specifically, I argue that in instances within certain comedies Shakespeare presents different kinds of fool/observer interactions in order to investigate whether fool figures, as literary devices, could produce the moral reflection and amendment that humanists like Erasmus often associated with such characters. Typically, Shakespeare portrays these humanist conceptions of the fool’s utility as being limited by complications of the specific rhetorical situations in which fool/audience relationships occur. However, for Shakespeare, the possibility of dramatizing these complex effects provides an opportunity for exploration into the nuances of action and observation that occurs in interactions between fools and their audiences, whether in performance or on the page. More importantly, because of the fool’s unique position as both a dramatic and social figure, the fool’s interaction with auditors on stage offers opportunities to mirror social performances and observations that occur in the world outside the theater. As Ervin Goffman notes, the impressions created by performances and observations in social situations often are intertwined with moral judgments, not just through intentional and overt gestures, but also through implied and unintentional signals. In this light, this project makes apparent an ethical dimension in these comedies in that Shakespeare’s spectrum of fools point to the fact that one’s empathy and understanding for others is the product of close and particular attention to one’s role as a performer and an observer in the social world. At the same time, this study also helps demonstrates that the sometimes puzzling shifts in tone between seriousness and mirth that run through a number of Shakespeare’s comedies can be partially attributed to the author’s sustained scrutiny of the fool/audience relationship.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Linton, Joan P.
Commitee: Anderson, Judith, Furey, Constance, MacKay, Ellen
School: Indiana University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 75/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Comedies, Erasmus, Folly, Fools, Humanism, Shakespeare
Publication Number: 3613685
ISBN: 978-1-303-77039-5
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