Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Fighting Words: The Discourse of War in Early Modern Drama and Military Handbooks
by Seahorn, Christal R., Ph.D., University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2014, 289; 3687704
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation analyzes war discourse in sixteenth-century military handbooks and history plays with a focus on formal performances of martial rhetoric and the informal language used to rally audiences and justify war. Chapter One uses Rhetorical Genre Studies to classify the pre-battle oration as a social genre with common structures and themes, familiar not only to exhorting commanders and their soldiers but also to the general Renaissance populace. Establishing the pre-battle speech as a highly-conventionalized, even ritualized form of oratory, Chapter Two argues that performances of the genre are social actions in which audience familiarity elevates the speech act. This heightened valuation raises anticipation for the rhetorical moment and helps transform events like Elizabeth's Tilbury Speech and Henry V's Agincourt address into transcendent hero narratives. Chapter Three dissects formal justifications of war in William Shakespeare's Henry V and George Peele's The Battle of Alcazar. The chapter demonstrates a playwright's ability either to persuade an audience of legitimate cause, even in the face of possible war crimes, by systematically leading viewers through the rules of Just Cause Theory or to complicate legitimacy assumptions by disrupting the expected framework and destabilizing the systematic narrative.

The final two chapters examine informal motives in the trope of martial masculinity and in figurative language descriptions of war. Conducting a character analysis of official and surrogate martial commanders in Shakespeare's 1, 2, and 3 Henry VI, Chapter Four evaluates recurrent themes of effeminacy in the manuals. It connects anxieties about masculinity to questions of patriarchal power and uncertainties about sociocultural transitions occuring within an English society that at once idealized peace and vilified it as emasculating. Using Cognitive Metaphor Theory, Chapter Five uncovers similar anxieties embedded in the figurative expressions used to describe war in which warfare is conceptualized as natural and unpredictable, but England's men lack the knowledge and training to keep the country ordered and war-ready. This study advocates for an increased literary-historical awareness of war discourse and gives explicit evidence for connecting the treatises to early modern literature, an assumption that remains as-yet unproven by prevailing scholarship.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bobo, Elizabeth
Commitee: Hermann, Robin, McDonald, James C., Vaught, Jennifer
School: University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Louisiana
Source: DAI-A 76/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern literature, Theater, British and Irish literature, Rhetoric, Military studies
Keywords: Discourse, Drama, Military, Oratory, Renaissance, War
Publication Number: 3687704
ISBN: 978-1-321-65594-0
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