Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Playing with lives: Theatricality, self -staging, and the problem of agency in Renaissance English revenge tragedy
by Condon, James Joseph, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside, 2009, 210; 3389711
Abstract (Summary)

This project explores Renaissance revenge tragedy's conspicuous theatricality in light of the genre's primary concerns of personal transformation and the place of the self within an increasingly prescriptive society and cosmology. Specifically, its goal is to assert the essential dramaturgical role of theatricality in the early modern revenge play. Focusing primarily on the Kydian tradition of revenge begun with The Spanish Tragedy and continued in the work of William Shakespeare, John Marston, and Thomas Middleton, this study investigates the genre's treatment of subjectivity and how the characters' attempts at self-fashioning are mitigated—and at times, utterly thwarted—by the preexisting interpretive systems within which these characters move. This project argues that the revenger's turn to theatricality affords him a means of destabilizing those associations by interfering with the court's ability to identify, interpret, and classify effectively. In so doing, the revenger facilitates a transformation of self that will combat his original state of impotence and vulnerability, and ultimately, creates a fleeting opportunity in which he might appropriate those tools of political domination that had previously victimized him. The liberatory potential of such theatricalized agency is compromised, however, by its conspicuous exclusion of female subjects, who are either appropriated as spectacles to motivate masculine reprisal, or cast as monstrous agents whose grasp at revenge effectively robs them of their femininity. More generally, Playing With Lives explores how the genre's theatricality undermines essentialist notions of subjectivity, and through its metadramatic conventions, essentially stages spectatorship to foreground issues of signification and voyeuristic reception to speak to the broader issues of how the individual semiotically constructs meaning and how those interpretations are situated within a political framework.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Willis, Deborah
Commitee: Ganim, John, Stewart, Stanley
School: University of California, Riverside
Department: English
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 71/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Theater, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Agency, Early modern, Kyd, Thomas, Renaissance, Revenge tragedy, Shakespeare, William, Theatricality
Publication Number: 3389711
ISBN: 978-1-109-56553-9
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