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Title: Expressions of grief on the early modern stage
Author: Welch, Kate
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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Abstract:
This thesis investigates the ways mourning was performed on the early modern stage. "Expressions of Grief on the Early Modern Stage" re-evaluates widely accepted accounts of theatrical and literary mourning, intervening in two major debates. The first is the extent to which theatrical mourning is an expression of mourning for a Catholic past, a familiar account that is complicated by asking what happens when mourning is future-oriented, rehearsing for a death still to come. The second intervention disrupts the notion of a linear progression from stoical, anti-grief attitudes to increasing sympathy for mourners by revealing a variety of responses to staged mourning across this time period. I identified seventy-eight plays from 1580-1642 that feature extended or notable scenes of mourning, and created a database to track accompanying gestures, associated playing companies, playhouses, and playwrights, and dates of composition and performance (when known). The thesis focuses on four aspects of the dramaturgy of mourning that emerged from this research: mourning as preemptive or strategic; mourning displaced by revenge; mourning performed as explicitly false; and, throughout, the way mourning deploys the vertical axis of the stage structure and the actor's body. The following chapters examine mourning through the specific gestures of prostration and kneeling, through motion (the rising and falling in the history plays as revenge takes the place of mourning), and the metadramatic bracketing of mourning in fake funerals. Examining specific gestures and the use of the stage space, reveals the way mourning was performed both "out of joint" - that is, out of the expected time sequence - and "out of place", using verticality in unexpected ways, lowering the body to take control of the gaze and the dramatic moment; framing 'above' as strategically advantageous while the confined theatrical space forces the actors to descend. Analysing prostration scenes in George Peele's David and Bethsabe and in Titus Andronicus reveals additional substantiation for Peele's role as a collaborator with Shakespeare. Looking at the three parts of Henry VI through the thematic lens of mourning contributes to the debate over the order of composition, offering tentative support for the 1-2-3 sequence. Tracking fake funerals over this time period revealed a sharp increase in this device after 1603, which the final chapter suggests is related to anxieties over public performances of mourning after Elizabeth I's death and one of the worst plague years on record. Performances of theatrical mourning thus occur displaced in time, preemptive requests for a death not to happen rather than the belated wish to bring the dead back to life. Mourning in the theatre occurs out of place: testing classbased mourning scripts; moving up and down the vertical axis of the stage; performing a transitory state of emotion through transitory gestures; deploying submissive poses that turn out to hold surprising theatrical and strategic power.
Supervisor: Maguire, Laurie E. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.730611  DOI: Not available
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