Year of Study in Programme: Third
Area/Topic of Research: English Renaissance Literature, Elizabethan Drama, Shakespeare
Title/Provisional Title of Thesis: Lamenting Death in Early Shakespearean Drama
Short Abstract: My thesis aims to show how the poetic genre of the lament, long established as central to early modern literature, played a formative role in the emergence of early Shakespearean drama. Most traditional cultures have assigned the task of mourning to women, whose songs and passionate crying honoured the dead from time immemorial. In the sixteenth century, there was a vogue of female-voiced lyrics, chronicle-complaint poems and theatrical representations of death, which incorporated historical, pastoral and epistolary discourse. My thesis focuses on the different types of lamenting discourse in Shakespeare’s first tetralogy—Henry VI Part One, Two and Three and Richard III—and in Titus Andronicus, generally considered to be his first tragedy. I will examine the way in which a performative but originally non-dramatic kind of speech is assimilated into the plays, where it represents both an externalised, collective and ritual act and an image of the most powerful form of subjectivity. These plays contain scenes of great emotional intensity which never fail to move audiences: Margaret’s traumatic torment of York, Henry’s moving lament for the victims of the civil war, Richards magnificent soliloquy revealing his murderous plans and Titus’ laments that echoes those of the Senecan tragedy. I shall focus on women’s lament as an expression of individual and collective pain and as a vehicle for what has been called a “sisterhood of pain”, that is to say, for female bonding through solidarity in grief. More specifically, my analysis examines the multiple meanings—i.e. symbolic, ritual, political—which tears carry in these early plays.