'Morbid Exhilarations': Dying Words in Early Modern English Drama
Martin, F. (2010). ‘Morbid Exhilarations’: Dying Words in Early Modern English Drama (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5192
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5192
In Renaissance England, dying a good death helped to ensure that the soul was prepared for the afterlife. In the theatre, however, playwrights disrupt and challenge the conventional formulas for last words, creating death scenes that range from the philosophical to the blackly comic. In expanding the potential of the dying speech, dramatists encourage in their audiences a willingness to contemplate less orthodox responses to death. This thesis thus focuses on the final utterances of dying characters, in selected scenes from early modern English tragedies. While scenes from iconic dramatists such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe are considered as part of the discussion, emphasis is primarily given to those of less canonical playwrights, including George Chapman, Thomas Dekker, John Fletcher, Thomas Kyd, Gervase Markham, John Marston, Philip Massinger, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, William Sampson, and Robert Yarington. Chronologically, the scenes span nearly four decades, from Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays in 1590, to Sampson’s Vow Breaker in 1636. The thesis encompasses four major contexts for the study of dying speeches: beheadings, murder, revenge and suicide. Chapter One, on public execution, focuses on scaffold speeches delivered prior to simulated beheadings on the stage. The second chapter examines the genre of the murder play and the pattern of the victim’s displaced last words. Chapter Three explores the creative freedom taken by playwrights in the composition of dying speeches in revenge scenarios, and the final chapter foregrounds the verbal preoccupations of characters who choose to take their own lives. Each subject is established in relation to social, religious and political contexts in early modern England, so that characters’ final words are considered from both historical and literary perspectives.
University of Waikato
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