Date of Award

12-2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

English

Advisor

Rivlin, Elizabeth

Committee Member

Hilligoss , Susan

Committee Member

Stockton , William

Abstract

My thesis explores the isolation and fragmentation that attend ruling ideologies in early modern England. I study three plays, Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, John Webster's Duchess of Malfi, and Elizabeth Cary's Tragedy of Mariam, in order to examine the illusion of absolute power they represent. Utilizing Ernst Kantorowicz's concept of the 'king's two bodies,' I explore ways in which the sovereign ideal dehumanizes monarch and subjects, depriving them both of autonomy and personal connection. Those who attempt to break free from its constraints find themselves rewritten as dangerous to the realm. Because it depends on naturalized hierarchies of difference, the performance of order necessitates the expulsion of potential deviation. I therefore demonstrate the inability of the patriarchal subject to incorporate private identity, which could allow an unstable element into the designation of gender and status. Moreover, I examine the irony that the attempts to shut down such instability generate more of it. Through this analysis, I address how the three playwrights critique their present ruling systems. They comment on a defective structure, as patriarchal imperatives transform absolute rule into a performance devoid of meaning. The tyrannical figures play on early modern anxieties regarding a sovereign's abuse of his/her power. I analyze the representations of Elizabeth I and James I against such theatrical images. Elizabeth encapsulates the hope for new ways of relation, but James indicates the public and private exclusions necessary to maintain a desired social performance.

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