Paul Corey

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Religious Studies


Zdravko Planinc




This thesis contributes to scholarship on the subject of evil, as well as to scholarship concerning the ethical and political significance of theatre. It is guided by two central questions: the question of how the modern experience of evil has been represented by important works of dramatic literature, and the question of how the experience of evil in general is central to the nature of theatre itself. I discuss the phenomenon of "modern evil" by examining the significant examples of Renaissance and twentieth century drama. Insufficient scholarly attention has been paid to the fact that theatre was a vibrant aesthetic during the early modern and late modern periods, reflecting both thte impulses that initiated the modern project and the sufferings that led to its revaluation. Through plays by Niccolo Machiavelli, William Shakespeare, Albert Camus, and Samuel Beckett, I examine the ethics of both Machiavellian expediency and eschatological utopianism. I argue that these two dominant orientations have given modern evil its distinctive character, and contributed to the unprecedented violence and suffering of the twentieth century. In association with this discussion, I consider how the most significant periods of dramatic art have occurred during moments of crisis, violence, and transition. It was during such historical spocs - when the reality of evil was extremely acute - that threatre arose as a dominan aesthetic. Though theatre has often been symptomatic of the excesses explored in this study, I argue that the very nature of theatre - as a medium of evil. The tragic vision is a distinct alternative to the expedient and eschatological impulses that have dominated Western society for the past two millennia and that have eclipsed our ancient Greek theatrical heritage.

McMaster University Library

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