Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. Anthony Brennan
This dissertation interrogates the relationship between metaphors of social embodiment and the gaze in Shakespeare's first historical tetralogy and King John. The term "visible economy" refers to the plays' negotiation of the performative aspects of identity in which the subject and the monarch, presenting themselves to the gaze, fulfil or disrupt the social roles that define their relation to the body politic. The visible economy is most apparent in scenes of ceremony, such as coronations, state scenes, weddings, and trials--in combat or in court--where the subject's role is enacted before a communal gaze and his or her position with regard to authority is defined. Drawing on the theoretical insights of feminist scholars, such as Patricia Parker, Barbara Freedman and Phyllis Rackin, and on the historical work of J.A. Sharpe, Pieter Spierenburg and Linda Woodbridge, the dissertation challenges the New Historicist model of power, popularized by Stephen Greenblatt, that envisions disruption and resistance as aspected of hegemony's self-consolidation. Focussing on such scenes of ceremony, the dissertation explores the Shakespeare's problematization of attempts by hegemonic power to define the meaning of bodies in relation to he discourses of nationalism, sovereignty, patriarchal hierarchy and martial conflict. Each of these discourses depends in the histories on a paradigm of exposure of the subject to the defining gaze. This paradigm is deeply fraught in contemporary discourse where the science of perspective and illusionistic representation, along with the relativizing nature of capital--epitomized by the theatre--challenged Providential order grounded in the presence of an all-seeing divine gaze. In the early histories, contradiction, irony and parody of standard ceremonial enactments of power disrupt "class" and gender hierarchical by questioning the visual ground of knowledge and by demonstrating that the power of the gaze is natural neither to masculine subject, nor to sovereignty. Once demystified in this way, the power of these hegemonic discourses to define the social body breaks down, and the social body begins to appear chaotic mutilated. This fragmentation of bodies is analogous to the structural fragmentation of dramatic irony, and both form an index of the radical destabilization of systems of knowledge and power in Shakespeare's plays.
Dickson, Lisa Ann, "The Bloody House of Life: Visible Economies and Shakespearan Discourses of Embodiment" (1998). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2225.