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‘Shrill cryings’ and ‘often dyings’: wedding night tragedy on the Renaissance stage

Blamires, A. (2017) ‘Shrill cryings’ and ‘often dyings’: wedding night tragedy on the Renaissance stage. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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I argue in this dissertation that tragic and tragicomic plots centred on the wedding night were a major convention on the English Renaissance stage. Previous scholarship has identified ‘broken nuptials’ in Shakespeare and ‘subverted wedding nights’ in Beaumont and Fletcher, but these scenarios have not been addressed as part of a wider convention. I contend that almost every dramatist of the era, working individually or in collaboration, utilised ‘tragic wedding’ designs. Whilst they drew upon various precedents, particularly from the classical period, their dramaturgical focus on the wedding night was highly distinctive. My thesis highlights the employment of ‘delayed consummation’ structures – familiar from romance and comedy – to a tragic end; I also consider ‘displaced consummations’ in which the bridal chamber is subject to the incursion of revengers or rivals, often leading to rape, murder or martyrdom. ‘Wedding night tragedy’ takes shape in the Elizabethan era and becomes a recognizable sub-genre by the Caroline period. The subverted transition rites lead, I suggest, to fluctuations in sexual identity, as a range of competing discourses on marriage and eros are sounded. The prevailing matrimonial idealism of the age is challenged by residual patristic doctrine or emergent libertine ideology. The dominant discourse tends to win out, I maintain, even in tragic defeat, but moral absolutism is frequently shaken. The wedding night focus was accompanied by major mimetic breakthroughs, as dramatists developed symbolic means by which to suggest the consummation, and depicted the marital bedchamber for the first time. Scenes of unprecedented intimacy were staged, often to unnerving or sensational dramatic effect. I exemplify my arguments with detailed discussions of a range of texts, from famous plays such as Othello and The Changeling, to less familiar (but often vital) works such as Alphonsus, Emperor of Germany and Sophonisba.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:O'Callaghan, M. and Hutchings, M.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Literature and Languages
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:77912
Date on Title Page:2016


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