Character before the Novel: Representing Moral Identity in the Age of Shakespeare

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Character before the Novel: Representing Moral Identity in the Age of Shakespeare

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Title: Character before the Novel: Representing Moral Identity in the Age of Shakespeare
Author: Graham, Jamey Elizabeth
Citation: Graham, Jamey Elizabeth. 2012. Character before the Novel: Representing Moral Identity in the Age of Shakespeare. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation argues that the modern concept of literary character was an unintended consequence of Renaissance moral poetics. The evolution of "character" as a term of literary analysis, from the rediscovery of Aristotle's Poetics in sixteenth-century Italy to the establishment of modern English usage in the late seventeenth century, is the focus of the first half of my work. Aristotle invented a theory of mimetic realism whereby the representation of types of character renders transparent the moral ideology operative in a culture. By placing types into a plot revealing how they do or do not conduce to human flourishing, the Aristotelian poet engages in ideological critique. As I claim, Renaissance humanists revived the form of the Aristotelian character type yet looked to the ethics of Christian Neo-Platonism or Neo-Stoicism to ground any ideological critique. The result was an array of eclectic accounts of poetic character's relation to the political subject. Through close examinations of three authors in the second half of my work, I elucidate the internal tensions and creative opportunities posed by such accounts. Michel de Montaigne's statements concerning the representation of moral character in the Essais test various criticisms and partial recuperations of Stoic-Aristotelian epideixis. I argue that Montaigne eventually attaches to the humanist image of the inspired poet, because poetic inspiration provides a model of heuristic utterance that avoids the aggression of political factions in France. In a chapter devoted to Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, I argue that the Neo-Platonic metaphysics taken for granted by Spenser in the "Letter to Raleigh" implies a more comprehensive hermeneutics of allegorical character than either the "Letter" or existing scholarship acknowledges. Interpreting Spenser's representations of the "morall vertues, as Aristotle hath devised" through the lens of this hermeneutics brings us closer to the experience of Spenser's contemporaries reading his poem. In my final chapter, I study William Shakespeare's thoughtful deployment of a Ciceronian model of exemplarity. I argue that in the character of Henry V, Shakespeare unmasks the ideology of patriotism and historical triumphalism shared by Cicero and the Tudor regime.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10318176
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