The Anxiety of Procreation: Evolutionary Theory in Effect in Shakespeare's Richard III and Othello
Harland, Bonnie L.
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CitationHarland, Bonnie L. 2019. The Anxiety of Procreation: Evolutionary Theory in Effect in Shakespeare's Richard III and Othello. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractWilliam Shakespeare’s protagonists, Richard III and Othello, notably find themselves in conflict with their respective environments for their “otherness.” Richard III is ubiquitously known as the “villain, great deformed,” while Othello is cast as “The Moor.” Both characters are objectified and marginalized within the respective environments of the plays they traverse, as a result both have been analyzed through the lens of gender, race, politics, religion and post-modern literary criticism. However, few scholars have engaged in exploring the plays through the lens of changing ideas around families and components which created “successful” families in Early Modern England (est. 1486-1625). With the shifting demographics of the era, the familial structure evolved taking into account such factors as high mortality, especially infant mortality, an unstable political climate, and a rigid patriarchal family structure. These factors contribute to illuminate procreative anxieties possessed by the populous at large and dramatized by these Shakespearean characters. My thesis draws on current discussions around evolutionary theory in literature, specifically Christopher Perricone’s “Shakespeare’s Procreation Sonnets: a Darwinian View” and Joseph Carroll’s Literary Darwinism, this paper explores aspects of both plays through the lens of evolutionary theory, recasting aspects of these plays as acts of ultimate causation vs. proximate causation. I argue that when reframed as acts of ultimate causation, the procreative anxiety is elucidated.
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