Married to Death and Silence: Gender, Death and Uncanny Readings on the Early Modern Stage
Huxham, Claire Joanne
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
In this work I explore the intersection of death and gender in early modern England. It is through a combination of contemporary discourses that I investigate this topic - through the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, as well as treatises and polemical debate. I also place this work at the juncture of psychoanalysis and literature. To fully explore these texts, I use Sigmund Freud’s 1919 essay ‘The Uncanny’, as well as some of Julia Kristeva’s ideas about abjection and boundary crossing. I argue that early modern death and dying is inextricably associated with femininity, a motif seen repeatedly in the writings of the period. Femininity points to what is designated as Other, that which crosses borders, as is the uncanny. I will show that it is through uncanny and feminine repetitions on stage and in discourse that we see the workings of death in the gaps within the text. Language and the workings of signification often point to feminine death, operating at a juncture of absence and presence, as does Renaissance theatre. This puzzle, this conundrum is at the heart of this research. I start by considering the dying woman and the potency of the deathbed. Here I engage with the readings we may take from her which conversely point to a blurring of boundaries. The corpse, both real and acted is another focus I take. I explore how gender operates in the dead body, articulating new anxieties about endings. Feminine memorial is my next area of research. Here I argue that different ways of remembering not only embody cultural anxieties, but point to dissolution of identity. Finally I explore the question of ghosts on the early modern stage. I discover that the post Reformational ghost is feminised and impotent in whatever form it takes. Yet conversely it creates anxiety in those around it, despite occupying a marginalised position. All these areas revolve around a nexus of uncanny textual contradictions, sometimes in image or tableaux, always in language.
MPhil in English