Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Laura Runge, Ph.D.
Sara Munson Deats, Ph.D.
Nicole Guenther Discenza, Ph.D.
Christine McCall Probes, Ph.D.
medieval drama, Renaissance drama, Restoration drama, Shakespeare, internality
My dissertation explores the presence of physiognomy, which is the reading of faces and bodily affects to determine a person’s character. I investigate plays originally produced for the early English stage, ranging from the late Middle Ages to the Restoration. In this work I argue that the bodies within the selected plays exist as texts that are to be interpreted by readers and audience members alike. While embodiment theory has done excellent work in explaining the corporeality of the pre-modern body, it does not consider the body as a textual construction. My work aims to fill such a gap. My main methodology is historicist, both old and new. I employ the former insofar as I incorporate primary texts relevant to understanding physiognomy and its workings on the early English stage. I also use New Historicism since I cover many influences on physiognomy, including theology, politics, and philosophy of the mind. The first chapter probes the York Cycle’s biblical play The Conspiracy, as well as the morality play Mankind. I claim that physiognomy highlights the participatory aspects of both plays, as each contains bodies that help audiences learn of true piety. In the second chapter, I discuss Shakespeare’s problem plays All’s Well that Ends Well and Hamlet. I posit that the genre of problem play can best be understood as including works that contain incomplete or inaccurate physiognomic readings. For my final chapter, I analyze the tragicomedies Marriage a-la-Mode, by John Dryden, and The Widow Ranter, by Aphra Behn. I insist that examining the physiognomic readings can help us unite the dialectics between and among the multiple plots within each play. Over the course of these three chapters, I conclude that the body-as-text, understood through physiognomy, allows modern readers to better grasp pre-modern understandings of internality as it evolved from the Middle Ages to the Restoration. In addition, I contend that genre often dictates the ways in which bodies are constructed textually. In summary, the contributions of my work can be listed as the following: (1) I provide examples of how physiognomy can be used to support a variety of methodologies, including Marxism, feminism, and deconstruction. (2) I offer a more thorough history of physiognomy, ranging from the late Middle Ages to the Restoration. (3) My work with genre is unique among current scholarship that engages with physiognomy. In my conclusion, I suggest paths forward with this project, such as the use of other methods for interpreting the body as a text, consisting of anatomy, physiology, and allegory.
Scholar Commons Citation
Le Van, Curtis, "Body as Text: Physiognomy on the Early English Stage" (2017). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.