Shakespeare, gender and the rhetoric of excuse
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This thesis attempts to provide an historicised account of excuse-making strategies in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature. This issue is considered, broadly, in the light of the pervasive influence of rhetoric in early modem culture at large, and specifically, as an aspect of the rhetorical construction of moral ambiguity in Shakespearean drama. Its chief concern is with the intractable ambiguity of 'favourable interpretations' or 'charitable constructions' of actions or events, the apparent desirability of which seems beyond doubt. Chapter I uses the 'generosity' often regarded as Shakespeare's own trademark as a way into exploring the aims of the thesis. Its central section focuses more closely on the ambiguity inherent in a 'female rhetoric' of mitigation, apology and extenuation. Where these chapters concentrate on 'covert' excuse-making strategies. Chapter V, by contrast, begins with an exploration of the early modern transformation (or domestication) of classical, female orators into decent, modest, seventeenth-century women. The thesis concludes with an account of Shakespeare's suppliant women, a group of petitioners who are repeatedly represented 'between men'. The persistence of this pattern, I argue, stresses the extent to which excuse-making is gendered, and might be read, as well, as the playwright's own attempt to 'contain' the radical moral ambiguity (radical because as difficult to condone as to condemn) generated by such 'female' excuse-making.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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