'Piteous overthrows' : pity and identity in early modern English literature
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This thesis traces the use of pity in early modern English literature, highlighting in particular the ways in which the emotion prompted personal anxieties and threatened Burckhardtian notions of the self-contained, autonomous individual, even as it acted as a central, crucial component of personal identity. The first chapter considers pity in medieval drama, and ultimately argues that the institutional changes that took place during the Reformation ushered in a new era, in which people felt themselves to be subjected to interpersonal emotions – pity especially – in new, overwhelming, and difficult ways. The remaining three chapters examine how pity complicates questions of personal identity in Renaissance literature. Chapter Two discusses the masculine bid for pity in courtly lyric poetry, including Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella and Barnabe Barnes’s Parthenophil and Parthenophe, and considers the undercurrents of vulnerability and violation that emerge in the wake of unanswered emotional appeals. This chapter also examines these themes in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and Sidney’s Arcadia. Chapter Three also picks up the element of violation, extending it to the pitiable presentation of sexual aggression in Lucrece narratives. Chapter Four explores the recognition of suffering and vulnerability across species boundaries, highlighting the use of pity to define humanity against the rest of the animal kingdom, and focusing in particular on how these questions are handled by Shakespeare in The Tempest and Ben Jonson, in Bartholomew Fair. This work represents the first extended study of pity in early modern English literature, and suggests that the emotion had a constitutive role in personal subjectivity, in addition to structuring various forms of social relation. Ultimately, the thesis contends that the early modern English interest in pity indicates a central worry about vulnerability, but also, crucially, a belief in the necessity of recognising shared, human weakness.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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