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Title: 'All tragedies are fled from state to stage': The Ideals of Duty in Early Modern History Plays, 1561-1624
Author(s): Wallace, Lorna
Supervisor(s): Vine, Angus
Jackson Williams, Kelsey
Keywords: Early Modern drama
History plays
University drama
Inns of Court
William Shakespeare
Issue Date: 22-Apr-2021
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis demonstrates that duty is a central feature of the early modern history play. Specifically, it argues that history plays contribute to the on-going discussion throughout the period about monarchs and statesmen attempting to reconcile the idealized Ciceronian conception of duty with the cruel realities of the political world. History plays provide a space to test out these ideals and the vast majority elucidate that while these ideals are desirable, they are often impractical, and sometimes impossible, to abide by. The plays of the educational environments examined here (the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the Inns of Court, and the English Jesuit colleges) often present audiences and readers with examples to imitate or avoid, but even in these didactically straightforward plays there is an acknowledgement of the burden of duty. The plays of the professional playhouses in London rarely seek to instil dutiful ideals in the audience; instead, they highlight the unresolved difficulties of duty and occasionally declare that ideals are incompatible with reality. Collectively, these various sites of performance indicate that duty was a particular concern of all history plays, but also that dutiful ideals were being constantly tested against reality. Thus, they challenged the ideal ethical framework which was inherited from the classical world. This study will not only develop a deeper understanding of how duty was conceived in the history play, and in early modern society, but will also develop a better understanding of how the various stages utilized dramatic and pedagogical techniques to explore issues of duty, often in remarkably similar entertaining and erudite ways. By examining plays from different sites, dramatists, and historical genres within the same study, it will be shown that history plays across the spectrum were engaged in the balancing act of instilling ideals of duty while also interrogating those ideals.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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