Staging madness: representations of madness on the early modern English stage

Ziegler, Molly Elizabeth (2019) Staging madness: representations of madness on the early modern English stage. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines representations of madness on Elizabethan and Jacobean playhouse stages. It explores how theatrical portrayals of mad themes reflected and reinforced contemporary views on insanity. I argue that discourses on madness and theatre formed a mutually influential relationship, in which perceptions of insanity shaped and in turn were shaped by the period’s theatrical and dramaturgical practices. Chapter 1 introduces this argument through its investigation of early modern meanings of madness. This includes an analysis of a range of discourses on insanity (including medical, ecological, theological and social perspectives). This chapter demonstrates how the period’s definitions of insanity were multi-faceted, rather than singular, in nature. Chapter 2 examines how the discourses discussed in chapter 1 resonated in dramaturgical representations of madness in contemporary play texts. Drawing from several of the period’s comedic and tragic plays (including William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night [1601-1602] and John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi [1612-1614]), this chapter argues that these depictions not only reflected contextual understandings of madness, but encouraged audiences to align insanity with anxiety and social subversion. Chapter 3 expands on this attention to dramaturgy by addressing how these portrayals translated from page to stage. This involves a study of the staging practices used in public amphitheatres like the Globe, and private indoor theatres like the Blackfriars playhouse. This chapter thus explores how theatrical portrayals of insanity engaged the audiences’ senses to further reinforce contemporary anxieties over madness. Chapter 4 builds on my exploration of how theatrical practices reflected and produced cultural discourses on insanity by exploring how the theatre itself became part of these discourses. Specifically, I explore how the institution of theatre came to symbolise madness within the period’s antitheatrical discourses. Such a focus on the theatre’s reputation helps demonstrate the influence these staged representations of madness had on certain public sectors’ perceptions of real-life mad persons. I argue that such portrayals enhanced objectified views of mad persons as morally depraved and dangerous to societal health. This final chapter highlights the interactive relationship between theatre and madness. This thesis builds on modern scholarship by engaging not only with textual representations of madness, but with how these portrayals were staged and how they communicated with early modern culture.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Early modern drama, medical humanities, Shakespeare, gender studies, madness, dramaturgy, theatre and performance.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Supervisor's Name: Price, Dr. Victoria
Date of Award: 2019
Embargo Date: 22 November 2025
Depositing User: Molly Ziegler
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-75082
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2019 13:04
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2022 09:19
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.75082

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