Spectre within: unburying the dead in Elizabethan literature
Stevens, Catherine Rose
MetadataShow full item record
This thesis examines spectrality in Elizabethan literature, focusing on the ghost as a figuration of disjuncture within contemporary constructions of the dead. Taking account of the cultural unease and uncertainties about the afterlife generated during the Reformation, I explore how particular conceptualizations of the dead manifest instabilities that move the figure of the ghost into the disturbing role of the spectre. The literature I examine ranges from Elizabethan translations of Seneca and key theological treatises to examples of the English revenge tragedy produced by Shakespeare, Marston, and Chettle. In drawing upon this cross-section of work, I highlight the resonances between varying forms of spectrality in order to explore ways in which the ghost incorporates, but also exceeds, the theatre’s requirement for dramatic excess. It thus becomes clear that the presence of the spectre extends beyond the immediate purposes of particular writers or genres to expose a wider disruption of the relation between, and ontologies of, the living and the dead. The theoretical apparatus for this project is drawn primarily from deconstruction and psychoanalytic theory, with attention to the uncanny as an area in which the two intersect and overlap. These modes of analysis usefully highlight areas of disturbance and slippage within the linguistic and conceptual structures by which the living and dead are defined and understood. In adopting this approach, I aim to expand upon and complicate existing scholarship concerning the figure of the ghost in relation to sixteenth-century theological, philosophical, mythological, and popular discourses and traditions. I do so by demonstrating that the emergence of the uncanny arises through a culturally specific haunting of the form and language of Elizabethan treatments of the dead. The spectre thereby emerges as a figure that is as much the product as the cause of instabilities and erosion within the Elizabethan construction and containment of the dead.