Between Us We Can Kill a Fly: Intersubjectivity and Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy
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Using recent scholarship on intersubjectivity and cultural cognitive narratology, this project explores the disruption and reformation of early modern identity in Elizabethan revenge tragedies. The purpose of this dissertation is to demonstrate how revenge tragedies contribute to the prevalence of a dialogical rather than monological self in early modern culture. My chapter on Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy synthesizes Debora Shuger’s work on the cultural significance of early modern mirrors--which posits early modern self-recognition as a typological process--with recent scholarship on the early modern dialogical self. The chapter reveals how audiences and mirrors function in the play as cognitive artifacts that enable complex experiences of intersubjectivity. In my chapter on Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, I trace how characters construct new identities in relation to their shared suffering while also exploring intersubjectivity’s potential violence. When characters in Titus imagine the inward experience of others, they project a plausible narrative of interiority derived from inwardness’s external signifiers (such as tears, pleas, or gestures). These projections and receptions between characters can lead to reciprocated sympathy or violent aggression. My reading of John Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge explores revenge as a mode of competition. Marston suggests a similarity between the market conditions of dramatic performance (competition between playwrights, acting companies, and rival theaters) and the convention of one-upmanship in revenge tragedy, i.e. the need to surpass preceding acts of violence. While other Elizabethan revenge tragedies represent reciprocity and collusion between characters as important aspects of intersubjective self-reintegration, Marston’s play emphasizes competition and rivalry as the dominant force that shapes his characters. My final chapter provides an analysis of Shakespeare's Hamlet. I argue that recent scholarship on intersubjectivity and cognitive cultural studies can help us re-historicize the nature of Hamlet’s “that within which passes show.” Hamlet’s desire for the eradication of his consciousness explores the consequences of feeling disconnected from others in a culture wherein identity, consciousness, and even memory itself depend on interpersonal relations.