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«MOURNING MEN IN EARLY ENGLISH DRAMA By ANDREW D. MCCARTHY A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of ...»

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A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of

the requirements for the degree of



Department of English

MAY 2010

© Copyright by ANDREW D. MCCARTHY, 2010

All Rights Reserved

© Copyright by ANDREW D. MCCARTHY, 2010

All Rights Reserved



First and foremost, I want to thank Will Hamlin, il miglior fabbro. From the moment I began thinking about lamenting men he has served as an unfailingly generous, thorough, and thoughtful reader and critic of my work. I am in his debt. Michael Hanly and Todd Butler have also contributed to the success of this dissertation and I am grateful for their efficiency and wisdom.

I would also like to thank Dr. George Kennedy and the Department of English at Washington State University for supporting my research through travel monies. Without this aid, I would have been unable to spend part of a summer in England researching at the British Library and presenting my findings at national and international conferences.

Two of the following chapters received helpful criticism from the participants of the conferences at which they were first presented, namely the “Medieval Shakespeare” seminar at the Shakespeare Association of America in 2008 and the Sixth International Marlowe Society of America conference in Canterbury UK.

Alex Hammond, Katey Roden, Verena Theile, and Trevor Bond have listened to, thought about, and commented on my work. Without their good humor and friendship the final product would not have been possible. I have repeatedly inflicted this project in all of its various manifestations on Jessica Schubert McCarthy and she has remained unstinting in her love, encouragement, and support. This dissertation is therefore dedicated to her.

Any and all remaining errors are my own.



Abstract by Andrew D. McCarthy, Ph.D.

Washington State University May 2010 Chair: William M. Hamlin This study examines the adoption and adaptation of the classical lament by English playwrights of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. As a complex demonstration of sorrow, lamentations were traditionally performed by women, but in the drama of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, such displays came to be performed by men with startling frequency. By noting the ways in which medieval and Renaissance dramatists construct heirs to antiquity’s grieving women, this dissertation enables us to better understand the complexity of religious tensions as well as constructions of masculinity in the years preceding and following the English Reformation.

Beginning with the drama of the Middle Ages, this dissertation reveals how the English dramatic tradition is built upon the performance of the lament. Moving from the liturgical drama into a detailed analysis of The Castle of Perseverance, Mankind, and Everyman, this study argues that lamentations appear repeatedly in these moralities, performed by a variety of earthly and heavenly characters. This discussion is then juxtaposed with the Ars Moriendi tracts, works meant to prepare the dying Christian for the afterlife. Despite their intent to show people how to “die well,” however, the tracts are nevertheless infiltrated by the unsettling presence of the lament, thus undermining their ostensible objective.

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Elizabethan dramatists, including Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage and Doctor Faustus, Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy, and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, and King Lear, arguing that the tradition of the lamenting man is continued and developed in their works. Writing in the wake of the English Reformation, these playwrights deploy the lament, a deeply ritualistic performance of grief, in ways that not only reveal the intense cultural tensions between Catholic and Protestant belief, but also complicate early understandings of what constituted appropriate masculine behavior. In drawing on a variety of discursive traditions, this study shows the continuity of experience between men and women in responding to death, while at the same time revealing the profound cultural anxieties and their manifestations in the Middle Ages and Renaissance in England.

–  –  –





1. Early English Laments in the Drama of the Middle Ages…………………...32

2. Christopher Marlowe and the Masculine Lament……………………………72 3. “Perform Anything in Action”: Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy and the Performance of Revenge as Masculine Lamentation……………………………………..111

4. Remember Me”: Hamlet’s Ghostly Lament………………………………..157

5. King Lear and the Interiority of Masculine Grief…………………………..210 WORKS CITED………………………………………………………………………..251

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During the summer of 2008, I flew to London with two conference papers, a letter of introduction, a reservation at a questionable hostel, and a plan to begin research for my dissertation on the performance of masculine grief in medieval and Renaissance drama.

Comfortably between the second and third years of my Ph.D. and having earned the distinction of “A.B.D.,” I was filled with all the youthful optimism that often accompanies those who fail to realize how much work is ahead of them. Once my reader card for the British Library had been obtained, I set out to find the lost manuscript (Cardenio, perhaps) that would catapult me into academic stardom, but I somehow managed to get sidetracked by all of the other cultural activities London has to offer.

While spending plenty of time attending plays and exploring museums, I happened upon an image that haunted me for the remainder of the trip and continues to occupy my thoughts today. On one of my visits to the British Museum, I came across an installation titled “Living and Dying” which depicted a variety of customs concerning life and death throughout the world. I don’t remember much about the display, with the exception of a photograph of a group of women from Northern Papua New Guinea.

See Henry King “An Exequy To his matchlesse never to be forgotten Friend.” The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse, 1509-1659, Ed. H.R. Woudhuysen (London: Penguin, 2005) Covered in what appeared to be white paint, they stared death-like out from the frame, and I was instantly captivated.2 Moving in for a better look, I learned that these women were mourning the death of a loved one, a process that would take them over a year to appropriately complete. The photo’s accompanying note card explained that their ritual involved a number of steps, including months of self-imposed seclusion, shaven heads, and special mourning garments, but the most striking feature, at least to me, was the application of clay to their bodies. An important element of the women’s mourning ritual involved making their grief outwardly visible, and to accomplish this, they covered their skin with white clay. Not only would this signify their grief to others, but as the clay hardened, it painfully pulled and scraped at their flesh. What fascinated me about this practice was that despite its startling foreignness, I was already deeply familiar with what it represented. Though I had never heard of or seen this particular rite, these women were engaging in a very specific mourning ritual, one that belongs to a tradition reaching as far back as antiquity and perhaps even farther. While seclusion and special mourning garments are recognizable aspects of grief, even in twenty-first century America, the women’s self-flagellation through the application of pain inducing clay is at once alien and even disturbing. The author of the note card seemed to recognize this fact, ending rather unceremoniously with the casual observation that mourning rituals are less extensive today, but I wasn’t thinking about the present. Rather, I was struck by the similarities between these tribal women from Northern Papua New Guinea and the mourning men who populated the stages of medieval and Renaissance England.

The caption for the photograph was “Women in Mourning, Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea, 1921.

Photo: Frank Hurley/National Library of Australia.” I am indebted to Jim Hamill of the British Museum for kindly providing me with this information.

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reconstructed Globe Theatre on a beautiful, warn summer night and watched a performance of King Lear. After seeing the disguised Kent stocked, Lear begins to recognize that he has been too rash in his decision to banish Cordelia and place his peaceful retirement in the hands of Goneril and Regan. The moment, almost too brief to notice amidst the Fool’s songs and the spectacle of the incarcerated Kent, foreshadows the impending storm of emotion that eventually erupts and pours forth from the aged King in the remainder of the play. Reflecting on the Fool’s insistence that his daughters will become a source of never ending grief, Lear exclaims, “O, how this mother swells up towards my heart! / Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow, / Thy element’s below!”(2.4.54-56).3 As I heard these lines delivered and watched the agony register on the actor’s face, I noticed how this outburst signals an important moment in Lear’s unraveling; a process that will consume the play until the curtains fall and the rest is silence. Yet most striking to me were the similarities between Lear’s behavior and those of the women from the photograph. Lear, monarch of ancient Britain, reacts to his losses and expresses his sorrow in a manner that echoes the ritual grief of the women of Papua New Guinea. Indeed, he even seems to recognize the extent to which his emotional experience partakes in a process typically thought of as feminine, as his response to the Fool ultimately suggests that his grief has caused him to lose his masculinity. Though separated by hundreds of years and thousands of miles, the mourning women of Papua All quotations from Shakespeare, unless otherwise noted, are taken from The Norton Shakespeare, ed.

Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: Norton, 2008). In the final chapter, I will further examine these lines and the critical trends that surround them.

New Guinea and the men of the Renaissance stage respond to death and loss in the same way. They lament.

It is important to define what we mean when we use the word lament or label a certain set of actions a lamentation, as the term has been rendered hackneyed through excessive misuse. As scholars have noted, the term lament signifies a number of different genres and can manifest itself in a number of different ways. On the most basic level, the lament is an expression of mourning—one not always directed towards the dead, but can be inspired by any loss. The biblical book of Lamentations, for instance, partakes in the long tradition of grieving the fall of great cities, something that is echoed in much of the literature depicting the fall of Troy and its aftermath.4 Similarly, in a number of cultures laments are sung as a part of the process of matrimony by both the bride and her family, though for the purposes of this study I am primarily interested in laments for the dead.5 Lamentations can appear in seemingly innocuous forms such as an elaborate poem or song, much like the excerpt with which this chapter began, or take on the more disturbing characteristics of loud wailing and self-flagellation.6 Margaret Alexiou, in her work on the lament in Greek tradition, has suggested that lamenting the dead was “essentially functional” and “by no means just a spontaneous outbreak of grief. It was carefully controlled in accordance with the ritual at every stage.”7 On the other hand, when looking at the response as part of a universal folk tradition, one scholar has noted the exact The prominent role Troy played in early English imaginations is evident in a number of Renaissance works depicting lamentations. Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage is one example which will be discussed later in chapter two, as is Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.

See Gail Holst-Warhaft, Dangerous Voices: Women’s Laments and Greek Literature (New York:

Routledge, 1992), p. 1.


See Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), pgs. 3-4.

opposite; the lament is most certainly, “the spontaneous outburst of distress by the living on sustaining a loss.”8 While the discrepancy between these two definitions points to the difficulty of defining this term, it is imperative to note that the lament is a performance of grief, one that is typically reserved for women. It is this gendered dimension, where the lament is understood as a fundamentally disruptive feminine force, that we can begin to see what is at stake in reading the mourning men of medieval and Renaissance England as partaking in this ritual.

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