Shakespeare’s sovereign beasts: human-animal relations and political discourse in early modern drama

Mennell, Nicole (2019) Shakespeare’s sovereign beasts: human-animal relations and political discourse in early modern drama. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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The burgeoning interdisciplinary field of animal studies has problematised the human-animal distinction across a variety of early modern studies. This thesis builds upon previous research through an examination of the largely unexplored connections made between figures of sovereignty and animals in early modern drama. To explicate this relationship, the study uses Jacques Derrida’s hypothesis as to why the beast and the sovereign ‘strangely resemble each other while seeming to be situated at [...] each other’s antipodes’.¹ In order to direct the study, there is a focus on the creatures that were most highly prized by the ruling elite in the early modern period: horses, hawks and hounds. ‘The Three Hs’ were valued because of the central role they performed in the noble pursuits of horsemanship, hawking and hunting. As these activities represented the sovereign’s power over both nature and their subjects, they were also associated with subservience, oppression and tyrannical rule. This thesis dedicates three parts to contextualising the cultural significance of each of these creatures and the paradoxical manner in which they were drawn upon, both figuratively and literally, to symbolise distinct aspects of sovereignty.

Through close textual analysis of Shakespeare’s works, and with reference to the wider culture of representation, this thesis argues that the playwright interrogates the use of horses, hawks and hounds in the construction of princely power and the enforcement of sovereignty. The study also demonstrates that Shakespeare’s contemporaries employed animals in a comparable manner through substantial analysis of the anonymous play Thomas of Woodstock, Christopher Marlowe’s 2 Tamburlaine the Great, and a case study of Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson’s lost play The Isle of Dogs. In so doing, this thesis makes a significant contribution to Shakespeare studies and shows how animals reflected social, cultural and political concerns in the early modern period.

¹ Jacques Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign: Volume I, trans. by Geoffrey Bennington, ed. by Michel Lisse, Marie-Louise Mallet, and Ginette Michaud (London: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p.17.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR2199 English renaissance (1500-1640) > PR2411 The drama > PR2416 Individual authors > PR2750 Shakespeare, William
Q Science > QL Zoology > QL0085 Animals and civilization. Human-animal relationships
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2019 13:32
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48

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