Date of Award

8-10-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Paul J. Voss

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul H. Smith

Third Advisor

Dr. Robert S. Lightsey

Abstract

The plays Shakespeare produced in the second half of his career, from Hamlet (1600) through The Tempest (1611), offer a way to see the world through the poetics and action on stage so as to effect an essential apprehension of God. That is, 1) how the divine inhabits the elements of the natural world which draw sustaining life from their creator, 2) how divine providence controls—shapes, orders, corrects—the actions of men and political institutions, and 3) how peace and human fellowship lie in the answered call to the Gospel’s shared way of life.

The playwright reinvigorates a traditional vision of the immanent sacrality of the material world with such compelling topos as the Ghost in Hamlet, the power of faith in Lear, the conjured infestation of evil in Macbeth, and Prospero’s adumbration of divine omnipotence and sacrificial humility in The Tempest. The selected plays, as they represent the body of Shakespeare’s later works emblematically respond to a desacralizing English Christian culture that variously embraces or endures the combined impact of both the Italian Renaissance and the English Reformation. The plays alert their audiences to the advent and effects of the secular world’s irradicable encroachment on England’s venerable religious heritage, the climactic phase of which ripened during Shakespeare’s 20-year career on the London stage.

Seen in light of the sacramental poetics I analyze herein, the plays reveal memorial testaments that speak to not only the erosion of inherited traditional English faith culture but to the erosion of religious engagement altogether. Shakespeare stands, in context, as a distinctive, powerful, and admonitory witness to those in his traditional Christian audience “with ears to hear.”

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