"A Monster Turned to Manly Shape": Monstrosity on the Renaissance Stage
This dissertation examines the change from medieval descriptions of physically monstrous races and creatures to the depictions of monstrosity as a moral or mental state on the Renaissance stage. Renaissance audiences were still fascinated by physically grotesque monsters, as evidenced by the popularity of broadside ballads featuring monstrous births, but despite the fact that the stage is an ideal vehicle for displaying visual difference, there are very few visually remarkable monsters in Renaissance drama. This work therefore examines the villains and avengers of the Renaissance stage who look human but behave like monsters in order to provide a more complete understanding of the social, moral, and philosophical significance of their actions. Although there have been many studies of medieval monsters, there have been few studies of Renaissance monsters aside from scholars who examine the significance of the monstrous or deformed body in public exhibitions and broadsides, such as Lorraine Daston, Katherine Parks, and Mark Burnett. This study, therefore, offers a new understanding of monstrosity in the Renaissance, and how these villains are conceived of as monsters of the mind: they reject human reason and sympathy in favor of fulfilling their own monstrous passions. This dissertation contributes to the growing field of monster studies. Its offers a new interpretation of what it means to be a monster on the Renaissance stage, expanding upon the definition of monstrosity in the Renaissance to more closely align with period debates and ideas about the boundary between the human and inhuman. This study begins by outlining the late medieval understanding of monstrosity and then examining the diminishment of physical monsters in Renaissance literature. The first chapter considers medieval works such as The Sultan of Babylon and Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. The study then moves to the consideration of early modern discussions of monsters and monstrosity in Francis Bacon, Sir Thomas Browne, Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Wright, and William Rankin in order to establish what type of behavior is categorized as monstrous. In the remaining chapters, the study proceeds through a selection of Renaissance tragedies, including Norton and Sackville's Gorboduc, Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine The Great, and William Shakespeare's Richard III and Othello. Instead of simply creating monsters whose appearances reveal their moral corruption, these dramatists create a range of characters whose bodies may or may not be indicative of their mental state: a character who appears different (whether because of race or other physical difference) is not necessarily villainous, but the character who appears "normal" and acts kindly may hide monstrous intentions. They demonstrate that the line between human and monster lies not in the body, but in the ability to control the passions through human reason and conscience.
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