Date of Award

5-2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Heather A. Hirschfeld

Committee Members

Rob Stillman, Laura Howes, Kate Buckley

Abstract

This dissertation examines mirror figures in three interlude dramas and two of Shakespeare’s histories. I argue that these plays use characters who function as spectators by interpreting the dramatic action. Each mirror figure, however, makes unreliable interpretations that force the audience to reject their assessments. The plays offer no characters to act as alternatives to the unreliable mirror figures, and as a result, the audience must step in to make their own judgment of the plays’ messages. This creates a dramaturgy of participation as the playwrights constantly provoke the audience to actively engage with the action on stage and challenge the interpretations of the unreliable figures. I engage with theories of performance and metatheatricality to challenge the majority of interlude criticism, which argues that each of these plays insists on a single, specific message.

I begin with John Redford’s Wit and Science, which includes a material mirror as its central prop. In this play, the unreliable mirror figure, Wit, becomes a literal figure in the mirror as he peers into the physical prop on stage. Each of the other chapters explores another iteration of the unreliable mirror figure. My last chapter examines the way Shakespeare reuses this interlude tradition in Henry IV Part One and Henry IV Part Two. Shakespeare marks Prince Hal with characteristics of the interlude Vice and positions Falstaff as an unreliable mirror figure who helps draw the audience’s attention to Hal’s Vice-like qualities. Thus, in addition to rethinking the didactic purpose of interlude drama, this project also considers, in a new way, how Shakespeare used his audience’s familiarity with native dramatic traditions to enhance the complexity of his characters and how they relate to the audience.

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