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'World's exile': feigned death and rebirth in Romeo and Juliet and The Winter's Tale

Georgopoulou, Xeni (2000)
M.Phil. thesis, University of Birmingham.

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Abstract

Although death has been characterized by Shakespeare as ‘a great disguiser’ (Measure for Measure, IV.ii.175), it is also used as disguise in the playwright’s dramatic oeuvre, taking different forms (on-stage and off-stage, mock death and false report). This piece of work focuses on mock death (both on-stage and off-stage), rather than false report, as the most direct form of feigned death, and expands itself into the theme of rebirth, as a completion of the mock-death image. Romeo and Juliet was chosen for offering the most detailed account of the preparation of mock death, and The Winter’s Tale for including the most elaborate ‘resurrection’ scene. Shakespearean criticism has approached the theme from different viewpoints, such as genre and literary history, philosophy, religion and paganism, or social history. This thesis will explore what seems to be, more or less, a recurring motif in these interpretations: the recreation of the community. Community itself is what spurs the heroines’ mock death in both plays. More precisely, a certain social status quo, namely patriarchy, taking an abusive form, will deprive the heroines from a social freedom they seemed to enjoy. In The Winter’s Tale Hermione’s husband, who at first seems to treat her as equal, suddenly adopts an abusive behaviour against her, based on a completely unsubstantial suspicion that his queen has committed adultery. In Romeo and Juliet Juliet’s father, who also seems to consider his daughter’s opinion in the first place, becomes an absolute patriarch by imposing on her his own choice for her future husband. In both cases this shift in the patriarch’s behaviour seems unchangeable. In order to escape from this form of social annihilation, the two heroines decide to feign the ultimate annihilation: death. Feigned death will obviously be followed by some kind of ‘resurrection’, and the heroines are aware of the fact that their temporary escape will finally lead to their re-integration in some kind of patriarchal community. Hermione even plans to return to the society she once belonged to; nevertheless, the condition for her return is her reunion with her lost daughter, which seems to be her only hope in life. Juliet, on the contrary, plans to conceal her clandestine marriage with Romeo in a different society from the one she grew up in. Not both plans succeed: although Hermione finally finds her daughter and returns to the Sicilian court, Juliet’s ‘revival’ will be soon followed by her real death. Nevertheless, the outcome of the heroine’s plot will in both cases have an impact on community, as its consequences will sooner or later make the patriarch recognise his fault. Shakespeare does not seem to comment on patriarchy itself, nor does he suggest a utopian society of equality. Nevertheless, patriarchy in its abusive form is highly criticized, and the idea of the subversion of absoluteness seems to be communicated. In both plays allusions might be traced to the playwright’s era, too; nevertheless, the playwright seems to address his work to a wider audience, by suggesting the potential of the subversion of any abuse, any time, in any place.

Type of Work:M.Phil. thesis.
School/Faculty:Schools (1998 to 2008) > School of Humanities
Department:Shakespeare Institute
Subjects:PR English literature
PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
Institution:University of Birmingham
ID Code:1780
This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.
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