Beds as stage properties in English Renaissance drama: materializing the lifecycle

Sharrett, Elizabeth (2014). Beds as stage properties in English Renaissance drama: materializing the lifecycle. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis examines beds as stage properties in English Renaissance drama. It argues that their indissoluble associations with the major rites of passage in the early modern lifecycle – birth, marriage, and death – created particular dramatic effects in performance not immediately obvious to audiences today. Chapter one identifies the theoretical and methodological frameworks informing the thesis, and addresses assumptions about the physical structure of beds from the period and their appearance as props. The succeeding chapters each explore different rites of passage. Chapter two considers childbirth rituals in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside and other plays depicting the lying-in ritual, and the bed’s function in these plays as a mockery of the religious and cultural ideals it was intended to represent. Chapter three focuses on marriage, exploring how the bed becomes a subversive emblem of female marital control through a comparison of the manuscript and Folio editions of The Woman’s Prize. Chapter four analyzes the death ritual in relation to Humphrey’s murder in Henry VI Part II, comparing the uses of the bed in the Quarto and Folio versions in order to consider the extent to which Humphrey ‘dies well’. Chapter five explores the inherent interconnectedness of all three rites in A Woman Killed With Kindness, and establishes the ways in which they converge upon the bed. As these case studies demonstrate, the use of the bed by playwrights as a prop in performance on the Renaissance stage was a not an incidental inclusion, but a considered choice intended to exploit the dramatic potential of the object’s multivalency to affect the scene in which it appeared, due to its rich symbolic association with the three major rites of passage.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies, The Shakespeare Institute
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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