Theses Doctoral

Stages of Emotion: Shakespeare, Performance, and Affect in Modern Anglo-American Film and Theatre

Madison, Emily

This dissertation makes a case for the Shakespearean stage in the modern Anglo-American tradition as a distinctive laboratory for producing and navigating theories of emotion. The dissertation brings together Shakespeare performance studies and the newer fields of the history of emotions and cultural emotion studies, arguing that Shakespeare’s enduring status as the playwright of human emotion makes the plays in performance critical sites of discourse about human emotion. More specifically, the dissertation charts how, since the late nineteenth century, Shakespeare performance has been implicated in an effort to understand emotion as it defines and relates to the “human” subject. The advent of scientific materialism and Darwinism involved a dethroning of emotion and its expression as a specially endowed human faculty, best evidenced by Charles Darwin’s 1871 The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. Shakespeare’s poetic, formal expression of the passions was seen as proof of this faculty, and nowhere better exemplified than in the tragedies and in the passionate displays of the great tragic heroes. The controversy surrounding the tragic roles of the famous Victorian actor-manager Henry Irving illustrates how the embodied, human medium of the Shakespearean stage served as valuable leverage in contemporary debates about emotion. The dissertation then considers major Shakespearean figures of the twentieth century, including Harley Granville Barker, Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, and Peter Brook, whose “stages” similarly galvanize and reflect contestation and change in what William Reddy has called “emotional regimes” or Barbara Rosenwein “emotional communities.” For each of these figures, a specific emotional paradigm is at stake in staging Shakespeare and particularly Shakespearean tragedy. I engage with a range of sources, from performance reviews to popular psychology, to locate these canonical moments in Shakespearean performance history as flashpoints in a cultural history of emotion.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Worthen, William B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 24, 2020