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Possibly The Most Heated Critical Controversy In English Renaissance Studies Has Concerned The Question Of Personal Identity, The Existence Of Self. Notes

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Possibly

the

most

heated

critical

controversy

in

English

Renaissance

studies

has


concerned

the

question

of

personal

identity,

the

existence

of

self.


The

Renaissance

preoccupation

with

ideas

of

"the

self",

inaugurated

by

the

rise

of


Humanism

and

fostered

perhaps

by

the

Reformation's

religious

doubt,

may

be


examined

through

the

tragic

drama

of

the

period.

The

medium

of

drama

can

in

itself


been

seen

as

a

negation

of

the

self;

the

adoption

of

other

identities

in

a

performance


which

seeks

to

imitate

reality

yet

reveal

its

separation

and

elevation

from

it

is

an

idea


form

in

which

writers

can

investigate

the

social

and

personal

aspects

of

identity.

As


the

theatre

inevitably

places

an

emphasize

on

the

relationship

between

linguistic

and


physical

action

in

its

formation

of

character,

the

staged

'self',

it

allows

for

a

more


vigorous

examination

of

concepts

of

identity.

From

the

Elizabethan

to

the

Caroline


stage,

playwrights

continually

explored

ideas

of

personal

identity

and

self

hood

within


tragic

plots.

Tragedy,

more

so

than

comedy

provided

a

poignant

setting

in

which

to


explore

ideas

of

human

agency

and

freewill,

the

imperatives

of

familial

and

social


obligation,

and

the

subsequent

crisis

of

identity

that

these

issues

initiate.

Whilst


comedic

plays

inevitably

explored

ideas

of

confused

or

mistaken

identity

and

gender,


tragedy

was

frequently

distinguished

as

having

a

higher

moral

and

didactic

purpose.


Indeed,

the

abundant

discourse

in

the

Elizabethan

period

on

what

tragedy,

the

so


called

"high

and

excellent"

(Sidney's

Defense)

art

should

aim

to

achieve

on

the

stage

is


evidence

of

the

fact

that

it

was

considered

important

cultural

medium

that

was

seen


to

have

a

moral

and

didactic

duty

in

its

"dolefull

talles

of

unfortunate

and

afflicted


princes"

(Puttenham,

Arte

of

Poesy).

Although

its

emphasis

on

courtly

setting

may


suggest

that

the

tragedies

of

the

period

were

more

interested

in

distant

political


matters

not

relevant

to

its

audience,

it

seems

clear

from

a

survey

of

many

of

the

plays


of

the

period's

concerns

that

this

setting

is

more

of

a

device

than

a

indication

of

its


ultimate

aim.

By

setting

a

drama

among

princes

and

kings,

the

dramatist

is

in

fact

able


to

place

a

high

significance

and

emphasis

on

individual

action

and

power,

in

a


dramatic

situation

which

allows

for

an

acceleration

of

action

and

plot

fitting

to

the


play's

length.

As

the

form

develops

however

from

the

the

1580's

to

the

1630's,

there


is

a

distinct

shift

in

the

affairs

that

are

presented

on

stage,

the

emergence

of

domestic


tragedies

and

city

comedies

reveals

again

the

growing

interest

and

exploration

of

the


self

throughout

the

Renaissance.


Kyd's

The

Spanish

Tragedy

(1588--1592),

considered

to

be

the

first

English

'Revenge


Tragedy',

uses

the

idea

of

revenge

to

explore

the

relationship

between

the

individual


and

divine

and

social

powers.

Its

use

of

a

revenge

plot

inevitably

calls

into

question

to


role

and

power

of

the

individual

within

a

social

structure.

Francis

Bacon

in

his

later


essay

'On

Revenge'

described

it

as

a

"kind

of

wild

justice"

which

"putteth

the

law

out


of

Office"

because

it

was

essentially

the

"princes

part

to

pardon".

In

Kyd's

play,


Hieronimo

takes

the

law

into

his

own

hands;

the

plays

extensive

catalogue

of

violent


actions,

murders

and

suicide,

is

a

morbid

testament

to

its

accentuation

of

individual


power

and

agency.

The

Spanish

Tragedy

therefore

is

a

fantasy

of

vicarious

power


which

Hieronimo

usurps

in

order

to

act

out

retribution

and

thus

become

the

agent

of


revenge

himself.

Kyd's

use

of

the

play--within--a--play

device

is

perhaps

unparalleled

in


its

aesthetic

and

poetic

perfection

in

that,

a

play

about

revenge,

finds

it

conclusion

in


a

performance

of

a

revenge

play

(Solomon

and

Persida)

through

which

the

actual

act

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