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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/17736

Title: Digesting the Third: Reconfiguring Binaries in Shakespeare and Early Modern Thought
Authors: Carson, Robert
Advisor: Levenson, Jill L.
Department: English
Keywords: Shakespeare
Richard III
Troilus and Cressida
Coriolanus
critical theory
philosophy
Montaigne
Wittgenstein
scepticism
Issue Date: 23-Sep-2009
Abstract: My argument assesses and reconfigures binary structures in Shakespeare’s plays and in Shakespeare criticism. I contend that ideas in early modern literature often exhibit three aspects, but that critics, who mostly rely upon a binary philosophical vocabulary, tend to notice only two aspects at a time, thereby “digesting” the third. My opening chapter theorizes the superimposition of triadic structures upon dyads, arguing that this new polyrhythmic strategy helps recapture an early modern philosophical perspective by circumventing the entrenched binary categories we have inherited from the Enlightenment. In Chapter Two, I examine the relationship of tyranny and conscience in Tudor politics, Reformed psychology, and Richard III. Early modern political theorists often employ a binary opposition of kingship and tyranny, and historians typically draw a binary distinction between absolutists and resisters. I argue that there were in fact three ideological positions on offer which these binaries misrepresent. As well, Reformed psychology emphasizes the relationship of the individual subject and an objective God, unmediated by community, and I propose that this opposition of subjectivity and objectivity digests the idea of intersubjectivity. In Richard III, Shakespeare interrogates the implausibility of Tudor political binaries and stages a nostalgia for intersubjective community and conscience. In Chapter Three I read the debates on value in Troilus and Cressida alongside contemporary economic writings by Gerard de Malynes on currency reform and “merchandizing exchange.” Our current models of value – intrinsic and extrinsic, use and exchange, worth and price – are emphatically binary, but the mercantile practices that Malynes describes depend upon a triadic conception of value. My contention is that Troilus and Cressida becomes a less problematic problem play when value is conceived as triadic rather than dyadic. In Chapter Four I explore early modern scepticism in connection with Coriolanus. Reading Montaigne and Wittgenstein in parallel, I distinguish between various conceptions of truth that are regularly grouped together under the blanket term “scepticism.” Then I turn to read Coriolanus as an experiment in competing modes of early modern epistemology, arguing that the play ultimately endorses the same sort of polyphonous Pyrrhonian scepticism that we find in Montaigne and Wittgenstein.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/17736
Appears in Collections:Doctoral
Department of English - Doctoral theses

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