'The house is hers, the soul is but a tenant': Material Self-Fashioning and Revenge Tragedy

Sheetal Lodhia

Abstract


This paper performs a close reading of Jacobean tragedies, namely The Maiden's Tragedy, The Revenger's Tragedy, and The Duchess of Malfi, to highlight the ways in which, through revenge, corporeal fashioning in each play tests the body's relationship to the spirit. Where conventional Christian doctrine and Stoic philosophy traditionally privilege the soul's governance of the body, I argue that in these plays, the opposite is shown to be true: the body governs the spirit. I focus on the artificer figure, who in these plays reflects a new extreme in the form of the maniacal avenger, whose participation in corporeal fashioning is so perverse that he is beyond recuperation. What is more, Jacobean plays participate in a more extreme kind of bodily fashioning that moves beyond simple mutation to replacement entirely of human bodies, with either corpses, technologies, or automata. The medium of theatre itself demands this kind of replacement, as does the genre of revenge to anticipate Cartesian mechanistic dualism. Because the material paradoxically becomes the centre of attention, it proves to be constitutive of selfhood, perverting Christian, Senecan, and Cartesian notions of selfhood, which reside in the soul and mind respectively.


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