The Masque and its Afterlives: Spectacle and Heroic Action in Stuart England

Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2012

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

English and American Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The Masque and its Afterlives: Spectacle and Heroic Action in Stuart England examines the relation of aesthetic pleasure to political life in early modern British literary culture. Against conventional histories of the seventeenth century which narrate rupture in literary culture, I argue for continuity by uncovering the persistence the masque, a spectacular genre often thought to have dissolved with the mid-century revolution, as an imaginative resource. Tracing representations of spectacular politics from Shakespeare and Jonson through Davenant, Milton, and Marvell to Dryden at the turn of the eighteenth century, I investigate both how writers theorize the effects of art on its spectators and how they dramatize such effects in poems and plays. While writers assert the power of aesthetic pleasure to form complacent subjects when they theorize spectacle, their poems and plays reveal the capacity of spectacle to evoke unruly passions and affections that disrupt and reconfigure the body politic. I argue that spectacle is central to the construction of political community because it operates upwards as well as downwards, forming those who serve as spectacles as well as those who gaze on them. Literary culture remains preoccupied with spectacle because the political function of aesthetic pleasure persists as a problem, one of no less consequence for modern democracy than it was for early modern monarchy.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Steven Zwicker

Committee Members

Joseph Loewenstein, Wolfram Schmidgen


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7KD1VVK

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