Conditional Love: Imitation, Inheritance and Violent Relations in Early Modern Revenge Tragedies
English and American Literature
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Chair and Committee
In "Conditional Love," I reread narratives that seem to confirm normative kinship structures as excessive iterations of their very normativity. Examining revenge tragedies by Shakespeare, Marston, Middleton, Tourneur and Kyd, I argue that the metaphors each playwright uses to portray familial emotions reveal the ideologies underpinning both excessive and normative versions of familial relationships. For example, the pietas that causes Titus to refurbish his elaborate family tomb also leads him to murder one of his sons. It is because Piero, the villainous father in Marston's Antonio's Revenge, imagines his daughter as a physical part of him "as near my heart as is my liver" that when she disobeys he can imagine "rend[ing] her off." I argue that the metaphors used to express normative familial relations reveal the pressures placed on family emotions by economic and political ideologies. The foundational topos of primogeniture: that the father can live on in the son) requires the son to resemble the father, which creates relationships founded on reproduction through imitation. These imitative relationships are then vulnerable to disruption should a son fail to resemble his father. While critics have traditionally read instances of violent family breakdown in plays as moments that violate kinship norms, I argue that such moments of violence are caused by ideologies associated with inheritance structures which underpin descriptions and experiences of normative familial emotions. Revisiting tragedies commonly read as non-normative from the position that these violent behaviors are not exceptions but excesses, I am able to uncover the ideologies which create and, under pressure, distort familial relationships.
Allen, Megan Elizabeth, "Conditional Love: Imitation, Inheritance and Violent Relations in Early Modern Revenge Tragedies" (2012). All Theses and Dissertations (ETDs). 993.
Permanent URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.7936/K7D798GC