Jesting at scars: Shakespeare's skeptics and the problem of belief
Newton, Allyson Paix
Snow, Edward A.
Doctor of Philosophy
Certain characters in Shakespeare share lineages grounded in thematic concerns. Tracing such lineages can create inroads into key Shakespearean issues that elude more straightforward approaches. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Falstaff in I Henry IV, Part One, the Fool in King Lear, Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra: whether we call them skeptics, cynics, "nay-sayers," demystifiers, or pragmatic realists, they share such a lineage. Even though these figures are among Shakespeare's most charismatic and psychologically complex creations, they involve us not just in characterological subtleties but in issues which have to do with the impingement of skepticism on the "illusion" of theatrical embodiment. Exploration of the "resistances" these characters maintain with such tenacity discovers what could be called a Shakespearean meditation on the nature of belief--in the other, in oneself, in imagination, in theater--and on the forces that compel belief into crisis--skepticism, disavowal of desire, distrust of theatrical display, fear of vulnerability and otherness. From play to play, the elements of male friendship and rivalry, sacrifice and scapegoating mechanisms, and the plain-speaking ironist almost painfully overinvested in the protagonists are reconfigured into a powerful exploration of the creation of belief in the very space made empty by doubt, distrust, grief, and loss.