Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts

First Advisor

Linda Bensel-Meyers, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

W. Scott Howard

Third Advisor

Clark Davis


Community, Drama, Religion, Renaissance


This dissertation examines moments in five English Renaissance plays when characters employ religious language in bids to consolidate or to fracture communities. The plays are John Bale's King Johan (c. 1538, revised c. 1560), Nathaniel Woodes' Conflict of Conscience (c. 1581); Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603); Shakespeare's Cymbeline (1611); and John Webster's The White Devil (1612). The types of communities examined most closely are those of a small scale - relationships of individuals to God, marriages, families, friendships, households, parishes, courts - but these appear against the backdrop of much larger communities such as the nation and the Church. I investigates the striking diversity of ways a well-known prayer, a Gospel parable, an iconic religious image, or a scriptural type can function during a quest to divide a group of people or to bring them together.

A central point in this dissertation is that these religiously-inflected speeches and actions in these plays alert us to the many dynamic intricacies involved in maintaining or dissolving particular communities. As such, the instances I examine serve as further evidence that we who study Renaissance drama do well to question grand-narrative accounts - such as an uncomplicated secularization thesis - of religion's place on the stage. Individual chapters stake out specific resistances to the impulse toward generalization and homogeneity, as I participate in the "turn to religion" in early modern studies. The chapters question or supplement readings in certain New Historicist veins that see the theatre as merely a replacement for religion; or conceive of religion mostly as politics in flimsy disguise; or reduce literary art to its ideological content and/or context. I identify a variety of attempts at community formation by means of self-transcendence, considering the degree and types of control characters and playwrights attempt to wield over Christian discourse and practice. I posit that my engagement with these moments should make us pause before assuming that these playwrights and their audiences shared our belief that more obviously collaborative or more apparently secular models of community formation are automatically or in every way the best.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Rachel Dunleavy Morgan


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

197 p.


English literature