Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature

Document Type



In an attempt to comprehend the notion of Grotesque, this study examines the evolution of one of the most polymorphic, elusive and evolving aesthetic categories in Art and Literature at two moments of its history: its emergence as a critical term in the Arts; and its crucial reappearance in modern age. Indeed, those eras continue to prove challenging. The study of the early stages recieve considerable attention in this critique. Yet, the only conclusion that can be drawn from this is the lack of critical consensus on key points such as: What is the Grotesque; When did it appear or where did it emerge? Those ongoing controversies point out an unprecedented difficulty to define this aesthetic category which might have resulted in its success and longevity over the centuries. Modern literature constitutes another challenging era when dealing with the Grotesque because, if twentieth century literature provides prolific examples of this aesthetic category, very few critics commented on it.

The thesis addresses, through a diachronic and trans-historical approach, the construction of the Grotesque in the Arts, Literature and Criticism, as well as grotesque manifestations in four well-known modern plays from Luigi Pirandello, Armando Discépolo, Roberto Cossa and Friedrich Dürrenmatt. In this way, this study first explores the edification of the aesthetic category and engages with traditional assumptions. This is underpinned by a theoretical framework which addresses various theories and provide further evidence that grotesque expressions might have appeared before the first century B.C.E and that the artistic form found in Nero’s Domus Aurea, traditionally conceived as the emergence of the Grotesque, belonged to another genre. Secondly, the study highlights the richness and diversity of grotesque expressions in modern theater and aims at identifying recurring themes and strategies.

By attempting to define it through its main characteristics –longevity and mutation over centuries–, our final analysis suggests that the Grotesque, as an aesthetic category, is an invention of the Renaissance, and serves, first and foremost, to depict a distressing experience of change.



Committee Chair

Russo, Adelaide



Available for download on Saturday, October 17, 2026