Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

In my dissertation, Contagious Animality: Species, Disease, and Metaphor in Early Modern Literature and Culture, I close read examples of Renaissance drama alongside their contemporary cultural texts to examine anxieties around social differences as constructed and mediated through what I call “contagious animality” in early modern English culture. Animal metaphors circulated anxieties around social differences on the early modern cultural stage in English drama where animality elicits uncertainties about identitarian constructions of difference. In this vein, I close read formal elements and their interactions with early modern culture to argue that animal metaphors transmit modes of speciating difference in examples of Renaissance drama and cultural artifacts. Whiteness exploits this fluidity between animal-human classifications as a power differential. Metaphors of animal-human speciation elicit anxieties around difference through a poetics of contagion. Spread through animal metaphors, animal-human distinctions circulate dehumanizing constructions of race, gender, and sexuality via affective influences in early modern English playhouses and by extension, affects cultural constructions of identitarian difference. England’s emergent settler-colonialist logics in the Renaissance positioned animal-human differences on hierarchies such as the Great Chain of Being where crossing the porous boundary between human and animal constituted a form of contagion. Actors’ imitations of animality through material performance and metaphor on stage spread through spectators’ senses—in other words, theatergoers felt animality as an affective, embodied, and material experience. In this vein, I approach animal studies in dialogue with pre-modern critical race studies, queer theory, and affect studies to address the circulations of difference through contagion and animality in early modern English literature and culture. By close reading dramatic and cultural materials, I argue that animal metaphors in early modern literature and culture represent forms of racial, sexual, and gendered difference in early modern England as something transmittable, showing their incredibly flexible and exploitable capabilities. In other words, the uncertain distinctions between what constructed an “animal” and a “human” were dangerously transmissive in early modern contexts.

Date

1-12-2023

Committee Chair

Barrett, Chris

DOI

10.31390/gradschool_dissertations.6037

COinS