Date of Award

5-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

College/School

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department/Program

English

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Naomi Liebler

Committee Member

Adam Rzepka

Committee Member

Lucy McDiarmid

Subject(s)

William Shakespeare(1564-1616)—Drama--Criticism and interpretation, William Shakespeare(1564-1616)--Comedies, William Shakespeare(1564-1616)—Knowledge--Science, Visual perception in literature, Anamorphosis (Visual perception)

Abstract

Shakespeare’s appropriation of the scientific advancements of his contemporaries illuminates the interconnectivity of Renaissance science and literature. Heightened cultural interest in sensory deceptions, in particular deception of the sense of sight, frequently occurs in Shakespearean drama. The influence of optical inventions created a new perspective on an audience’s sensory limitations. The limits of human sight as accurate access to the truth were stretched with anamorphic art. Optics as a scientific field dates back to the ancient Egyptians and the Mesopotamians, but when the Renaissance spread across southern Europe, humanism revisited this theory. This thesis will show the trajectory of this art form and its connection with science in order to illustrate their influence on Shakespearean drama.

The popularity of anamorphosis, the extensive use of perspectival illusion in art, indicates that optics were an influential element of English culture. As this thesis will demonstrate, Shakespearean drama exhibits the impact of advancements in the science of optics and particularly upon extra-scientific domains such as the theater. How we see, and how easily manipulated the sense of sight is, became and important focus of discourse within Shakespearean drama, which itself is an exercise in optical deception.

While there is evidence throughout Shakespearean drama to support my convictions that the new optical technological advancements influenced Shakespeare’s writing, this study will examine representative examples from the comedies, as they are exemplary of the aforementioned influences, as well as one of the sonnets.

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