Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Naomi Liebler

Committee Member

Adam Rzepka

Committee Member

Jeffrey A. Miller


Theater as an art form demands disguise for many reasons. It allows a character to act in uncharacteristic ways against society’s customs and expectations. It frees the user from society’s rules as well as his own sense of morality; nonetheless, it also restricts the wearer to certain behaviors and actions. This dichotomy is reflected in how the masked character is free to act outside of the law but is still its subject in the end. Disguise allows a character freedom from social obligations but he is still responsible and punished for his actions by the end of the play. Although disguise is used decoratively in the actual costume changes that take place on the stage, disguise is more than a material covering; it can be performative. It allows the character the ability to be something more. For example, Hamlet is also mad Hamlet; his disguise relies entirely on his performance. The action of concealing one’s identity becomes a part of the performance; therefore, used within a play, it calls attention to the pretense of the show and forces audiences to address the larger issues being presented.

This thesis examines how the plots of The Spanish Tragedy, Titus Andronicus, and Hamlet are driven by performative disguise; in particular, Hieronimo, Titus, and Hamlet feign madness in order to plot revenge. Feigned madness is a form of performative disguise because the character is pretending to be something he is not, in the same way that a character might change costumes. Kyd and Shakespeare set the stage for the flourishing of revenge plots that would become a staple of the Jacobean theater. In these plays, the performative disguise is used as a vehicle for male retribution and vengeance. Revenge allows characters to take justice into their own hands when the law fails. It allows characters to fix perceived wrongs against them. In the plays being addressed, the protagonist’s desire for retribution comes about because of the wrongs perpetuated against them. The philosophy of performatives is examined because it shows how words can be used to manipulate the performance.

There are many revenge scenarios in the English Renaissance canon; however, The Spanish Tragedy, Titus Andronicus, and Hamlet make a similar statement about using feigned madness in order to plan and justify their revenge. Because of the disguise of madness, Hieronimo, Titus, and Hamlet were able to prove the guilt of their target while publicizing their actions. Without their disguise, revenge would have been virtually impossible because they would not have been able to stay close to their targets. Shakespeare’s and Kyd’s plays address the idea that proof and justification are necessary for revenge. What Kyd and Shakespeare set forth was used to create many different scenarios and many different kinds of revengers.

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