PhD Thesis: Stake and Stage: Judicial Burning and Elizabethan Theatre, 1587-1592 (Oxford, 2015)
This thesis is the first sustained analysis of the relationship between Elizabethan theatre and the judicial practice of burning at the stake. Focusing on a five-year window of theatrical output (1587-1592), it argues that polemical literary presentations of burning are the key to understanding the stage’s negotiation of this most particular form of judicial violence.
Unlike other forms of penal violence, burning at the stake was not staged, and only fourteen instances of the punishment are recorded in Elizabethan England. Its strong literary presence in Protestant historiography is therefore central to this study. Part I explores the tragic and overtly theatrical rhetoric that the widely available Acts and Monuments built around the burning of heretics in the reformation, and argues that the narrative of this drama of injustice intervened in the development of judicial semiotics over the late-sixteenth century. By the time that Tamburlaine was first performed, burning at the stake was a pressing polemical issue, and it haunts early commercial theatre.
Elizabethan historiography of the stake was deeply influential in contemporary theatre. In Part II, I argue that Marlovian fire spectacles evoke tableaux from the Acts and Monuments to encourage partisan spectatorship, informed by the rhetoric of martyrdom. Dido’s self-immolation courts this rhetoric by dismissing the sword from her death, while Tamburlaine’s book burning is condemned through its emphatically papist undertones. In Part III, I show that characters historically destined to face the stake required thorough criminalization to justify their sentence. Alice Arden is distinguished from female martyrs celebrated for their domestic defiance, while Jeanne d’Arc’s historical heresy is forcefully rewritten as witchcraft and whoredom to condemn 1 Henry VI‘s Joan la Pucelle. Both women are punished offstage, and the plays focus instead on the necessary task of justifying the sentence of burning.
Though rare in practice, burning at the stake was a polemical issue in Elizabethan England. Despite the stake’s lack of imitation in the theatre, I argue that widely available Protestant historiography – propaganda at the heart of debates about burning and religious violence – affected both how plays were written, and how they could be viewed.
To request a copy of the thesis before it becomes available on the Bodleian Website, please contact me directly.
UNIQ Summer School
The University of Oxford’s flagship outreach program invites high achieving state-school students to the city to experience week-long academic programs to encourage those students to apply to the university. The English course takes a look at autobiography and literature, covering Shakespeare’s Tempest, Wordsworth’s The Prelude, and Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Students attend classes on each text, but also benefit from focused writing workshops and tutorial feedback sessions on the work they complete during the course, aiming to improve students grasp of argumentation and rhetoric.
Introduction to Shakespeare
Eight-week class for adults covering Shakespeare in broad thematic lessons, e.g. “Shakespeare and Love”, “Shakespeare and Comedy”, “Shakespeare and Friendship”. Provided through The Knowledge Project social enterprise.
Shakespeare on Film
Six-week tutorial programme for American visiting students at the University of Oxford, provided through OPUS. Tailored to the students’ home-institution Communications Major, the course covered multi-media storytelling, film studies, and narrative development in Franco Zeffirelli‘s classic adaptations, as well as those of Olivier and Branagh, and culminated in the assessment of quirkier adaptations, from the 90s teen movie 10 Things I Hate About You to the BBC’s Blackadder.