Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Abstract

A study of Renaissance literature's engagement with temporality, my project is a critical evaluation of the concept of early modern futurity, of which I propose three categories: "Material futurity"; "Biological futurity"; and "Political futurity." In the moments that I identify in texts composed during the Tudor and early Stuart reigns in England, I demonstrate that the future--as an idea--structures individuals' actions and ruptures social formations. Futurity, which I define as a play of multiple desires that exist simultaneously within our present beings, is a volatile agent of imagination in early modern literature. Futurity collides with the cultural sites of memory and pulls characters in different directions, destabilizing the organized spaces defined by their bodies, kingdoms, and locations. While the characters in these texts may return to regulated forms of thought and being, it is in their moments of flux, I argue, that they present the most complex engagement with futurity.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for example, Helena initiates a material futurity when she chases down the scornful Demetrius in the woods outside Athens and promises him that she will write a "story" that "shall" change the future of female lovers (2.1.230). It is precisely because Helena resists material conditions--the silence and immobility imposed upon Athenian women, who "cannot" act and "fight for love as men may do"--that she strives to transform the future of female subjectivity and citizenship (2.1.241). The Changeling's Beatrice-Joanna, on the other hand, appropriates a futurity that is biological, when she plans carefully to avoid the virginity and pregnancy tests designed for her by her new husband Alsemero. Having lost to De Flores her virginity, that "loved and loathed" passage to the site for the generation of patriarchal futures (1.1.125), Beatrice-Joanna sabotages her own marriage bed as well as others' bodies, thereby avoiding her fundamental sexual responsibility to patriarchs--her husband and her father--of legitimate biological propagation. In my third example, Paulina in The Winter's Tale relies on political futurity to topple Leontes' absolutist monarchy. As she orders the king to "[c]are not for issue" but follow the example of the "Great Alexander," who died and left his kingdom to no particular heir (5.1.46-47), Paulina instigates in Sicilia such a politics of unpredictability as will culminate in the succession of a new kind of political leadership.

Through these and other examples, I establish the various means by which characters in Renaissance literature operate within one or more categories of futurity, and I argue that the future in these works is a persistent if problematic source of inspiration and agency. Futurity, that condition of our present experience in which we want, need, wish, hope, and plan for diverse objects and states to be realized in our future, initiates in characters such as Helena, Beatrice-Joanna, and Paulina a contradictory desire that often leads to their perverting (making monstrous) the social apparatuses of their past and present. Through such manipulations, characters in early modern literature not only imagine the future as a controllable component of time, but also amend the seemingly concrete elements of temporality--their historical past and present--in order to propel change.

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