Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Early modern literature is replete with references to blood. These references appear in the contexts of class and gender distinction, medical information, religious significance, and more. Upon looking into the Galenic model of medicine utilized in early modern England, it becomes clear that blood, while one of the four humors of the body, held a place of special significance amongst the rest. Thus in reading the works of Shakespeare we are able to see how he often handles blood as a substance that holds special qualities and as such plays an important role in human lives. This paper examines two of Shakespeare’s works in depth, his Roman tragedy The Tragedy of Coriolanus and his epic poem The Rape of Lucrece, both chosen for their specifically bloody language. As both characters deal with the immense trials before them we become aware that blood is not only blood in each work, rather blood becomes both a source of liberation while simultaneously holding a potential for shame. As such, both Coriolanus and Lucrece embrace the ability of blood to carry the body’s exterior to the outside world, yet both are concerned about the possibility for blood to be misinterpreted. Blood can be either a reminder of weakness and mortality or a symbol of courage. What we observe in each work is that exercising control over when, how, and if blood is exposed equates to holding power.

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Creative Commons License
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