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Title: Supplication and the Classical Tradition: Vergil, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton
Authors: Whittington, Leah
Advisors: Barkan, Leonard
Contributors: Comparative Literature Department
Keywords: affect
Subjects: Comparative literature
Classical literature
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Scenes of supplication haunt the pages of Renaissance texts, dramatizing a fundamental entanglement between literature and ethics. In classical literature, the suppliant - whether a warrior on the battlefield, an exile at an altar, or a defendant on trial - used both words and gestures to arouse pity in his hearer. The recipient was obligated to evaluate the suppliant's request and decide whether to grant or refuse his plea. The reciprocity inherent in these scenes generates a flexible literary form that brings together the philosophy of the passions, the politics of mercy and justice, and the theory of rhetoric. The dynamic structure of supplication speaks to issues at the heart of the literary and cultural movement of the Renaissance. For Renaissance practitioners of imitation, the give and take of suppliant scenes eloquently described their complex relationship to a literary tradition they simultaneously revered and sought to overgo. The question of how to respond to an act of supplication also appealed to the Renaissance preoccupation with the ethics of self-control and the ambivalent role of the passions in virtuous action. At the same time, the suppliant's plea posed a challenge to humanism's claim that rhetoric could teach ethical behavior. In seventeenth-century England, where the supplicatory gesture of kneeling at communion played a critical role in maintaining religious and political hierarchies, the refusal to supplicate could even be construed as treason. Supplication and the Classical Tradition: Vergil, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton traces these intertwined strands of the literary, philosophical, and political histories of supplication through four interconnected case studies. After establishing the cultural and poetic legacy of supplication handed down to the Renaissance by the Aeneid, I show how the structures of supplication shape Petrarch's transformation of the lyric language of desire, Shakespeare's exploration of politics and personhood, and Milton's development of a mechanism for human and divine forgiveness. In each case, this dissertation reveals Renaissance writers struggling to build an ethics and poetics of equality out of ritual structures of hierarchy.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Comparative Literature

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