"Less-than-Human" Tragedy?: Ecologies of Suffering in Contemporary Tragic Drama.

Shermeyer, Kelli, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, Department of English, University of Virginia
Luftig, Victor, Department of English, University of Virginia
Levenson, Michael, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation forges an intellectual and performative alliance between tragic drama and the critical school of posthuman theory, emphasizing their shared interest in entangled agencies, cyclical destruction, irreparable loss, and the interactions of human and nonhuman entities. It explores what we stand to gain by broadening the category of tragic actors to include figures often indexed as “less-than-human” (or “less-than-fully-human”): children, animals, and forces of nature. Readings of contemporary plays focus on the reverberation of suffering across ecosystems composed of human and nonhuman actors. This approach both underscores tragedy’s historical commitment to acting out the neuroses and recoveries within a more-than-human community, as Wole Soyinka writes, while inviting us to consider nonhuman characters in our calculations of tragic suffering and responsibility. The project ultimately illustrates how tragedy remains central to theorizing how lives come to matter: one of the most urgent and foundational inquiries of the humanities.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tragedy, Drama, Theater, Posthuman, Ecocriticism, Marina Carr, Caryl Churchill, Wole Soyinka, Martin McDonagh, Peter Shaffer, Edward Albee
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