Strange Speech on the Early Modern Stage

Montgomery, Marianne, Department of English, University of Virginia
Maus, Katharine, Department of English, University of Virginia
Kinney, Clare, Department of English, University of Virginia
Nohrnberg, James, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation surveys five of the major languages heard on London's commercial stages during the three decades 1590-1620 and the cultural issues that they made audible. Generally, literary criticism in this area has focused on a few significant issues raised by strange speech in early modern plays, most notably the residual religious charge carried by Latin and the relationship between dialect comedy and the construction of Britain. I show, however, that other equally fraught religious, economic, and political concerns are made audible when strange vernaculars are staged. Although strange language marks cultural distance, the theater promises translation by means of gesture, action, and the English speech of other characters. Rather than representing the early modern English as exclusively narrow-minded, parochial, and suspicious of apparent outsiders, these plays begin to imagine transnational communities based on shared values and interests and suggest that theater is especially well-equipped to model such communities. After an introduction that briefly surveys early modern representations of foreign speech in a variety of non-dramatic genres, Chapter 1 listens to strange women's voices in Henry V and Henry IV, Part 1, linking French and Welsh in these plays to early modern accounts of the embodiment of language in the mother's breast and the mother's tongue. Moving from history to city comedy, Chapter 2 concentrates on Dutch in Marston's The Dutch Courtesan, Middleton's No Wit, No Help Like a Woman's, and Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday and argues that Dutch offers early modern dramatists a way of thinking about commercial identity. Chapter 3 investigates a language that is Montgomery, Abstract 4. more elusive in plays but certainly culturally resonant for early modern Englanders: Spanish. Instead of engaging directly with contemporary Spanish cultural politics, plays that represent Spanish tend to fragment language into multiple exotic cants. Chapter 4, on Latin, considers not Latin's liturgical and religious associations but its dramatic status as a university cant. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that early modern drama holds up linguistic variety as a source of strength and uses it to sound out the complex interstices of identity that produced the values of the early modern English subject. 5.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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