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How should I act?: Shakespeare and the theatrical code of conduct

Ann E Garner, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the intersection of English Renaissance drama and conduct literature. Current scholarship on this intersection usually interprets plays as illustrations of cultural behavioral norms who find their model and justification in courtly norms. In this dissertation, I argue that plays present behavioral norms that emerge from this nascent profession and that were thus influenced by this profession and the concerns of the people who worked in it, rather than by the court. To do so, I examine three behavioral norms that were important to courtiers, specifically Disguise, Moderation and Wit through the work of the English Renaissance theater's most celebrated professional, William Shakespeare. Shakespeare's plays evince a theatrical code of conduct that, rather than being an illustration of courtly norms, was sometimes in direct contrast to them and sometimes formed an alternate or lateral code. This code shows a distrust of disguise, a lack of interest in moderation and a belief in the need to eschew wit in favor of a happy ending. The modern theater has retained many of these essential behavioral norms, including the value of community above the self, the need for sympathy and compassion, and the willingness to risk. ^

Subject Area

Theater|English literature|Theater studies

Recommended Citation

Garner, Ann E, "How should I act?: Shakespeare and the theatrical code of conduct" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3518233.