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Date of Award


Access Type

Campus Access

Document type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Joseph L. Black

Second Advisor

Arthur F. Kinney

Third Advisor

Sara Sturm Maddox

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles | Religion | Theatre History


This thesis addresses the volatile body as a historiographical and literary category in selected works of Renaissance English literature. Through readings of poems by Edmund Spenser, John Donne, and John Milton, and of plays by Ben Jonson, John Webster, Richard Brome, Philip Massinger, and Sir William Berkeley, I investigate how Renaissance writers trope the idea of transformation in different ways, in different moments, and in different genres. What meanings inhere in the shifting forms they represent, and how do these transformations interplay with both literary and non-literary modalities? Each chapter focuses on metamorphic changes that at times engage with psychological inwardness and at other times manifest social, political, or theological imperatives arising out of the Reformation. My inquiry is not, however, limited to instances of physical transformation: to these writers, shapeshifting is not simply a subject matter or theme but an aesthetic practice preoccupied with molding and remolding literary form itself. Recognizing the formal implications of textualized, topical, and literal transformation helps us understand the complexity of early modern ideas about transformation without losing sight of transformation.s material aspect.

Chapter One focuses on Adicia, Spenser.s embodiment of injustice in The Faerie Queene, whose psychosomatic transformation complicates Spenser.s politically topical allegories of justice in Book 5 and opens up new ways to read his approach to Elizabethan historiography. Chapter Two examines Milton.s Satan, whose hardened and altered body manifests his fallen and polluted inner state. Satan's physical volatility and newfound capacity to feel pain is, physiologically and semantically, integral to Milton's phenomenology of evil. Chapter Three considers how Donne.s preoccupation with transformation shapes his sacramental poetics, focusing onMetempsychosis, the Holy Sonnets, and La Corona. This sequence of poems illuminates Donne's sacramental transformation not only conceptually but also formally, manifesting Donne.s turn to poetry as liturgical artifact. Chapter Four explores Stuart dramas that exploit the trope of Aethiopem lavare or "washing the Ethiope white," using washable blackface to enact man-made miracle. The staged transformation of a chaste woman from black to white is in these plays instrumentalized to conform (if not reform) libertine masculinity to patriarchal ideology, especially marriage.