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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for One (1) Year

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Jane Hwang Dengenhardt

Second Advisor

Adam Zucker

Third Advisor

Sonja Primmer

Fourth Advisor

Dennis Austin Britton

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles


This dissertation writes a premodern history of race as an alternative literary history of comedy. This project argues that early modern generic changes in comic conventions reflect and produce a logic of race, which assign relational positions of knowingness and unknowing as naturally immutable. Renaissance comedies resembled epistemological laboratories in which to theorize the notion of knowledge itself, and the comedies of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Dekker, Middleton, and Rowley abound in theatrical technologies which create and explore differences in knowing and ignorance. Blackened skin function as a signifier of preclusion from the humanist knowledge-reservoir of “poesy”; the foreign stink wafting from a “rustic’s” tobacco-pipe signals—olfactorily—his inherent unawareness of his lack of gentility; and obstinacy and despair are constructed as fleshly, humoral signs of Jewish ignorance. Racial Poetics argues that developments in early modern comedy advance what I call “knowledge foreclosure,” a racial form which structurally precludes the ignorant from ever discerning the sanctioned tenets of knowledge within their play-world. Scholars have done much work to unpack the complex diversity of racialized persons in the early modern period, but relatively little attention has been paid to abstract, genre-based forms of racializing thinking. As I consider how experiments in comedies, such as Love’s Labour’s Lost, Every Man Out of His Humour, The Merchant of Venice, and The Witch of Edmonton, encode an early modern racial epistemology, this dissertation reconfigures current conversations in the field of critical race studies by demonstrating the racial stakes of aesthetic forms, in the past as well as our present.


Available for download on Friday, September 01, 2023