Interrogation of Conscience and Audience in Shakespeare's Early Plays




Dodson, Eric

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Interrogation scenes, in which a character confronts and questions himself, or in which inquisitors question a character in a dramatic dialogue, are dramatizations of confrontational interrogatory discourse. This thesis explores the relation between such scenes in Shakespeare’s early plays and other types of Elizabethan interrogatory discourse—particularly political and religious interrogations, which make public spectacle of the questioning of the accused, and moral and casuistical tracts—with special emphasis on the reactions of both onstage audiences and playgoers to the spectacle of the staged interrogations. This study gives special attention to the concentric spheres of spectators, including the play’s characters, the acting troupe, the playgoers, the individual conscience—known as “God’s spy”—and the omniscient divine sphere. The study describes the restructuring of these spheres through the interrogational process. Chapter Two discusses interrogation of accused heretics and traitors as described in martyrological books and pamphlets. The chapter also briefly considers casuistical tracts that advocate internal interrogation of the conscience. Chapter Three considers interrogation scenes in the Henry VI plays and their relation to staged public interrogations of martyrs. Chapter Four discusses both the questioning of Clarence by Richard’s henchmen and Richard’s internal interrogation before the battle of Bosworth in Richard III. Portia’s grotesque courtroom interrogation of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, discussed in Chapter Five, raises questions about the process of interrogation. Chapter Six explores Hamlet, a play comprised almost entirely of interrogation scenes, focusing on the mousetrap scene and on Hamlet’s interrogation of Gertrude and considering Shakespeare’s interrogation of the connection between dramatic interrogation and the playgoers’ conscience. The study notes the disruptive power of Shakespeare’s interrogation scenes, which often disturb and transform the relations between the concentric spheres of spectators.



discourse analysis, questioning in literature, literature


Dodson, E. (2004). Interrogation of conscience and audience in Shakespeare's early plays (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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