From Origin to Habit: Shakespeare's Use of Alcohol and Morality in Tragedy




Hanson, Sarah

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This research looks at the tragic plays of William Shakespeare and the influence of both the medieval morality plays and alcohol. The embodiment of this work draws upon primary sources (the plays themselves), the works of his contemporaries, and classic Greek philosophers and physicians, namely Galen and Aristotle. To round out this out, contemporary critics have been consulted. Some prior research has noted the prevalence of alcohol in Shakespeare’s plays, but there has been little attention paid to the location of its occurrence and its relevance to the entire structure of the plays. This oversight undermines the importance of the vice and morality themes that are embedded into Shakespeare’s great tragedies. One problematic area was defining what Renaissance era individuals thought of alcohol and its influence on human nature. The medical texts of both Galen and Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, proved excellent resources. By comparing philosophical texts and the structure of the morality plays to the selected passages, one can extrapolate a trend in Shakespeare’s writing. He recreates the characters of Vice and Folly from the morality plays in order to depict a rising action and change in nature, using alcohol as a crutch. This occurs most often in Act II Scene III. However, in the instances that it does not, it always happens before the climax of the play. The findings in this research suggest that Shakespeare is using alcohol and its transformative effects to further the plot of these tragic tales. In addition, while studying the plays there were instances of this device found in the same location (Act II Scene III) in some of his comedic plays. These additional findings suggest that further research should be conducted to discover the scope of Shakespeare’s use of alcohol and morality.



alcohol, Shakespeare, tragedy, morality, Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Honors College


Hanson, S. (2018). From origin to habit: Shakespeare's use of alcohol and morality in tragedy (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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