The ‘dance of human passions’: Shakespeare’s treatment of melancholy, jealousy and repentance

Ahmed, Naseer (2021) The ‘dance of human passions’: Shakespeare’s treatment of melancholy, jealousy and repentance. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis investigates Shakespeare’s treatment of melancholy, jealousy and repentance in Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and The Winter’s Tale. It aims to understand the complexity of Shakespeare’s dramatic portrayal of these passions by historicising and contextualising their significance in the plays and the wider culture. Since the publication of the First Folio in 1623, Shakespeare’s reputation as the supreme poet of the human passions has perpetuated. As such, Shakespeare’s works offer a productive source and means for investigating a cultural history of emotions in the early modern period. This study disentangles the complexity of these compounded passions by situating them in their historical and cultural context. The early modern period was rich—intellectually, culturally, religiously and educationally—and the chief contributors to this richness were the cultural and religious movements of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Thousands of English and European treatises, conduct books and didactic pamphlets, along with classical works in their original Latin or Greek and in translation, were prolifically published on passion during the lifespan of Shakespeare. This research is primarily focused on how all these factors shaped Shakespeare’s treatment and portrayal of these human passions in all their dazzling complexity. In this way, the thesis provides both a comprehensive history of the three passions as well as a concomitant history of the wider cultural determinants and trends of his age. This research demonstrates that early modern theatre and Shakespeare’s drama in particular are not only effective instruments to understand the particular characteristics of melancholy, jealousy and repentance in the period but also suggests the enduring relevance of Shakespeare as a means to trace the origins and development of emotional understanding in our own times. With the recent upsurge in interest in the history of emotion, the frontiers of the field are advancing. In this context, this research attempts to answer such questions as: how did Shakespeare acquire an insight into these social and cultural attitudes fundamental to the portrayal of these passions? What factors made him an acclaimed expert in the anatomy of the passions, as well as an emotional historiographer? How do these passions correlate to one another in the religious and secular discourses of the time? This study opens up further avenues to approach Shakespeare and his contemporaries from the perspective of the passions and contributes a new chapter to this still-burgeoning field of study in the humanities.

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