Stage(d) hands in early modern drama and culture

Felstead, Imogen and Findlay, Alison (2020) Stage(d) hands in early modern drama and culture. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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This thesis offers the first full phenomenological study of the staging of hands in early modern drama and culture by analysis of selected canonical and non-canonical plays (1550-1650) in dialogue with significant non-dramatic intertexts. Reading plays by Shakespeare, Webster, Middleton, Rowley, Tomkis, Marlowe, Heywood, Brome, Jonson and Dekker, I argue the hand constructs subjectivity, materially and psychologically, in the natural, built and social landscapes represented on stage and experienced in the early modern world. This argument is supported through broad-ranging interdisciplinary analysis shaped by first-hand experience following an injury to my right hand. The introduction situates the hand within anthropological, materialist and phenomenological critical approaches to argue its functions as an ‘extroceptive’ tool. I explore Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the body as a natural instrument of expression, which registers and defines the individual’s spatial being-in-the-world. I position the hand as a self-defining agent as understood by: Nancy’s work on thinking the body ‘anew’; Derrida’s analysis of the hand as ‘maker’; the history of technicity and exteriorisation in the works of Stiegler and Leroi-Gourhan alongside medical practices surrounding my own contemporary experience. Chapter One analyses the active hand, conventionally gendered masculine, as a symbol of human mind and spirit materialised with reference to ‘intentionality’. I argue the staged hand, a cognitive symbol that constitutes the body schema, is the most pivotal body part on the early modern stage, cultivating and developing the subject’s expressive and symbolic relationship with the world. Bulwer’s Chirologia and Chironomia (1644) informs this chapter to demonstrate tactual perception to be the centre of early modern corporeality and hapticity to be indispensable to sensory experience. Chapter Two considers the feminine hand as an object staged by boys and passed between men alongside Merleau-Ponty’s notion of intercorporeity, to suggest that the feminine hand is situated within a paradox. Both passive and objectified, it is a powerful source of autonomy, command and agency, as embodied by Elizabeth I. I argue that the potential for agency turns the active helping hand into an instrument of disorder and empowerment which creates a space for independent desires and actions. Chapter Three considers the body without the hand and the hand without the body using Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of the body schema with respect to phantom limb syndrome and anosognosia alongside my own experience at Wessex Rehabilitation Centre. I argue the phantom limb phenomenon is a recurrent transhistorical feature in early modern drama and culture and represents cultural anxieties of fragmentation, loss and disruption.

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Thesis (PhD)
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16 Sep 2020 08:46
Last Modified:
18 Jan 2024 00:01