Loftis, Sonya Freeman
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This study uses performance theory to examine modern dramatic adaptations of Renaissance plays, arguing that modern and postmodern dramatists rewrite the literary past in an act of cultural and theatrical surrogation. The first chapter addresses modern playwrights’ need to destroy and replace their Renaissance forbearers. Presenting the human body, especially the body of the actor or playwright as an “effigy of flesh” that contains cultural memory and embodies the literary canon, these playwrights work metaphorical violence on corpses that represent the literary corpus. The second chapter focuses on Bernard Shaw’s life-long struggle to present himself as a cultural surrogate for Shakespeare, through the performance of his public persona as G.B.S., through his Shakespearean criticism, and through his appropriation of King Lear in Heartbreak House. Shaw’s need to destroy Shakespeare’s corpse and corpus leads to a battle against aestheticism and pessimistic passivity. The third chapter examines Brecht’s adaptation of Marlowe’s Edward II and argues that the alienation effect can be understood as a “surrogation effect,” focusing on images of violent skinning in Brecht’s play, as his characters enact surrogation by tearing the flesh from both corpse and corpus. The fourth chapter explores surrogation as cannibalism in Müller’s Hamletmachine and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, interpreting the father’s corpse and the mother’s womb as symbols for literary adaptation in Müller’s play. The fifth chapter deals with Beckett’s Endgame and Happy Days, reading Endgame as an adaptation of The Tempest and arguing that the disembodied characters in Happy Days represent the erasure of the Shakespearean past. The final chapter focuses on Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, concluding that Stoppard’s screenplay appropriates Shakespeare in the style of Shaw, constructing Stoppard’s persona as Shakespeare’s surrogate, while Stoppard’s adaptation of Hamlet draws the audience into an encounter with the theater’s role as haunted “memory machine.” Ultimately, this dissertation explores the central role that responding to Renaissance drama played in the creation of individual modern dramatists’ canons and theories of theater, and the ways that the theater, as a vessel for cultural memory, engages the ghosts of previous plays and playwrights.