Will and Love: Shakespeare, Volition, and Theological Romance
Dyck, Darren J.
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This dissertation examines four of Shakespeare’s love-plays through the lens of the medieval tradition of theological romance in order to assess the playwright’s use of Augustinian psychology in his depiction of dramatic action. Most studies of the ‘medieval’ in Shakespeare consider only those works with clear medieval precursors or which are set in the period (i.e. the histories); those which go beyond these narrow parameters tend to focus on Shakespeare’s social, material, or historical context, seeking therein, in Helen Cooper’s idiom, the “deep structures of medieval culture” fueling his work. This dissertation hearkens after these “deep structures,” too, but seeks them in the medieval theology of soul informing Shakespeare’s concept of the human being. My first chapter traces expressions of the idea at the heart of theological romance through the writings of Augustine, Boethius, Dante, Petrarch, and Chaucer. That idea, simply put, is that love moves the lover, mysteriously, and without diminishing his agency. Each chapter thereafter offers a close-reading of a single play which reveals both the influence on Shakespeare of theological romance’s account of the soul’s motion and how the playwright’s reception of this account also means its transformation. Shakespeare makes clear his reliance on Augustinian psychology in Romeo and Juliet, ubiquitously employing metaphors of motion and engaging the Petrarchan problem of the mutual exclusivity of human and divine loves; but he also provides a Dantean resolution Petrarch never could. In Troilus and Cressida and Twelfth Night, Shakespeare interrogates that resolution. In the former text, as essential value degrades into perceived worth and love is reduced to lust, action becomes inaction, and readers are left to wonder whether any beloved is worth the love of their lover; in the latter, Shakespeare examines the difficulty posed by the imagination, which, dissociated from reason, is shown to engender immobility; and yet, the play’s conclusion suggests imagination’s essentiality to love’s movement. In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare again takes up the themes of the beloved’s worth and the power of the imagination, but he also allots his mature lovers a singular mutuality of love, which can only be understood in terms of a volitional mysteriousness, and which, despite its clearly unorthodox expression as passion rather than love, hearkens back to Augustine’s own characterization of the mystery at the heart of love’s movement.