McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Albert C. Labriola
Castle of Perseverance, cuckold, drama, early modern, Purgatory, Shakespeare
Seeking to expand on the work of Jacque Le Goff in The Birth of Purgatory, this dissertation examines Purgatory and purgatorial suffering on the early modern stage in Britain. Le Goff asserts in The Birth of Purgatory that "Purgatory, though a prominent if elusive feature of Christian thinking about the afterlife, seems to have been a perishable rather than an enduring idea" (358). I choose to look for those places in the British early modern dramatic imagination where the idea of Purgatory, even when used as a dramatic device or metaphor, managed to endure, even if it never quite flourishes. While it is a dominant belief in medieval Britain, Purgatory serves to bring together a community of believers, strengthening their ties to dead ancestors and to one another (Chapter 2). When belief in Purgatory wanes in Britain and its attendant practices are purged from religious expression during the Reformation, the kinetic energies and symbolic systems that tied together the community of believers does not so easily die away (Chapter 1). All through the Reformation, invective diatribes against Purgatory can be found on stage at the same time that contemporary playwrights are employing Purgatory in ways that connect it to expiation of sin and suffering for love (Chapters 3 and 4). In many instances, ideas about Purgatory are being translated by dramatists, particularly Shakespeare, into dramatic structures that support a specifically Judeo-Christian articulation of Aristotelian catharsis (Chapter 5). Purgatory, as a literary and cultural metaphor, continues to demarcate not only areas of cultural upheaval and uncertainty, but also areas where delimiting practices, of this world and the next, are evolving or being reorganized within dramatic culture.
The Lovers' Purgatory and the Cuckold's Purgatory, for example, focus cultural anxieties about fidelity and Reformation anxieties about divorce (Chapter 4). The application of metaphors of purgatorial suffering to both male and female anxieties about romantic relationships provides limits on the social consequences of infidelity and provides a patient coping strategy which in some respects forestalls domestic violence. As metaphor for the love relationship, Purgatory focuses complex discussions about sin, sex, and the heavenly and earthly political structures which regulate intimate relationships. Purgatory's liminal but positive orientation towards heavenly reward focuses representations of suffering so that suffering becomes communal rather than isolating. While they are punished according to their own culpability, no one is alone in either the earthly or otherworldly Purgatory.
Andel, N. (2008). Need Not Necessity: Purgatorial Torment and Healing in Medieval and Early Modern Drama (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/14