Elizabethan formal verse satire and the ideology of dramatic form, 1599--1608

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Mihoko Suzuki - Committee Chair


This project examines the appropriation of Elizabethan formal verse satire---a reactionary, venomous form of attack that was censored in June 1599---in British drama around the turn of the seventeenth century. Although the playwrights generally ridicule the stylistic and philosophical tendencies of the genre, they also employ it as part of a larger generic and cultural strategy to further their social advancement and to condemn the erosion of conventional mores. Two distinct phases can be identified in this use of Elizabethan verse satire, the first concerning plays written in the years immediately following the censorship. Through the three comical satires (Every Man out of His Humour, Cynthia's Revels, Poetaster), As You Like It, and What You Will, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, and John Marston employ Elizabethan verse satire yet in the end repudiate the genre, displacing it by less controversial forms of satire and by idealized comic endings that generally demonstrate their suitability for advancement within a traditional social structure. Beginning in late 1601, Shakespeare, the Parnassus playwright, and Marston reveal through darker, more tragic plays--- Troilus and Cressida, The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus, The Malcontent , and Timon of Athens---an increased awareness of the pervasive and potentially devastating erosion of feudal ties. At the same time these playwrights continue to satirize verse satire, they increasingly rely on the form to communicate their frustration at what they see as the self-destructive, abandonment of traditional values. Elizabethan formal verse satire thus serves an important function for several dramatists in their satiric, hybrid attempts to advance themselves, to grapple with and resolve social issues, and ultimately to vent a helpless rage.


Theater; Literature, English

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