Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Richard Harp

Second Committee Member

Timothy Erwin

Third Committee Member

David Fott

Fourth Committee Member

Julie Staggers

Number of Pages



This dissertation examines the vexed relationship between Christian doctrine, practice, and community in English Renaissance drama due to the abandonment of the sacrament of auricular confession during the Protestant Reformation. I argue that many English Renaissance dramatists were sensitive to the vast ramifications of the Reformers' theological understanding of penance, particularly in its emphasis upon a sinner's ability to accomplish unmediated contrition, and to be psychologically and emotionally satisfied thereby. By desacramentalizing and interiorizing penitential practices, the Protestant understanding of penance fundamentally changed the ways in which communities dealt with sins. As this dissertation demonstrates, many of the plays from this period stage moments of penance that are problematic both for the repentant sinner and for the community in which the offender lives. Penitential practices are variously feigned, manipulated, perverted, or controlled by the state in many of these plays, often leading to the death of the penitent and the destruction of the community. The kneeling figure of the penitential Claudius in Shakespeare'sHamletexemplifies these representations of the struggle to accomplish repentance, and my dissertation proceeds to examine similar manifestations of these problems in the works of Campion, Marlowe, Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton, Marston, Massinger, Webster, and Ford. The abruptness of the change in the religion of England would have inevitably caused great disruption in the people's imaginative understanding of the sacred, and how an individual relates to the divine. I suggest that this disruption, particularly in the life of the community, was keenly felt by early modern English playwrights, and that they explore the problems relating to penance and the community in a wide variety of their plays.


Confession – Catholic Church; Communities; Community; Drama – Religious aspects; Dramatists; English; Early Modern; English drama – Early modern and Elizabethan; Penance; Reformation; Shakespeare; William; 1564-1616


Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | Literature in English, British Isles | Religion

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




IN COPYRIGHT. For more information about this rights statement, please visit