Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Sara Munson Deats, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Laura Runge, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lagretta Tallent Lenker, Ph.D.


Shakespeare, Antitheatrical prejudice, Mirandola, Identity, Barish


Although most critics affirm the importance of interior direction and role-playing in many of Shakespeares plays, there is a considerable disagreement concerning the result of this role playing: does it lead to positive growth or to degeneration? Moreover, this debate is often associated with the sixteenth-century controversy about the role of the theater in society. Some moralists insist that the theater can be an instrument for instilling virtue while others view the theater as sinful, debasing, and a catalyst to social breakdown. In this thesis, I will explore the antitheatrical prejudice in the early modern era and show how Shakespeare responds and counters these arguments by creating characters in As You Like It and King Lear who employ theatrical means to experience identity formation and personal growth.

Using Jonas Barishs The Antitheatrical Prejudice as my central source, I will explore the attacks against the theater, demonstrating how this opposition reverberates throughout the diatribes of early modern moralists, for whom role-playing and playgoing tend to rank abnormally high in the hierarchy of sins (Barish 80). Moreover, by expanding the criticism of Jean Howard and Susanne Wofford, I will explore Rosalinds role-playing as Ganymede in As You Like It and its success through the orchestrated marriages between herself and Orlando and Silvius and Phoebe. Also, throughout King Lear, Edgar takes on many different roles, at first to protect himself from Gloucester and later to pursue his own search for identity. Edgar's complete assimilation of guises is a concrete refutation of the antitheatrical prejudices of the period. These impersonations demonstrate how role-playing can be a positive process, subversively suggesting that an individual person, not God, can define identity, that fulfilling a destiny is the province of each man or woman, and that mimicry can be constructive.

In conclusion, therefore, in both of these plays Shakespeare explores the way in which the characters' actions affirm or debunk the antitheatrical prejudice, countering the arguments of the antitheatrical pamphleteers by demonstrating that through drama individuals can explore and elucidate an indifferent world.