Confessing Subjectivity: Power and Performative Agency in Early Modern Drama
Wanninger, Jane Miller
This dissertation traces confessional speech as a performative mode of social subject formation in English dramatic texts and non-fiction accounts from the early modern period. I explore the confessional speeches that pervade these works to illuminate a self-reflexive sense of the inherent intersubjective power invested in the term and idea of confession. I argue that inhabitations of confession’s conventional roles expose a sustained interest in the ways in which the power of this discursive structure might be mobilized. Long established in formal religious and legal practice, and predicated on ritualized configurations of discursive power, by the late sixteenth century, confession had developed a diffuse and complex social currency. My exploration of texts such as Heywood and Bromes’ The Late Lancashire Witches, Rowley, Dekker and Ford’s The Witch of Edmonton, Ford’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore, and Shakespeare’s Othello, illuminates how representations of confession expose the fissures in and dislocations of the discourses of power that animate them. This dissertation’s investigation of the interrelated dynamics of performativity, subjectivity, and power proceeds from a theoretical constellation informed by the work of scholars such as Austin, Butler, Felman, Foucault, and Althusser. I draw on this critical apparatus in terms of historically and generically situated representations of confessional interlocution to suggest that its subjective effects are constitutively multiple and simultaneous, revealing the dynamic interplay of configurations and reconfigurations of discursive power at work amidst the normative structures that delineate it as a social ritual.