The self and self-conscious theatre on the Renaissance stage

  • Lillie Arnott

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis provides a timely re-evaluation of self-conscious theatre, or metatheatre, in relation to emerging notions of the intersubjective self in early modern culture. It proposes that the self-conscious theatre of Shakespeare and his contemporaries produces a concomitant self-consciousness within its audiences that situates identity on the theatrical boundary, highlighting the performativity of the self and its relations to others. It takes a dialectical and thematic approach to demonstrate how self-conscious theatre makes audiences conscious of themselves and their relations to others, focusing on those categories which traditionally distinguish the self from others in terms of culture, morality, class, and gender. The thesis considers a range of genres, performance styles, and self-consciously theatrical structures without lumping together or oversimplifying their effects with each chapter focusing on a particular facet of self-conscious theatre to demonstrate the different kinds of self-consciousness that the plays produce and engage with. The thesis brings external notions of audience, spectatorship, sight, and insight into dialogue with the internal evidence of playgoers within early modern drama to produce a clearer picture of how audiences were perceived—and perceived themselves—in relation to the playing space. The thesis argues that the theatre space itself produces the conditions in which self-consciously theatrical structures thrive by enabling heightened interaction between the self and others. This interaction, in turn, produces the kind of self-consciousness of seeing and being seen that forms and shapes identity in dialogue with others.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2024
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership
SupervisorEdel Lamb (Supervisor) & Richard Schoch (Supervisor)


  • Shakespeare
  • renaissance drama
  • identity
  • spectatorship
  • audience studies
  • metatheatre
  • early modern literature
  • gender
  • social class
  • cultural difference
  • morality

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