Off-campus UNL users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your NU ID and password. When you are done browsing please remember to return to this page and log out.

Non-UNL users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Performing arguments: Debate in early English poetry and drama

Maura Giles-Watson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


"Performing Arguments: Debate in Early English Poetry and Drama" argues for a performance-centered aesthetic of rhetoric and, from this perspective, analyzes the trope of aestheticized argumentation in Middle English debate poetry, medieval popular drama, early humanist academic drama, Tudor debate plays, and Shakespeare's 'problem comedies.' This longue durée investigation of the structures and effects of agonistic aesthetics is guided by Wai Chi Dimock's concepts of diachronic historicism and resonance, and by Patrice Pavis' approach to analyzing spectators' aesthetic experiences through the reconstruction of past performances. "Performing Arguments" is further shaped by rhetorical and performance theories contemporary with the texts explored, and influenced by recent critical perspectives on audience engagement and rhetorical ethos, aesthetics, and epistemics. ^ Chapter One, "Rhetoric, Poetry, and Performance Culture," analyzes evidence of performance methods from medieval sources, including Trivet, John of Garland, and Lydgate. These sources reveal the range of presentational, representational, and mixed performance methods in use during the Middle Ages. Chapter Two, "Rhetorical Theater: Middle English Debate Poetry in Performative Perspective," proposes a new understanding of Middle English debate poetry as a performance genre. Chapter Three, "Four Sisters: Staging Agon and Allegory in the Debate of the Four Daughters of God," analyzes and reconstruct spectators' aesthetic and intellectual responses to this redemption debate in both vernacular English religious drama and Neo-Latin university drama. Chapter Four, "Humanist Theater: John Heywood's Debate Interludes and the Participatory Audience," examines John Heywood's debate plays in the context of the More Circle's humanist dramatic culture and treats Heywood's debate plays as fully representational dramatic works—an approach that critiques the received view, which dismisses these plays as nondramatic. Chapter Five, "'Who Shall be Most Right?' Ethos, Eloquence, and Argumentation in Shakespeare's 'Problem Comedies,'" deconstructs Peter Ramus' notion of eloquence as the essence of rhetoric, then analyzes Shakespeare's critique of Ramism embedded in the performative verbal conflicts in four 'problem comedies' that demonstrate Shakespeare's creative engagement with the longue durée framework of aestheticized argumentation.^

Subject Area

Literature, English|Theater History|Language, Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Giles-Watson, Maura, "Performing arguments: Debate in early English poetry and drama" (2012). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3503989.