UBC Theses and Dissertations
The domestic drama of Thomas Dekker, 1599-1621 Comensoli, Viviana
The dissertation reappraises Thomas Dekker's dramatic achievement through an examination of his contribution to the development of Elizabethan-Jacobean domestic drama. Dekker's alterations and modifications of two essential features of early English domestic drama--the homiletic pattern of sin, punishment, and repentance, which the genre inherited from the morality tradition, and the glorification of the cult of domesticity--attest to a complex moral and dramatic vision which critics have generally ignored. In Patient Grissil, his earliest extant domestic play, which portrays ambivalently the vicissitudes of marital and family life, Dekker combines an allegorical superstructure with a realistic setting. The tension between homiletic and realistic impulses is also at the heart of The Honest Whore. In Part I, although Dekker provides a trenchant portrait of the afflicted domus, the play's satirical tone clashes oddly with the homiletic schemes. In Part II, however, the marriage code is presented amid intricate plotting and a complex ethical design in which orthodox homiletic paradigms such as the patient wife, the testing of the wife's virtue, and the prodigal husband's reformation are consistently undermined through irony and paradox. Taken as a whole, these three plays reveal Dekker's growing cynicism toward the tidy moral and dramatic schemes of their analogues, and of the treatises and domestic-conduct books from which domestic dramas took their plots. Dekker's skillful exploitation of homiletic motifs extends to the comic vision of The Roaring Girl. The play sustains a central tension between the domus and the city, and offers a bold portrait of the heroine, Moll Cutpurse, who scorns marriage, preferring the openness of the city to the confinement of the household. In Dekker's domestic tragedy, The Witch of Edmonton, written shortly after his lengthy imprisonment for debt, the comic optimism that informs The Roaring Girl yields to bitter tones and to the defeat by a repressive society of those protagonists who openly challenge the values imbedded in the marriage code. The conclusion surveys the development of domestic drama since the Renaissance, and shows how Dekker anticipates the domestic plays of modern dramatists such as Ibsen, Arthur Miller, and Eugene O'Neill.