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Shakespearean Resilience: Disaster & Recovery in the Late Romances


Resilience, colloquially understood as the ability to “bounce back,” has risen to prominence in recent years. Since its emergence in systems ecology in the 1970s and following the food, fuel, and financial crises of 2008, the term has entered into many academic and nonacademic discourses including engineering, psychology, disaster studies, risk management, climate change policy, business, military training, philanthropy, and well-being. While the Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as “the action or an act of rebounding or springing back,” there are subtle yet significant differences in how the term is understood and used across genres and disciplines. Moreover, resilience has been slow to gain a foothold in the humanities and the term is even more scarce in the field of Shakespeare studies. Filling these critical lacunae, my dissertation utilizes resilience discourse in an analysis of Shakespeare’s late romances. My central contention is that resilience-building within the late plays Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest is an integral component of Shakespearean romance. The late plays do not avoid catastrophe (like comedies) nor do they succumb to them (like tragedies); rather, the late romances experience and endure disasters, and these disruptions serve as catalysts for building resilience which, in turn, initiates recovery within the plays.

“Shakespearean Resilience” begins with an examination of the limits of ecological resilience in Hamlet: as a tragedy, the play does not recover from disasters so much as it ultimately succumbs to them and triggers a regime shift. The dissertation then turns to the first of the late romances, Pericles, and examines Marina’s resilience labor that makes recovery in the play possible, thus creating a model for resilience-building in the following late romances. Finally, I examine remediation in The Winter’s Tale and argue that a structural foundation principled on the tenets of ecological resilience subtends the play’s narrative of disaster and recovery. The conclusion examines a contemporary work of post-apocalyptic fiction, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and argues that it bears the imprint of Shakespearean romance and resilience. The aim of this dissertation is not only to underscore how building resilience in the late plays is an integral component of Shakespearean romance. In addition to this, I endeavor to elucidate the languages of resilience through applied analysis of these plays. In so doing, I consider how the insights gleaned from these readings can help us think through the complexities of the term as well as contemporary concerns about disaster and catastrophe.

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