Date of Degree
Classical Literature and Philology | Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature
hybridity, Early Modern, Classics and Mythology, genre and language, Plato, Shakespeare
Mirroring its many definitions, the concept of hybridity has historically been a highly fraught one, with creatures such as the centaur or the satyr alternately treated as wild and wise. Defined as a “mixed entity,” the English word “hybrid” derives from the ancient Greek hybris, a term with several connotations, including wanton violence, lust, or outrage. The word is also synonymous with “hubris,” or excessive pride. Hybris also developed additional meanings, referring to a deed of excess, an attempt to rise above one’s station, or the desire to surpass the gods. More positively, hybris may also be translated as transcending what is humanly possible.
In antiquity and the Renaissance, mythological hybrids were frequently deployed to represent literature itself. Plato and Aristotle both called the use of imagery and metaphor a “goat-stag.” Plato positions the satyr Pan as a metaphor for language, while in the Renaissance, Philip Sidney recognizes the creation of Chimeras as the privilege of poetry. Hybrid creatures could also symbolize the mixture of genres, a use that most likely has its origins in the satyr play, which laid the foundation for the creation of tragicomedy, itself a hybrid genre. Aristotle and Lodovico Castelvetro would both use the image of the centaur to symbolize the mixture of poetry and philosophy. Sidney would call tragicomedy a “mongrel,” while Lope de Vega would more positively appraise it as a minotaur.
In light of the connection between composite figures and the mixture of genres, my project examines what I have termed “hybrid texts” dating from ancient Greece and Renaissance England. I argue that these hybrid texts originate when authors find current literary forms inadequate to their craft. In response, such authors draw elements from various literary styles, genres, and conventions to create a new form: a hybrid text. The inherently multifaceted nature of these works allows their authors to critically examine not only representation but the creative process as well. As part of their consideration of their own craft, the authors of the works examined here frequently underscore the composite nature of their texts by evoking mythological images such as the satyr, the centaur, or the Chimera.
The works chosen for this study are canonically categorized in several different genres: novel, comedy, tragedy, pastoral, philosophical dialogue, and essay. Yet, such traditional classifications are far too limiting for these texts, whose authors pull stylistic conventions from two or more genres. My first chapter focuses on the hybrid imagery found in four of Plato’s dialogues (Symposium, Phaedrus, Republic, and Cratylus); my second chapter examines Longus’ novel Daphnis and Chloe; my third chapter discusses Philip Sidney’s “Defence of Poesie” and the exemplification of its precepts in his romance Arcadia; and my fourth chapter considers the reception of these ideas in theatre by looking at William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. These works demonstrate their hybrid character through four modes: they combine multiple genres; they stress the ambiguity of language; they evoke mythological imagery; and they integrate traditionally binary concepts such as art with nature or truth with fiction.
Ultimately, my project shows that through the various types of hybridity present within a text, whether mythological allusion, linguistic, or generic, authors create works that transcend the problems inherent to traditional modes of representation.
Sommers, Claire, "Chimeras, Centaurs, and Satyrs: Creating Mixed Genre Texts in Antiquity and the Renaissance" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.