Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Vincent Crapanzano

Committee Members

Fred Nichols

Lucienne Serrano

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature


In this dissertation I develop a comparative study of two outstanding Romantic dramas, Shelley's The Cenci (1819) and Musset's Lorenzaccio (1834), with the purpose of demonstrating that both offer a viable answer to the difficult problems facing the revival of tragedy at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. Both Shelley and Musset took into account the tragic traditions available in their time, starting with the Greek models, to the evolution and transformation of the genre during Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in England, Neo-classicism in France and the Baroque in Germany.

I argue that these plays aggravated in particular the Historical Tragedy created by Shakespeare. They belong to the Aesthetics of the sublime elaborated by the philosophers at the end of the Eighteenth Century (Burke, Kant, Hegel). They were designed to shock audiences by provoking in them the dominant feeling of anxiety. Indeed, the dramatic action and the rhetoric of both plays ceaselessly address the radical fact that language has limits and that "beyond" there lurks an irrepresentable, unimaginable and undefinable "real". Both works center around a cause for anxiety in the central characters which language, i.e. the written text, can only approach indirectly, through elaborate linguistic constructions or sublime metaphors. Relevant analysis by Freud, Heidegger and Lacan allow me to specify anxiety among related feelings (anxiety versus fear). De Quincey's and Mallarme's self-observations at the reception of tragedy confirm the importance of the feeling for modern audiences and provide concrete and personal insights into the mechanism that triggers it in the theater. My overall point is that Shelley and Musset practically responded to the question Kierkegaard was to confront in Either/ Or by the middle of the Century (1843): what would be specific to the Romantic serious drama? They answered in strikingly similar terms to the philosopher's theory by creating what I call, A Theater of Anxiety.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.