Date of Award

Fall 2021

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Doug Lanier

Second Advisor

Dennis Britton

Third Advisor

Mary Floyd-Wilson


This dissertation argues that moral and religious authorities of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods adapted rules for emotional governance from Senecan philosophy. These Senecan rules helped institute a performance-based approach to managing emotion, which relied on programmatic meditation, rhetoric, and behavior to change one’s emotional state. This approach ostensibly offered more personal control over affective inclination, which according to the period’s Galenic paradigms, was heavily influenced by environmental and physiological factors. My project examines revenge tragedy to highlight Senecan-inspired affect management as practiced by aspiring avengers. Because revenging hopefuls must amplify and then mobilize their feelings in order to achieve violent retribution, they use performative routines to curate an emotional disposition conducive to revenge. I examine this process in Hamlet, The Rape of Lucrece, Titus Andronicus, The Spanish Tragedy, and Henry Chettle’s understudied Hoffman.

Characters from these texts show that performative routines allowed greater control over feeling, despite humoral theory’s determinism. Such autonomy also undermined humoralism’s core tenets, contributing to an epistemic shift that replaced it with more accurate notions of internal physiology. This ambivalence appears most vividly through strong female revengers, as they reject the Galenic view that colder female bodies could only barely manage extreme feelings. Women who successfully use performance to manage emotion therefore best illustrate the way that such routines concurrently strengthened and weakened Galenic paradigms. Performative routines could create or justify an aberration in humoral theory (such as a competent female revenger), making humoralism more hospitable to individuals seeking control. But at the same time, they produced counterexamples that would help contribute to humoralism’s demise.