Date of Award

Spring 2013

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

English, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Sarah Raff

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jolene Zigarovich

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Lori Anne Ferrell

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2013 Natalie A. Hewitt


This dissertation examines Shakespeare’s role as the most significant precursor to the Gothic author in Britain, suggesting that Shakespeare used the same literary conventions that Gothic writers embraced as they struggled to create a new subgenre of the novel. By borrowing from Shakespeare’s canon, these novelists aimed to persuade readers and critics that rather than undermining the novel’s emergent, still unassured status as an acceptable literary genre, the nontraditional aspects of their works paid homage to Shakespeare’s imaginative vision. Gothic novelists thereby legitimized their attempts at literary expression. Despite these efforts, Gothic writers did not instantly achieve the type of acceptance or admiration that they sought. The Gothic novel has consistently been viewed as a monstrous, immature literary form—either a poor experiment in the history of the novel or a guilty pleasure for those who might choose to read or to write works that fit within this mode. Writers of Gothic fictions often claim that their works emulate Shakespeare’s dramatic pathos, but they do not acknowledge that the playwright also had to navigate similar opposition to his own creative expression. While early Gothic novelists had to contend with skeptical readers and reviewers, Shakespeare had to negotiate the religious, political, and ideological limitations that members of the court, the church, and the patronage system imposed upon his craft. Interestingly, Shakespeare often succeeded in circumventing these limitations by employing the literary techniques and topoi that we recognize today as trademarks of Gothic fiction—spectacle, sublime, sepulcher, and the supernatural. Each of these concepts expresses subversive intentions toward authoritative power. For Shakespeare and the Gothic novelists, the dramatic potential of these elements corresponds directly to their ability to target the sociocultural fears and anxieties of their audience; the results are works that frighten as well as amuse. As my dissertation will show, these authors use similar imagery to surreptitiously challenge the authority figures and institutions that sought to prescribe what makes a work of fiction socially acceptable or worthy of critical acclaim.