Back and forth: the grotesque in the play of romantic irony
This thesis examines the dramatic implications of the grotesque in Romantic aesthetics, particularly in relation to its poetics of plurality. There have been few studies exploring the drama of the Romantic grotesque, a category that accentuates the multiplicity of the self, while permitting diverse ways of seeing. The post-Kantian philosophy backing Friedrich Schlegel’s Romantic irony provides the most decisive rationalisation of this plurality of identity and aesthetic expression through theatrical play, and forms the theoretical framework for my study. Poetry and philosophy are merged in Schlegel’s attempt to create Romantic modernity out of this self-conscious blurring of inherited perspectives and genres—a mixing and transgressing of past demarcations that simultaneously create the condition of the Romantic grotesque. The other writers examined in this thesis include A. W. Schlegel, Stendhal, Victor Hugo, and Charles Baudelaire. The primary research question that this thesis investigates is: how is the grotesque used to re-evaluate notions of aesthetic beauty? And my answer emerges from a study of those thinkers in Schlegel’s tradition who evolve a modern, ironic regard for conventional literary proprieties. Furthermore, how does the grotesque rewrite ideas of poetic subjectivity and expression? Here, my answer foregrounds the enormous importance of Shakespeare as the literary example supporting the new theories. Shakespearean drama legitimises the grotesque as ontology and literary mode. Consequently, in reviewing unique, critically hybrid texts like the Schlegelian fragments, Stendhal’s Racine et Shakespeare (Racine and Shakespeare), Hugo’s Préface de Cromwell (Preface to Cromwell), and Baudelaire’s De L’Essence du Rire (On the Essence of Laughter), this thesis will use theories of continental Romanticism to reposition the significance of an English aesthetic. Through this, I claim that the Romantic revisioning of the Shakespearean grotesque helps create the ideas of post-Revolutionary modernity that are crucial to the larger projects of European Romanticism, and the ideas of modernity emerging from them.
- Theses