Masters Thesis

"Against either scale": analyzing Jesuitical equivocation in the porter scene in William Shakespeare's Macbeth

A study of equivocation will yield that this practice commanded a vast amount of attention during the Renaissance, the time period of 1450-1600, in which Jesuitical equivocation was an ongoing phenomenon. The practice became part of the Renaissance era's ideology; however, since the Greek suffix "logy" signifies "the study of," the term ideology is not as specific, nor does it explain the role ofJesuitical equivocation in relation to the Renaissance as accurately as another term: the episteme. A brief discussion of the episteme is necessary to discover its relevancy to the puns William Shakespeare used in his Porter Scene in the tragedy Macbeth. An episteme (Greek for "knowledge") is most clearly defined by the new historicist scholar Michel Foucault as a verbal device that involves "[a] network ofdiscursive practices--of thoughts, concepts, and cultural codes-dominant during a given historical period; and ... the rules governing the transformation of those practices" (Murfin 149). Placing an emphasis on the phrase "rules governing" is extremely illuminating in identifying the interplay between the Jacobean monarchy that held public disdain, and executions of, Jesuits. The persecutions forced subjugated Jesuits to the point that ordinances, such as confessions, needed some form of protection, hence Father Henry Garnet's treatise regarding equivocation . This imbalanced reciprocity of a monarchy instilling fear in religious leaders illustrates Foucault's "transformation of ... practices" and is the basis of the Foucauldian concept of the episteme. Applying Foucault's theory to the Porter Scene reveals the way Shakespeare's satirical puns mirrored the Jacobean episteme of the blatant hatred directed at Catholics and the Jesuits.


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