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Second Death

Theatricalities of the Soul in Shakespeare's Drama

Donovan Sherman

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Illuminates our understanding of the soul as a historically and philosophically vital concept through Shakespearean drama

Second Death seeks to revitalise our understanding of the soul as a philosophically profound, theoretically radical, and ultimately—and counterintuitively—theatrically realised concept. The book contends that the work of Shakespeare, when closely read alongside early modern cultural and religious writings, helps us understand the soul’s historical placement as a powerful paradox: it was essential to establishing humanity but resistant to clear representation. Drawing from current critical theory as well as extensive historical research, Second Death examines works of Shakespearean drama, including The Merchant of Venice, Coriolanus, and The Winter’s Tale, to suggest that rather than simply being incapable of understanding or physical realisation, the soul expressed itself in complex and subtle modes of performance. As a result, this book offers new ways of looking at identity, theatre, and spirituality in Shakespeare’s era and in our own.

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Introduction: Conspiring ElementS
1. This Tough World
2. Governing the Wolf: Soul and Space in The Merchant of Venice
3. Wounding the Wound: The Monuments of Coriolanus
4. Mourning the Present: The Elegy of The Winter’s Tale
Conclusion The Semi-Theatrical Prejudice

About the Author

Donovan Sherman is Assistant Professor at Seton Hall University, New Jersey. His research explores intersections of Renaissance literature, theatre and performance studies, religion, and philosophy. In addition to this first book he is also working on a second, The Radical Present: Rethinking Humanism in/as Performance. He has published scholarly articles in Shakespeare Quarterly, The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Shakespeare Bulletin and Theatre Journal.


Donovan Sherman’s study is original in the ways in which it seeks to join together a theology of the soul and the mode of performance and theatre. I admire the determinedly "pre-Cartesian" thrust of the book, as also the sense that Shakespeare is doing philosophical work in the form of theatre.

- Sarah Beckwith, Duke University

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