Research Stream


Nicholas Luke
University of Hong Kong

'Resurrection Events' in Shakespeare’s Late Plays

This book project will explore how, in the aftermath of the tragedies, Shakespeare’s late plays dramatise an emotion – and motion – of 'resurrection'. Of particular interest is how this drama of resurrection entails a different approach to both character and time.

Bucium-Voroneţ 600x300.jpg  mural from Mănăstirea Voroneţ, România (1488)

This research project examines a striking religious feature of Shakespeare’s late plays: his frequent staging of quasi-resurrection scenes, in which the (apparently) dead return in fear and wonder. Shakespeare’s late period begins with a resurrection of the medieval poet John Gower, who rises 'from ashes' to speak the Prologue of Pericles. Gower’s second coming kick-starts an intense focus on resurrection that lies at the heart of Shakespeare’s development from his tragic period to the generically mixed modes of the his late plays. Shakespeare’s 'resurrection events' are not simply a matter of aesthetic joy but of a new understanding of life, self and time. As such, I will examine how and why Shakespeare’s depiction of resurrection entails a movement away from tragic drama’s emphasis upon a central dominating consciousness (the tragic hero) and a movement towards a more dispersed treatment of subjectivity. The project will thereby contribute to an on-going effort within Shakespeare Studies to rethink, and relocate historically, our notion of 'character'. In doing so, the project will also attempt to locate Shakespeare’s drama with reference to broader discursive practices surrounding religious experience in the wake of the English Reformation. I will examine how the idea of resurrection influences early modern religious thought about history and personhood. Ultimately, the project will bring these ideas into our present moment by engaging with the so-called 'turn to religion' in recent philosophy and literary criticism and thereby thinking about how we resurrect the literature of the past in our reading and criticism.

Image: Bucium Voronet, mural from Mănăstirea Voroneţ, România (1488). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.