Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Angela Esterhammer


This study investigates the dramatic nature of William Blake’s multimedia art (poetry, painting, engraving) and the resulting implications for identity. Although he wrote little conventional drama, his illuminated works resonate with theatre and performance. The recent surge of Romantic scholarship devoted to theatricality and dramatic stagings offers new perspectives for understanding Blake’s art form and his conception of identity and identity-formation. The initial chapters of this project explore the way the dynamism between word and image in his works not only creates a distinctly dramatic genre but also encourages a specifically theatrical audience, one which is called on to act. Chapter one situates Blake in the theatre discourses of his time and interprets the illuminated works as a dramatic form that unsettles the binaries of mind/body, interior/exterior, reading/performance. The second chapter examines the opposing tendencies toward immersion and distancing in his works by drawing on contemporary media theory, Brecht’s alienation-effect, and medieval presence; Blake provokes a twofold process of alienation that leads to a self-conscious entrance into his works. Subsequent chapters examine individual and communal identity in light of Blake’s dramatic elements and contemporary theories of performativity, subjectivity, and identity-construction. Chapter three rereads The Book ofUrizen as a melodrama—a major dramatic form in the Romantic period—that locates the source of the fall in a kind of Althusserian interpellation, wherein individuals misrecognize themselves and are misrecognized as independent and isolated identities rather than as interrelated and dependent ones. The final chapter explores Milton and its depiction of inspiration and self-annihilation and the emerging tension between essentialist and constructivist notions of identity through the lens of theories of performativity, action, and performance. By viewing the illuminated works as dramatic performances and by analyzing them in relation to theatre and performativity, this study shows how Blake fits an alternative view of Romanticism, one that foregrounds vision, exteriority, and community. Moreover, it argues that Blake’s works uphold a model of identity based on action and an integration of mind and body, the imagination and the senses, and singularity and multiplicity



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.