Epitaphs and the dead in early modern English manuscripts

Brunton, Amanda (2020) Epitaphs and the dead in early modern English manuscripts. Doctoral thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

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This thesis investigates the circulation of epitaphs in early modern English manuscripts, and examines their distinctive nature compared to epitaphs on tombs or in print. Epitaphs are a common feature of early modern manuscripts, containing a wealth of information about how the living related to the dead during a period in which the specifics of the afterlife were hotly debated. However, these texts have received comparatively little critical attention. The basis of my study is a survey of 500 epitaphs across 20 early modern manuscripts, held in a range of archives and libraries. As there is currently no published index of early modern manuscript epitaphs, I have transcribed these poems and collated them into a database. This extensive primary material has shaped my findings and, I argue, provides a foundation towards a new understanding of the circulation of epitaphs amongst early modern verse compilers. Four chapters articulate new perspectives on cultures of the dead. The first focuses on the distinctive nature of manuscript epitaphs when separated from a graveside context, requiring a different set of generic definitions to fully appreciate the scope of innovation in manuscript. Secondly, this thesis argues that manuscript epitaphs are fundamentally dialogic in nature, giving voice to both the living and the dead in expressing grief and loss. In the final two sections, I identify two types of discourse that have only limited expression outside of manuscript – humour and libel, and consider the implications of each of these distinctive styles of epitaph in turn. I demonstrate that epitaphs in manuscripts represent a generic departure from epitaphs in other contexts. In these generic differences, a picture of early modern grief emerges that is highly personalised and paradoxically life-like, using humour, dialogic speech, and libel to establish the place of the dead among the community of the living.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Keywords: Early modern, manuscripts, epitaphs, death, textual circulation, grief, Reformation, libel
Faculty: Theses from Anglia Ruskin University
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 09 Aug 2021 15:51
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 18:52
URI: https://arro.anglia.ac.uk/id/eprint/706807

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