Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in English



First Advisor

Karen Raber

Second Advisor

Ian Whittington

Third Advisor

Ari Friedlander

Relational Format



This thesis argues that early moderns conceived of speech as a material phenomenon; voice struck out from bodies into environments. Early modern voices thus participate in what sound studies scholars call the soundscape, which I link to current new materialist and ecological theories of network and assemblage. Within this soundscape, I pay special attention to the role of language as a semantic system of meaning. Current ecological criticism takes for granted the utter “flatness” of ontology, and as such discards the question of human language so central to previous deconstructive and discursive scholarship. My thesis attempts to account for the role of human language in ecological thought by turning to the early modern voice, which blended sonic and semiotic properties. I contend that the early seventeenth century was a liminal moment in the history of language, as it had not yet lost its sonic properties nor yet fully become textualized and representational. Thus, early modern speech embedded the human in its environmental context, without separating it as a discrete or superior entity. The first chapter, on King Lear, situates the early modern voice in the context of new materialist theory, establishing a “posthuman cosmography” in which humans have no pride of place. The next two chapters refine and even challenge the writ-large generality of their predecessor. The second chapter, on The Alchemist, zooms in to the level of the individual, to explore what life might be like for a single person inside this buzzing network. The third chapter grinds an even finer grain, focusing on both the gendered voice and its relation to technological prosthesis in The Duchess of Malfi.



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