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Social Implications of Love Suicide in Early Modern English Drama

Emanuel Stelzer

Love suicide was a situation lavishly employed by playwrights in early modern England. We generally regard as tragic heroes the dramatic starcrossed lovers who kill themselves onstage and we see their death as the sensationally pathetic climax of the play. On the other hand, in Elizabethan and early Stuart society, suicide, or, as it was called, ‘self-slaughter’ or ‘self-murder’, was considered both as a crime and as one of the most dreadful sins a Christian could possibly commit. I would suggest that the tension between these two conflicting views on suicide had a relevant emotional impact on the audiences to whom these plays were originally addressed. In order to prove this, I wish to analyse in particular domestic plays which stage the range of responses elicited within a community that has to cope with the suicide of one of its members.

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