Noting that Aristotle’s Poetics was not published in England until 1623, this article begins by surveying the traces of cathartic thinking in early modern cultural theory, paying special attention to Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy as the era’s most significant expression of that theory. Showing the Defence is not a sufficient cause of Shakespearean cathartic thinking, it traces extant ideas of purgation in England’s wider literary, Christian and medical traditions, arguing these provided Shakespeare with the purgative basis of his theatre. The article gives special prominence to Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, arguing its theatrical influence was a significant transmitter of purgative ideas to Shakespeare, the drama of the age, and Hamlet.
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- School of Language, Literature, Music & Visual Culture, English - Senior Lecturer