Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dympna C. Callaghan


Early modern England, Drama

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


Focusing on the work of Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, and Dekker, my dissertation, Peripheral Knowledge: The Witch, the Magus, and the Mountebank on the Early Modern Stage, argues for a humanist intellectual investment in various forms of liminal knowledge embodied by socially marginalized figures. I read the figures of the witch, the magus and the mountebank as embodying forbidden knowledge, philosophical knowledge, and false knowledge respectively. While humanist philosophers like Ficino and Pico della Mirandola glorified the pursuit of limitless knowledge, humanism itself was grounded within political, legal, religious, and educational institutions, and was invested in maintaining their integrity. In my dissertation, I discuss how categories of marginal knowledge are shaped by the intellectual culture of humanism and the socio-religious context of the Reformation. While knowledge is traditionally constructed as an abstract category, I argue that it is deeply rooted in the material culture and is determined by it. Peripheral Knowledge begins by re-considering theories of historicism and cultural materialism, and examines how historicist accounts are constructed and what kinds of assumptions are made in the process. Though predicated on literary texts, my dissertation follows a historical mode of inquiry, and makes references to a wide range of historical documents, which range from legal treatises and records, pamphlets and ballads, recipe books and books of magic (or grimoires), many of which I have come across during my archival research at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

While my dissertation concentrates on early modern literature, the larger issues that it addresses - the exploration of what constitutes legitimate and illicit knowledge, how and why certain forms of knowledge find institutional validation, and how popular literature strikes a balance between the different determinants of knowledge, have a contemporary resonance. Since humanists are our own intellectual predecessors, the present study of the humanities is predicated on the renaissance intellectual enterprise. I understand the current academic debates of Stanley Fish, Michael Berube, and Martha Nussbaum, concerning the relevance of the humanities, as well as the current crisis of the humanities represented by the recently proposed budget cuts to the NEH, as a derivative of similar debates inhering early modern humanism.


Open Access

Available for download on Thursday, February 01, 2024