Amy Scott’s PhD dissertation, “Finding Faith between Infidelities: Historiography as Mourning in Shakespeare,” has won the McGill Arts Insights Dissertation Award, presented annually to the PhD dissertation judged the best among all theses written in the Faculty of Arts.
The thesis is a reconsideration of Shakespearean history in terms of early modern ideas and practices related to mourning, early modern history and historiography, and modern philosophical thinking about history. Amy argues that Shakespeare developed a model of historical knowledge in which the characters are always implicated, so that what they say about history, or how they see it, tells us at least as much about them as it does about the past. The characters need to understand that their knowledge of the past is more than disinterested information-gathering or scientific analysis; indeed, the characters are led to discover that the past is populated by the dead and that they, the living, have responsibilities of remembrance and mourning that are of a piece with their own situation in history. That Shakespeare’s characters are deeply involved in the history they remember and recount leads to the thesis’ second major claim, which is that the drama sponsors what Amy calls “an ethical historiography.” The drama, she argues, cultivated in early modern playgoers both an affective and critical relationship with the past of their own nation, a relationship that situated them as responsible for keeping up a formative conversation with the dead.
The external reader of the dissertation said that it was “a brilliant and often moving piece of scholarship that deserves to be published as a book” and “one of the very strongest PhD theses on Shakespeare and early modern culture” among those he had examined.