Death's presence on the Renaissance stage, and in Renaissance life, has been noticed and remarked upon by scholars in the past. The role of death in the early modern period was in flux due to major changes in religious and social life. During this time, the relationship between the living and dead was put into question, and the way the culture handled preparing for death began to change in significant, if subtle, ways. Renaissance drama became a stage for exploring and confronting the presence of death in life. King Lear and Hamlet remain two of Shakespeare's most enduring meditations on death, though the interpretations of the deaths and the meaning gleaned from the texts varies. My project involves presenting an alternative reading of the deaths that can only be found when one reads the performances in relation to primary documents of the time that deal with similar preparations for death. By reading Hamlet in relation to execution rhetoric and King Lear in relation to will-writing in the early modern period, we can begin to understand the value of their deaths in accordance with the societies they represent. Ultimately, Hamlet succeeds in satisfying the demands of an execution and creates a death that serves both himself and his community. On the other hand, Lear fails to adequately prepare for death and compose a considerate will, which leaves his kingdom in ruins. Both are monarchs whose bodies represent the states they leave behind, but only one manages to satisfy a monumentality that maintains the stability of his kingdom.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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Shakespeare, Hamlet, King Lear, death, executions, wills, monuments