Evolvement of the Changeling Figure in the Selected Elizabethan and Jacobean Plays
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Changelings are terrorising figures in the beliefs and superstitions of the medieval period. These awe-inspiring figures of the fairy lore were believed to be fairies or inanimate objects left behind after a healthy infant is stolen by troublesome fairies. This belief in changelings, the precaution taken against them, as well as the rituals to get rid of them persisted well into the nineteenth century. While this figure’s influence on English society is observable throughout the English history, its portrayals in the dramas of the Elizabethan and the Jacobean periods are worth attention as these representations display a shift from expressing the fears that had been persisting since the Middle Ages to presenting this figure as the embodiment of different ideas. The introduction chapter of this thesis examines the changeling figure in the context of the social history of the medieval and the early modern periods and its representations in literature to reveal its significance, and the fact that its representations were consistent with each other in the mentioned periods. In this context, the first chapter of this thesis analyses two plays from the Elizabethan period, the anonymous Misogonus (1560-77) and William Shakespeare’s (1564 – 1616) A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595-96) and comes to the conclusion that the representations of the changeling figure in this period are consistent with folk narratives and legends that include this figure. To examine the differences between the representations of the changeling figure in two different periods, the second chapter conducts a comparative analysis of two Jacobean plays, The Changeling (1622) by Thomas Middleton (1580 – 1627) and William Rowley (1585 – 1626), and The Spanish Gypsy (1623) by Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 1632) and John Ford (1586 – 1639). As it is concluded in the second and Conclusion chapters of this study, the changeling figure is no longer represented in the context of fairy lore in the Jacobean period, instead, it evolves into the embodiment of different ideas such as change and transformation due to the influence of James I on the society and literature. Therefore, this study argues that the changeling figure experienced an evolvement in the Jacobean period, as it was separated from its roots in fairy lore, its connotations with the fear of losing an infant, and the superstitions accompanying the figure, and thereby presented as the embodiment of various ideas.