Rachael Muirhead awarded posthumous PhD

The School of Modern Languages and Cultures is proud to announce that Rachael Muirhead was posthumously awarded a PhD at the Winter congregation this January. Rachael’s doctoral research was funded with a scholarship provided by MLAC alumna Joanna Barker and her husband Graham. She will be remembered as a diligent and committed student who played a leading role in our postgraduate community, especially in the academic year 2013-14, when she represented research students at the Staff-Student Consultative Committee with commendable efficiency. Her doctoral work on German dramatist Johann von Rist was praised by examiners for its depth and originality. Rachael’s thesis has been published online and can be consulted via Durham e-thesis repository here.  It will be an extremely valuable resource for researchers in her field for many generations to come. An abstract of the thesis follows below.
MUIRHEAD, RACHAEL (2015) Johann von Rist (1607-77) and the Theory and Performance of Drama in Seventeenth Century Germany.

A claim in Die Aller Edelste Belustigung Kunsst- und Tugenliebender Gemüther (1666) indicates that Rist may have composed as many as 30 dramas. There are now only five dramatic works attributed to him: Irenaromachia (1630), Perseus (1634), Das Friedewünschende Teutschland(1647), Das Friedejauchtzende Teutschland (1653), Depositio Cornuti Typographici. The best estimate claims that only a further two had been published, a Herodes and a Wallenstein. The others have since been lost, perhaps even destroyed during Rist’s lifetime as his home was sacked twice by invading troops. Of the five that remain, Irenaromachia does not bear Rist’s name, while the Depositio differs greatly in conception and execution from the others and may not have numbered among the 30 claimed theatrical compostions. Thus the surviving dramas do not constitute a more or less unified body of works challenges German literary studies to engage with these discontinuities – a task which it consistently avoids. The problematic nature of the surviving corpus is compounded by the fact that this was only a fraction of what was produced, a situation which invites an (albeit speculative) attempt to contextualise the surviving dramas in a wider sphere of literary-theatrical activity. This leads to the next difficulty, considering that the composition of dramas, even when these number 30 rather than four or five, was just one area of Rist’s prolific activity as a writer. This presents the problem of how to relate Rist’s dramas to his other writings and activities. This task is itself complicated by the tendency to focus on Rist’s verse compositions, which in the twentieth century emphasised his secular compositions. The current focus of much of Rist scholarship lies in his religious songs, from a theological, hymnological,and musicological perspective. He has also maintained a presence in the lay imagination, as several of his songs have been included in Protestant hymnbooks since the 18th century. Scholarship is now, however, turning its attention again to Rist as a dramatist and this thesis is part of this renewed attention. It is difficult to know what to do with Rist’s dramas. The problems they present are considerable, but this thesis will show that Rist’s dramas exist in the context of a concept of dramaturgy and a theory of acting that is much more sophisticated than has often been thought and that goes beyond the narrowly poetic into performance practice.

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