Early modern culture was obsessed with violence to the degree that it has been termed a “culture of violence” (Barker). But violence was not only an almost ubiquitous phenomenon of daily life that found its equivalent in various forms of staging violence as public spectacles. But through these stagings, violence could serve interrogations of both means of exercising and legitimating power and of the nature of public spectacle and more specifically the theatre itself. In the latter respect, violence poses a number of political as well as aesthetic issues: How can extreme violence be represented on the stage and how does it problematize the limits of representation and the representable? How does it, therefore, contribute to the huge degree of self- and meta-reflection in Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre? What is the relationship between rhetoric, power and violence? And which responses does stage violence provoke and how does this implicate the theatre in the exercise of power?
The course will try to approach these issues both through the discussion of theoretical texts on violence and its different political and aesthetic functions and through close readings of four early modern plays: Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Macbeth; Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy and Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. In addition, we will also consider contemporary productions of these plays with a focus on the challenges the representation of violence poses in the different media of theatre and film.
The acquisition of the current Arden editions of the plays is highly recommended.
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