Shakespeare Jahrbuch 143 (2007)

Dust jacket image

Violence and Terror

Not only since the terrorist attacks of recent years have violence and terror been topics of art and literature; they were already ubiquitous in the theatre of Shakespeare’s time. The cruelty, the arbitrariness and threats which the characters on the stage have to endure can be related to early modern debates about politics, religion, marriage and sexuality. They also raise fundamental questions as to how violence should be represented at all. Richard Wilson reads Macbeth as a play about state terror, in which James I is confronted with the foundation of his own reign. Naomi Conn Liebler understands the tragedy of Lear’s agony over the remorseless actions of his “pelican daughters” as the anatomy of civilization, in which a “depth of latent cruelty” (Artaud) breaks out. Marlowe’s Tamburlaine serves as an example for Claudia Richter’s discussion of literary fantasies of violence in the context of Calvinist ideas of god. However, the victims of violence cannot only be found in tragedy. William Leahy analyses the representation of the common people suffering from terror and violence in Henry VI, Part 2. Rainer Emig sees female silence in the comedies not as submission to male threats of violence, but as a form of resistance. Veronika Pohlig’s perspective on gender conflicts in the comedies is different: She proposes that Francis Ford’s actions in The Merry Wives of Windsor constitute a legitimate use of force in the context of early modern constructs of masculinity. Finally, the articles by Pascale Aebischer and Elisabeth Bronfen link the early modern period and the present, Shakespeare’s plays and contemporary cinema. Aebischer advocates employing parallels between tragedy and horror films for the analysis of Shakespeare’s plays. Using David Cronenberg’s film A History of Violence as her point of departure,Bronfen argues that the staging of violence can be understood as an externalisation of personal violent fantasies. Representations of violence – she disconcertingly concludes – are of central importance for our enjoyment of the cinema as well as the theatre.