The Medieval Theater of Cruelty: Rhetoric, Memory, Violence by Jody Enders

By Jody Enders

Why did medieval dramatists weave such a lot of scenes of torture into their performs? Exploring the cultural connections between rhetoric, legislation, drama, literary production, and violence, Jody Enders addresses a topic that has lengthy stricken scholars of the center a while. Theories of rhetoric and legislation of the time demonstrate, she issues out, that the ideology of torture was once a greatly permitted capacity for exploiting such crucial components of the degree and stagecraft as dramatic verisimilitude, pity, worry, and catharsis to manufacture fact. reading the implications of torture for the historical past of aesthetics ordinarily and of drama particularly, Enders exhibits that if the violence embedded within the background of rhetoric is stated, we're larger in a position to comprehend not just the long-lasting "theater of cruelty" pointed out via theorists from Isidore of Seville to Antonin Artaud, but in addition the ongoing sleek devotion to the spectacle of discomfort.

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71 Still, if torture somehow assists in the formation of civilized Christian communities, then it does so on the backs of mutilated bodies, variously deemed deserving or undeserving of their ordeals. 72 Over three centuries before Elaine Scarry de ned torture as the “making and unmaking” of the world, the English king James I had proposed a making and unmaking of his own in a statement to Parliament concerning the laws, pleasures, pains, and -powers in the rnonarch’s charge. And just as Plato believed that all law was a question of “pleasures and pains, whether in States or in individuals” (Laws, I, 636d), James compared the king to God in 1609 by virtue of his divine power “to create, or destroy, make, or vnmuke at his pleasure, to giue life, or send death, to iudge all, and to be iudged nor accomptable to none .

35 Only then will we Zurnthor, Essai de poétiqae médiéuale, 447. I allude deliberately here to Frank Lentricchia’s Criticism and Social Change, esp. to his prefa« tory “Provocations” (even though he abjured them in an essay in Lingna France). 31 I refer to de Certeau’s book of the same title, The Practice of Everyday Life (hereafter PEL). 33 As historians such as Esther Cohen (Crossroads ofjnstice) and Bartlett (TFW} have amply shown, few things are more impressionistic than medieval justice.

By reintegrating the violence of rhetorical theory into the critical enterprise, we are better able to look to the origins of that disapproval and to its own theatrical construction. Consequently, we are also better able to come to terms with the philosophical need to condemn violence, to ndit “natural” or “unnatural,” or to distance ourselves from it even as so many aesthetic or ritual diversions rely On it. It has become somewhat ordinary these days to read in scholarly analysis of both medieval literature and the modern media that the ubiquity of violence dlulls an audience's senses to violence.

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