The Early Modern Corpse and Shakespeare's Theatre

The Early Modern Corpse and Shakespeare's Theatre

Susan Zimmerman
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r209s
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Early Modern Corpse and Shakespeare's Theatre
    Book Description:

    The first study to demonstrate connections between the meanings attached to the material body in early modern Protestantism, the practice of anatomical dissection, and the English public theatre.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-7966-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Recognitions
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Copyright Permissions
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Chapter 1 Dead Bodies
    (pp. 1-23)

    This book is a study of death and representation – specifically, the representation of dead bodies on the English Renaissance stage. Even at first glance this statement may seem to elide a contradiction. How exactly does one ‘perform’ a dead body? Or, to consider the statement’s more disquieting implications, what is it about the body itself that marks it as dead? What does a mimesis of the corpse presume to represent, and how and why does it fail?

    Because this study would connect performance conventions of the theatre in England to early modern concepts of the corpse, I focus on two...

  6. Chapter 2 Body Imaging and Religious Reform: The Corpse as Idol
    (pp. 24-89)

    Among the objectives of the Protestant reformists was the transformation of Catholic hermeneutics, specifically – at least in the context of this analysis – the Catholic reliance on body imaging for the interpretation of Christian mysteries. Fundamentally, the Reformation’s attack on the anthropomorphism of idolatry was symptomatic of its preoccupation with the dangers implicit in materiality and its properties: the materiality of the image or idol, the materiality of the body, and – at the most profound and originary level – the materiality of the corpse.

    Because representations of the corpse on the English stage resonate unavoidably with the Reformation controversy over idolatry, this...

  7. Chapter 3 Animating Matter: The Corpse as Idol in The Second Maiden’s Tragedy and The Duke of Milan
    (pp. 90-127)

    Because theatrical illusion is produced principally through the agency of actors, it is in large part about the body: the body as constitutive in the formation and expression of human ideas and emotions, the body as object of the spectator’s gaze, the body as subject to the transformations of impersonation. Notwithstanding significant differences in theatrical traditions, the actor’s body none the less constitutes the primary locus of performance. Yet in early modern England, at the same time that a burgeoning secular theatre was fast becoming a new staple of public life, Protestant reformers were castigating those uses of the body...

  8. Chapter 4 Invading the Grave: Shadow Lives in The Revenger’s Tragedy and The Duchess of Malfi
    (pp. 128-171)

    The Second Maid’s Tragedy and The Duke of Milan portray idolatry as a monomaniacal obsession that appropriates the language of the sacred to reify erotic love – for the dead as well as the living – as the ultimate form of transcendence. But for all their sensationalism, neither of the Herod plays takes full advantage of the theatrical potential implicit in the taboo against necrophilia. The chief reasons for this delimiting of theatrical power are the flatness in the portrayals of the key figures, who for the most part have no semblance of interiority, and the related absence in these plays of...

  9. Chapter 5 Killing the Dead: Duncan’s Corpse and Hamlet’s Ghost
    (pp. 172-194)

    Middleton and especially Webster developed styles of tragedy in which complex psychological concepts were successfully embedded in sensationalist dramaturgy. In an exemplary instance, as we have seen, Webster represented Ferdinand’s taboo desire by means of an inferred metamorphosis, at once a literalised symbol and an aptly indirect one for a passion that Ferdinand refuses to acknowledge but never wholly repudiates. Certainly Ferdinand’s lycanthropy encapsulates strikingly his defiance of the symbolic order, but it also serves partly to mitigate the transgressiveness of his illicit desire. There are moments when Ferdinand as lycanthrope is a caricature, not unlike Middleton’s Tyrant in his...

  10. Epilogue: Last Words
    (pp. 195-198)

    At the end of Chapter 1, I suggested that the methodological aim of this book was to emphasise what I see as the interdependent relationship between poststructuralist theory and historicist analysis. I would like to end my study with a further speculation on how Benjamin’s Trauerspiel elucidates these subtle yet seminal connections.

    Benjamin contends, we will recall, that unlike Tragödie, which appeals to the ‘hidden god’ in every spectator by idealising an idea of the transcendent self, Trauerspiel grounds itself in the idea of an unavoidable and unrelenting physis, a natural order akin to Bataille’s ‘orgy of annihilation’. Trauer is...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 199-207)
  12. Index
    (pp. 208-216)