The Spectacle of the Suffering Body: Seventeenth-century Aesthetics of Violence

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The Spectacle of the Suffering Body: Seventeenth-century Aesthetics of Violence

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This dissertation treats the aesthetics and ethics of theatrical violence, focusing on late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in France. Tragedy took on the impossible task of presenting, to use Elaine Scarry’s formulation, “world-destroying” pain, using a variety of stage techniques to absorb, amplify, and dissimulate violence. It managed a constant alternation between terror and its foreclosure. Suffering is impossible to represent, and yet it regularly informs the way in which individuals and the theater of state conceive of power, learning, and productive work. Throughout, I consider the ways in which these figure amplify or circumvent an aesthetics of confrontation between tyrant and rebel. Daggers, bloody cloth, and female witnesses to violence absorbed, amplified, and dissimulated the strong affects associated with scenes of suffering bodies. In Chapter 1, I investigate how the weapon in plays such as "Didon se sacrifiant"(circa 1605), "Scédase" (circa 1610), and "Le Cid" (1637) absorb the affects and efficacy associated with sacrificial violence. These plays present violence as a compelling theatrical enactment that could spread itself like a contagion. Chapter 2 focuses on bloody cloth, which in "La mort d’Hercule" (1634), and "Cinna" (1639) both stands in for scenes of bodily suffering and facilitates a transformation from gore to glory. In Chapter 3 I study the shifting status of the witness to state violence by focusing on plays featuring female protagonists who survive brothers. In Garnier’s "Antigone" (1580), Rotrou’s 1637 play of the same name, Hardy’s "Mariamne" (circa 1610) and Tristan l’Hermite’s "La Marianne" (1637), sororal mourning increasingly masked suffering and violence.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2015. Major: French. Advisors: Juliette Cherbuliez, Daniel Brewer. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 237 pages.

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Bowman, Melanie. (2015). The Spectacle of the Suffering Body: Seventeenth-century Aesthetics of Violence. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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