The Medieval Theater of Cruelty: Rhetoric, Memory, Violence

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Why did medieval dramatists include so many scenes of torture in their plays? Exploring the cultural connections among rhetoric, law, drama, literary creation, and violence, Jody Enders addresses an issue that has long troubled students of the Middle Ages. According to Enders, theories of rhetoric and law of the time reveal that the ideology of torture was a widely accepted means for exploiting such essential elements of the stage and stagecraft as dramatic verisimilitude, pity, fear, and catharsis in order to fabricate truth.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A powerful discourse. . . An eloquent reading of the blurring of the boundaries among theories of torture, rhetoric, and drama."—Theatre Journal

"Enders presents her argument in such a careful manner that even the most conservative reader will find it persuasive. . . . I highly recommend The Medieval Theater of Cruelty not only for its content but also for its process: it stands as a fine example of how modern theory may responsibly be integrated into discussions of medieval texts. . . . An extremely well-written, persuasive, and stimulating book."—Leanne Groenveld, Comparative Drama

"An intellectually challenging . . . book that deserves serious consideration by medievalists. . . The Medieval Theater of Cruelty offers invigorating new perspectives on violence in medieval drama as well as in all forms of aesthetic and rhetorical invention, and asks us to reconsider current pieties."—Kathleen Ashley, Arthuriana

"This book is essential for those interested in late medieval theater and medieval rhetoric. It is replete with examples from both sources, and offers many readings of little-known or under-appreciated medieval plays—both mysteres and farces. . . . This is a very useful and interesting book, which I highly recommend. It is very thorough and very subtle in its core argumenst, and Enders is to be credited for her willingness to expand these arguments into larger theoretical contexts. . . . This book successfully crosses the boundary from medieval scholarship to broader, comparative issues in literary and cultural studies, and makes a powerful case for the continuing importance of the Western tradition of rhetoric in contemporary cultural life."—Andrew Cowell, The Comparatist

"This important new study returns to the topics of rhetoric and medieval drama but implicates these areas of this writer's interest and expertise with another topic about which she cares with equal passion: the historical continuity and seeming ubiquity of violence and cruelty."—Ann Blake, Parergon

"The contemporary cultural currency of violent yet pleasurable entertainments—and their tendency to spill over into 'real life'—lends urgency to Enders's interrogation of the dark side of medieval spectacle and performance and to her powerful argument about how and why medieval rhetoric, violence, and theater can and should matter to us all."—Theresa Coletti, Speculum

"This book . . . should not be ignored by specialists interested in medieval drama or in the nature of violence in any period."—Choice

"Following Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punishment and Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain, an entire subdiscipline of the study of torture and incarceration has developed. Jody Enders makes the connection that most investigators have glossed over: that drama and rhetoric and forensic share a concern, even obsession, with violence, with the language of violence and the violence of language, with representation of violence and the violence of representation, and with the recreation and memory of violence which is itself purged through an equal and opposite expression of violence. It is impossible to read any of the texts Enders discusses in the same way again."—John M. Ganim, University of California, Riverside

"Jody Enders's bold work on drama, rhetoric, and violence changes the terms by which we understand law, persuasion, and performance from antiquity onwards. The Medieval Theater of Cruelty shows how the violence of the medieval and early modern theater is grounded in rhetoric's real and symbolic dependence upon torture, punishment, and pain. This is a brilliant reading of medieval theater, a revolutionary reading of the rhetorical tradition, and a powerful argument for the immediacy of intellectual history to contemporary social analysis."—Rita Copeland, University of Minnesota

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801487835
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

A Polemical Introduction 1
Ch. 1 The Dramatic Violence of Invention 25
The Inventional Drama of Torture 28
Rhetoric and Drama, Torture and Truth 38
The Violent Invention of Drama 48
Ch. 2 The Memory of Pain 63
Foundational Violence 71
Violent Births, Miscarriages of Justice, Tortured Spaces 82
The Architecture of the Body in Pain 96
Violent Origins and Virtual Performances 111
Dramatic Figuration and Mnemonic Disfigurement in Medieval French Drama 120
Pedagogy, Spectacle, and the Mnemonic Agon 129
The Memory of Drama 152
Ch. 3 The Performance of Violence 160
Pleasure, Pain, and the Spectacle of Scourging 170
Witnesses at the Scene 185
Special Effects 192
Death by Drama 202
Violence and Performativity on the French Medieval Stage: A Retrospective 218
Conclusion: Vicious Cycles 230
Works Cited 239
Index 261
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