Departing from earlier studies which regarded incest as a literary topos or dramatic metaphor foregrounding political, social, or legal issues,
Words and Deeds: The Spectacle of Incest in English Renaissance Tragedy argues that the presence of incest on the Renaissance stage is a strategy for the enactment of the spectator’s tragic experience. Incest is explored neither as a sin nor as a crime, but as an “unspeakable” experience filtered through dramatic words and deeds. The incitement of desire, visual pleasure, and unconscious fantasy, as well as traumatic rejection, pain, and horror, are all aspects of this paradoxical and uncanny experience. Aristotelian theory of tragedy, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, and Michel Foucault’s notions of the deployment of sexuality and alliance, concur in the analysis of plays where incest is a central or a secondary motif – Ford’s
’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Beaumont and Fletcher’s
Cupid’s Revenge, Webster’s
The Duchess of Malfi – and others where incest is an effect of language and
mise-en-scène – Sackville and Norton’s
King Lear. The variety of topics and the combination of critical perspectives makes
In Words and Deeds an attractive book for students and teachers of Renaissance drama, as well as for those with a special interest in psychoanalytic and other new theoretical approaches to the literary text.