In Words and Deeds

The Spectacle of Incest in English Renaissance Tragedy

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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 Gorboduc, Shakespeare’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.

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”…an impressive combination of scholarship and critical sophistication […] Erudite, closely argued, … this book will be most useful to readers seriously interested in psychoanalytic criticism or performance history.” in: MLR, 99.2, 2004 pp.466-7
“… it offers stimulating readings of one of the most puzzling and popular motifs of the period’s literature.” in: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Vol. 44, Spring 2004, No. 2
Acknowledgements Introduction The Stage on Incest/Incest on the Stage: What for, Why, and How? Chapter One The Play of Incest: Toward a Poetics of Desire Chapter Two The House and the Stage Chapter Three Plots of Tyrants and the Place of Desire: Gorboduc and King Lear Chapter Four “Look Well Upon ‘t:” Incest as Tragic Spectacle in Stuart Domestic Drama Chapter Five Tragic Character: “Incestuous Persons” Postscript “An Explicable Place” Bibliography Index