Torture and the drama of emergency : Kyd, Marlowe, Shakespeare
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Torture and the Drama of Emergency: Kyd, Marlowe, Shakespeare recovers the legal complexity of early modern torture and makes it central to an account of the anti-torture politics of the English stage. More people were tortured in the 1580s and 1590s than at any other time in England's history, and this sudden increase generated a backlash in the form of calls for the protection of liberties. Chapters on plays by Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare show how theater contributed to this backlash by means of its unique ability to present on the public stage the otherwise private suffering characteristic of state torture. Above all, these playwrights alerted audiences to the dangers posed by the concentration of absolute power in the hands of the monarch. The introduction and first chapter of Torture and the Drama of Emergency demonstrate that although torture was unknown to common law, it was executed in the context of a state of emergency. The second chapter presents Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy as resistance literature: rather than critiquing Spanish cruelty, as its setting implies, the play indicts English torture. Kyd uses the genre of revenge tragedy, enormously popular after and because of his play, to argue that torture is a form of revenge the state itself might carry out. Chapter three, on 1 and 2 Tamburlaine, argues that Tamburlaine transforms the world into a military camp by extending martial law to everyone, everywhere. Marlowe's portrayal of the creation and rise of this totalitarian regime depicts the nightmarish consequences for the people when the state's power to extend martial law remains unchecked. The final chapter, on King Lear, argues that in his most pessimistic play Shakespeare suggests there is no escape from the state's ability to seize absolute power in times of crisis. Lear's moving but tenuous declaration of human rights remains a dream that cannot survive the state of emergency created when he divides the kingdom.