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The Shattering of the Self

Violence, Subjectivity, and Early Modern Texts

Cynthia Marshall

Publication Year: 2002

In The Shattering of the Self: Violence, Subjectivity, and Early Modern Texts, Cynthia Marshall reconceptualizes the place and function of violence in Renaissance literature. During the Renaissance an emerging concept of the autonomous self within art, politics, religion, commerce, and other areas existed in tandem with an established, popular sense of the self as fluid, unstable, and volatile. Marshall examines an early modern fascination with erotically charged violence to show how texts of various kinds allowed temporary release from an individualism that was constraining. Scenes such as Gloucester's blinding and Cordelia's death in King Lear or the dismemberment and sexual violence depicted in Titus Andronicus allowed audience members not only a release but a "shattering"—as opposed to an affirmation—of the self. Marshall draws upon close readings of Shakespearean plays, Petrarchan sonnets, John Foxe's Acts and Monuments of the Christian Martyrs, and John Ford's The Broken Heart to successfully address questions of subjectivity, psychoanalytic theory, and identity via a cultural response to art. Timely in its offering of an account that is both historically and psychoanalytically informed, The Shattering of the Self argues for a renewed attention to the place of fantasy in this literature and will be of interest to scholars working in Renaissance and early modern studies, literary theory, gender studies, and film theory.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

I am happy to acknowledge the institutional support of Rhodes College, which provided the sabbatical leave in 1999 during which I wrote most of this book. I am especially grateful to John Planchon, then dean of academic affairs, who went out of his way to advance what must have seemed a...

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pp. 1-12

At least since samuel johnson recorded his anguished response to Cordelia’s death, critics have struggled with the awesome power of King Lear to unsettle its audiences. How to explain the aesthetic goal or moral purpose of a work that so determinedly wrenches readers or viewers past the bounds...

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1. Violence, Subjectivity, and Paradoxes of Pleasure

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pp. 13-55

That a new idea or awareness of the self emerged in the Renaissance has become a simple statement to make but a complex one to qualify. In the past twenty years, new historicist and cultural materialist literary critics have repeatedly asserted that the human subject as known today—variously...

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2. “To Speak of Love” in the Language of Petrarchanism

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pp. 56-84

Lovesick. Few things tell us so much about the attitudes toward pleasure and the erotic economies of people in early modern England as their capacity for and even established habit of considering love a sickness. In his Table of the Human Passions (1621), Nicholas Coeffeteau wrote approvingly of what...

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3. Foxe and the Jouissance of Martyrology

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pp. 85-105

John foxe opens his narrative account of English martyrdom for the year 1552 by transporting his audience, rather in the style of Shakespeare’s Henry V, to the European continent: “Commyng now to the yeare next folowyng, 1552, we will somwhat steppe aside and borow a little leave,...

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4. The Pornographic Economy of Titus Andronicus

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pp. 106-137

After several centuries of critical condescension, Titus Andronicus has been reassessed in the last fifty years, mostly on the evidence of several successful theatrical productions. The two most notable were strikingly different in style—Peter Brook’s in 1955 was highly ritualized, with crimson streamers...

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5. Form, Characters, Viewers, and Ford’s The Broken Heart

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pp. 138-158

In their attempt to establish a link between the body and social theory, M. L. Lyon and J. M. Barbalet grant emotion a vital, active role. Emotion, they write, “activates distinct dispositions, postures and movements which are not only attitudinal but also physical. . . . Emotion is precisely...

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pp. 159-161

The revived popularity of Titus Andronicus in the contemporary theater has occasioned an instructive renegotiation of established terms for considering violent texts. Traditionally, works that exhibit excessive, prurient violence “for its own sake” have been cordoned off from those including violence...


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pp. 163-191


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pp. 193-208


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pp. 209-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780801876431
E-ISBN-10: 0801876435
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801867781
Print-ISBN-10: 0801867789

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 5 b&w illus., 5 line drawings
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 51615942
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Shattering of the Self

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • English drama (Tragedy) -- History and criticism.
  • Subjectivity in literature.
  • Renaissance -- England.
  • Violence in literature.
  • Self in literature.
  • Catharsis.
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