Messiahs and Machiavellians
Depicting Evil in the Modern Theatre
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of Notre Dame Press
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The majority of this text was completed during my time in the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University. The department provided a stimulating environment for intellectual inquiry. At McMaster, I had the good fortune to meet Zdravko Planinc, who originally suggested I examine the history of theatre as a response to evil and then super-...
KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS AND TEXTUAL NOTES
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Preface: Revaluating Modernity
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Evil is a dirty word in most Western liberal democracies. To brand someone, something, or some event as “evil” suggests that you are speaking of an absolute struggle between the forces of good (us) and the forces of evil (them) in which there can be no compromise. To speak seriously of evil might signify to others that you are a religious or ideological extrem-...
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It is essential to begin by considering the term “evil” itself— what it means, what it has meant, and how I will be using it. In this section I draw on sources from the fields of anthropology, theology, philosophy. At the start of Homer’s Odyssey, Zeus makes a pronouncement ...
Eschatology and the Absurd
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In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus speaks of “an absurd sensitivity that can be found widespread in the age” (MS 2). The word absurd is popularly used as a synonym for “ridiculous,” but it is more precise to say that it signifies “discord,” “disharmony,” or “incongruity.”1 For Camus, the “absurd” refers to an irreparable antagonism—an unbridgeable rupture—...
The Gnostic Caesar
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Caligula is often spoken of as a theatrical companion piece to Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus.1 The central issue for Camus in Sisyphus is the “relationship between the absurd and suicide, [and] the exact degree to which suicide is a solution to the absurd” (MS 5). Camus claims that the experience of absurdity—an individual’s feeling of rupture with the world—does not...
Messianism and the Age of Senility
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Waiting for Godot presents characters who wait passively for an eschaton that never arrives. The eschatology of patient, deferred expectation is frequently advocated as a remedy for the impatient, radical, and murderous eschatology symbolized by Caligula. Those who expect that an “end” will be brought to them by a transcendent power at an indetermi-...
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Nina Sjursen claims that the experience of absurdity in Caligula and Waiting for Godot engenders two “diametrically opposed” visions of humanity and action.1 According to Sjursen, Camus’s Caligula adopts a “solution of power” (la solution de la puissance); he tries to eliminate evil through sheer volition.2 Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, on the other hand, are...
Expediency and the Machiavel
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Machiavelli’s Mandragola and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure are two Renaissance comedies about a “bed-trick.” The action of each play concerns an illicit sexual encounter in which one partner is not aware of the true identity of the other. In each case, the bedtrick is arranged insuch a way that it benefits the society as a whole, or appears to. Given...
Evil and Virtue in Mandragola
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Mandragola stands at the vanguard of a theatrical resurgence in early modernity. Machiavelli played a key role in the Italian rediscovery of Greek and Roman literature during the Renaissance. Like his contemporaries, Machiavelli was interested in classical works that had been neglected, suppressed, or lost during the Middle Ages. This effort led to a...
The “Fantastical Duke of Dark Corners”
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The title of Measure for Measure refers to Jesus’ pronouncement in the three synoptic Gospels that “the measure you give will be the measure you get,”1 the most famous occurring in the Sermon on the Mount: Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be...
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Mandragola and Measure for Measure both present a particular dispensation: the urge to administrate human affairs with complete efficacy.They also reveal the effect this ethos has on our sense of moral responsibility. Moral categories are neutralized “once the calculation of efficiency has been awarded supreme authority in deciding political purposes.”,1...
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Caligula, Waiting for Godot, Mandragola, and Measure for Measure collectively reveal the eschatological and expedient impulses that have allowed evil to flourish in the modern world. On first glance, eschatology and expediency appear to be opposites. Each presents itself as the corrective for the other: so-called Machiavellian Realpolitik seems to rem-...
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Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2008