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Neostoicism and the Economics of Revenge in Cyril Tourneur’s The Atheist’s Tragedy

From: College Literature
Volume 41, Number 3, Summer 2014
pp. 7-26 | 10.1353/lit.2014.0037



This essay seeks to historicize Renaissance Neostoicism in relation to the period’s emergent capitalism. As historians have demonstrated, the emergence of capitalism in England yielded significant social and cultural changes, affecting all aspects of life from state power, to civil society, to individual subjectivity. Building in particular on Hugh Grady’s study of the socially destabilizing effects of “early modern reification,” this essay explores how Cyril Tourneur’s The Atheist’s Tragedy employs the discourse on Stoic constancy as a method for resisting the destructive effects of this new economic logic. With particular reference to Justus Lipsius’s anxious writings on the spiritual destitution produced by excessive consumerism and bodily desire, the article contends that in The Atheist’s Tragedy emerging capitalism is negotiated and ultimately resisted through recourse to a monistic Stoic model of the inextricable relationship between body and soul, flesh and spirit.

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