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Staging Pain, 1580–1800: Violence and Trauma in British Theatre (review)
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Giving the customary deferential nod to the contentiousness of any characterization of the “early modern” period, coeditors Messrs. Allard and Martin forge on bravely in giving a flavor of the bloody stages between the rise of Shakespeare and the failures of Joanna Baillie. Three of the ten essays are relevant to Scriblerians. The coeditors set pain and trauma in life and on stage within poststructuralist, psychoanalytic, and psychological contexts. They foreground Foucault’s archaeology of punishment, Elaine Scarry’s analysis of the tortured body, and Cathy Caruth’s deconstruction of trauma as key influences on the study of pain.

If I follow Susan B. Iwanisziw’s argument in “Tortured Bodies, Factionalism, and Unsettled Loyalties in Settle’s Morocco Plays” correctly, Settle’s plays reflect the visible and graphic State violence of the returned Stuarts in the bloody grotesquery of their mise-en-scène and an analogy with contemporaneous Moroccan politics. Ms. Iwanisziw claims his Moroccan plays “bear the imprint of domestic terror that remains, thus far, unexamined in Settle’s works,” though well-trodden ground in relation to other writers and the Restoration stage in general. In a lengthy and frequently digressive essay at the end of the “Bodies (Im)Politic” section, she outlines Settle’s quixotic politics. She at once credits him with a knowledge of North African politics in The Empress of Morocco (1671), while at the same time admitting that there is little of that knowledge to be found in direct parallels in his plot lines, concluding that in The Heir of Morocco (1682) “Settle [is] only paying lip service to North African culture and Islam in signs of prayers.” This is only one example where Ms. Iwanisziw shares something of Settle’s style: a penchant for grand statements that are swiftly qualified. In relation to one spectacularly gory revel, she asserts, “Doubtless the audience fell silent from shock and fear. Rather unnecessarily, given the all-too-familiar exhibition of traitors’ corpses in Restoration England, Abdelcador recites [a] homily.” Following that logic, familiarity with the reality of the gallows may as easily have rendered the staged version insipid or even risible. While Ms. Iwanisziw offers a stimulating confluence of ideas about Settle’s use and misuse of factual events and his political expediency, her intentions are undermined by the breadth of allusions at the expense of direct argument.

By contrast, Kara Reilly’s “Lavinia’s Rape: Reading the Restoration Actress’s Body in Pain in Ravenscroft’s Titus“ is succinct and direct. Situated in the thematic section “Spectacular Failures,” this essay reads the body of Ravenscroft’s Lavinia as a metaphorical triumvirate of site (material object), sight (visually objectified) and (sexually defined) cite. For Ms. Reilly, Lavinia’s (psychological and physical) trauma is emblematic of the violation of Charles I’s body politic, the rapists exemplifying current concerns with Whig politicians. Kristeva’s theories of abjection are used to interpret Lavinia’s body as abjected from her father and by extension the Roman state, which inevitably leads to her death/expulsion at her father’s hands. The allusions to Anne Bracegirdle’s experience of playing Lavinia, The Virgin playing a violently deflowered virgin, are keenly observed and suggestive, though one wonders if the final derisory words of the play may be as much a reflection on Tamora, a most notorious “whore” who is the last woman standing/eviscerated, as much as a sexual taint on Bracegirdle/Lavinia.

In “Sympathy Pains: Filicide and the Spectacle of Male Heroic Suffering on the Eighteenth-Century Stage”—another “Spectacular Failure”—Cecilia A. Feilla argues that there is a shift in the expression and the popularity of patriarchal filicide as a subject of tragedy, from the appeal of shared pain to shared bourgeois affectivity across the eighteenth century. In other words, filicide became a more acceptable topic with the rise of sentimentality and middle-class attachment, whereby fathers become murderers to put their children out of their misery (!).

Exemplifying her case through the evolution of staged Brutus narratives from Nathaniel Lee, through Voltaire to Duncombe and Downman, with side-references to Roman virtues and Rousseau, Ms. Feilla builds a firm if historically intuitive case for the gradual demand for sympathy in...

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