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  • The Hurt(ful) Body: Performing and Beholding Pain, 1600–1800 ed. by Tomas Macsotay, Cornelis van der Haven, and Karel Vanhaesebrouck
  • Michael Meere
Tomas Macsotay, Cornelis van der Haven, and Karel Vanhaesebrouck, editors. The Hurt(ful) Body: Performing and Beholding Pain, 1600–1800. manchester up, 2017. 311 pp.

this rich volume of eleven essays (or "chapters"), along with an introduction by the editors, an epilogue by Javier Moscoso, and with a total of forty-eight figures, evaluates the performance and the witnessing of the body in pain and the ways these hurt(ful) bodies were implemented in various institutional contexts across Europe in the late sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Thus, the book is not only about depictions of the suffering body but also about the pain that the hurt body induces in the observer.

The introduction is divided roughly into three main sections: first, an explanation of the three-part structure of the book itself; second, a general overview of the current state of the field of pain studies and the relevant interventions that the chapters make in their respective fields; third, summaries of the subsequent chapters. The introduction opens provocatively with an analysis of Richard Verstegan's Theatrum Crudelitatum (Antwerp, 1588) to raise the central raison d'être of the volume, namely, the violence "inflicted on bodies and the representation of this very same violence, in theatres, in pictures and paintings but also in non-artistic modes of representation" (3). From here, the introduction elucidates the logic of the three-part structure of the book: part 1, "Performing Bodies" (chapter 1–3); part 2, "Beholders" (chapters 4–8); and part 3, "Institutions" (chapters 9–12). The chapters in part 1 center on the dramatic staging of the hurt body, whereas the chapters in part 2 elucidate the pain that the onlooker feels while watching or contemplating the suffering of others. The chapters in part 3 grapple with the ways in which the suffering body is used in institutional contexts such as the military and its uses of torture, public executions, and the stock exchange. The editors state clearly, however, that these parts are not "neatly [End Page 167] defined packages"; rather, they "often reiterate similar questions, in the hope of reaching out for a nuanced understanding of the complex question of the suffering body" (4). The editors insist, moreover, on the necessity to take into account the complex layering of the fictional and real violence represented in the "staged, written, painted and engraved images" presented in the book (7). Indeed, as "real" as the violence may appear at times in a given work of art or stage play, it remains a construction that depends on the conventions and historical conditions and contexts in which it appears.

As the introduction continues, the editors highlight the growing importance of medical thinking, theories of the gaze (notably, Foucault and Lacan), the various approaches to the histories of audience engagement with live suffering, and the rise of aesthetics (particularly Aristotelian poetics and theories of catharsis) in the early modern period that made audiences and artists "even more aware of the importance of 'feeling with' the suffering of others" (10). This book attempts to bridge these fields by bringing together multiple disciplinary approaches, including literary studies, art history, theater studies, cultural history, and the study of emotions (4, 9). In this section, the editors also gesture toward the shift from pain as contagion (often found in tragedy) toward a sympathetic relation between the one who suffers and the witness. Following this model, which is based on a distancing of the suffering body from the onlooker, this shift occurred during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, precisely the time period on which this book focuses. Still, while there might have been a (gradual) removal of physical, gory violence (in the manner of Verstegan) from artistic and theatrical representations, the real-life violence of the gallows still very much existed. It is this tension, this "porosity" between the visible and the invisible suffering body and the historical contexts that shaped these dynamics, that the contributions in The Hurt(ful) Body aim to address. In other words, as Moscoso writes in the epilogue, the book...


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