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"The pomp of death, / Is far more terrible, than death itself": The Execution Spectacle on the English Theatrical Stage, 1660-1731

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abstract
Spectacular public death was not something unfamiliar to the European people of the Restoration and eighteenth-century. Public executions had been performed for hundreds of years, and the scaffold was still a scene that was expected to draw spectators. In the name of sovereign or religious vengeance, all means of violence had been performed on real human bodies before the eyes of a crowd. The same spectators in attendance at hangings, burnings, beheadings, and the like, comprised the audiences of the drama as well. This thesis examines six plays between 1660 and 1731 and tracks the ways in which the punishment spectacle was deployed as a theatrical device. I argue that the incorporation of executions into the plays of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century provided a recasting of the role of the criminal facing death. Execution could be seen as a hero's demise, and a chance to undermine the power of the sovereign by suggesting the power of the individual to choose to die well. Sometimes that means suicide. Sometimes that means allowing the machinations of punishment to be seen through to the end and having the condemned accept death as justified not wholly by the justice of the state, but by spiritual conviction. Sometimes that means using the framework of the drama to eliminate the threat of execution altogether. Thanks to the mediation of the stage, the powerful act of violent sovereign justice is transformed into a chance for the condemned to tell his or her story, undermining the absolute authority of justice by blood and permitting the autonomous power of the individual.
subject
capital punishment
eighteenth century
public execution
Restoration
seventeenth century
theater
contributor
Appleby, Sarah Kathleen (author)
Kairoff, Claudia (committee chair)
Overing, Gillian (committee member)
Valbuena, Olga (committee member)
date
2013-06-06T21:19:26Z (accessioned)
2013-06-06T21:19:26Z (available)
2013 (issued)
degree
English (discipline)
identifier
http://hdl.handle.net/10339/38530 (uri)
language
en (iso)
publisher
Wake Forest University
title
"The pomp of death, / Is far more terrible, than death itself": The Execution Spectacle on the English Theatrical Stage, 1660-1731
type
Thesis

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