Shakespeare's Culture of Violence
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In this book, Derek Cohen studies the relationship of Shakespearean drama to the Western culture of violence. He argues that violence is an inherent feature and form of patriarchy and that its production and control is one of the dominant motives of the political system. Shakespeare's plays supply examples of the way in which the patriarchy of his plays - and hence, perhaps, of modern Western culture - absorbs, naturalizes, and legitimizes violence in its attempts to maintain political control over its subjects.
He taunts Bolingbroke The Containment of Monarchy: Richard II 23 with the irreconcilability of the situation, the contradiction that cannot be erased even by murder. For in the political scheme of this world of power, murder becomes the logical means of reconciling the irreconcilable; it is a procrustean attempt to resolve through violence what cannot be resolved through logic. As he enters the stage which has been set for his deposition Richard lays bare the paradox: Alack, why am I sent for
purification. Yet Falstaff's imitative act of violence rebounds upon himself: any doubts as to his locus in the moral scheme of the play are vividly resolved by his disruption of the cycle of the ritual. That is, he is expelled from the circle of power and 'beneficial' violence. The emphatic terminus implied by Hal's parting words is crassly mocked by Falstaff rising up. The act of cutting Percy's thigh is represented as antithetical to Hal's death-fight with Percy: as the fight was a lucid
unfaithful to the masculine code of sexual fidelity. Lavinia is a more complex case. Her innocence is known and affirmed by every character in the play, including her father who eventually kills her. Her conduct is under no suspicion, yet to her father and the emperor of Rome she is dishonoured. Once it is publicly known that Lavinia has been raped, she is understood to have been shamed. Titus asks Emperor Saturninus: Was it well done of rash Virginius To slay his daughter with his own right
man against woman. They share the recognition that rape is the one form of violence which places the woman beyond the pale of social recovery. Thus it is that Lavinia appeals to Tamora's womanliness, to that essential quality that binds them in kind if not in faith: '0 Tamora, thou bearest a womans face, - ' (II,iii,136). To Chiron she pleads, 'Do thou entreat her show a woman's pity' (147). But, as she loses hope of pity, Lavinia recurs to the world of men, to the dominant given of the play, the
grooms. Killing under these conditions of confused identity becomes easy - thought is difficult. Macbeth moving stealthily towards Duncan's chamber about the bloody business, emboldened by the forced imagination of a dagger, waiting for his wife to give the summons to the dreadful deed, is potently connected to her. Macbeth, waiting for his wife to sound the bell, reveals a dependency between them that forecloses the independence which was his glory before the terrible night; his maniacal speech