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Though punishment does not dispel fear (whether the fear of the wrong-doer or the righter of wrongs), mercy is not restorative either: it only underscores, by contrast, the vileness of the traitor.Violent punishment is read as a ritual performance enabling political control, a subsuming of discordant bodies into the great body politic as traitors and trespassers are tortured or dismembered to be better reintegrated or absorbed in spectacles where the awesome display of power is not systematically exclusive of carnavalesque festivity.To be furious, Is to be frighted out of fear; and in that mood The dove will peck the estridge; and I see still, A diminution in our captain’s brain Restores his heart: when valour preys on reason, It eats the sword it fights with.
For Hegel, the trespasser’s experience of fear, when submitted to the penal code, is always embodied by another person, i.e., the executor of the sentence or the “lord of this reality.” This dread, just as the prospect of punishment that sparks it, is absolute, because alien, and is equated with a fear of death, the ultimate fear.
The penal law offers a moral horizon and an incentive to moral betterment; it rests upon a belief in deontological and teleological system as it lays the foundations for duty-driven and purpose-driven action but it does not lay the basis for a truly ethical life in Hegel’s view.
The bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays, it is argued, blur the distinction between the theatre and the scaffold as a space of performance, building on the model of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy and its gusto for executions, however in a somewhat more subdued vein.
shows Shakespeare pinpointing already at an early stage the impossibility for the performance of the physical ritual of power not to be at once an act of butchery.
fear, using a variety of critical approaches that yield different responses to this question.
The Foucauldian emphasis on the mechanics of the exercise of power and the awesome display of chastised bodies tends to by-pass the examination of fear as a mood and experience of the punished trespasser, considering it instead as an instrument put to the service of the body politic.
(a year of fear), James Shapiro argues that it is “no coincidence” if “[t]he year 1606 would turn out to be a good one for Shakespeare and an awful one for England” for the playwright “grasped the dramatic potential of popular reaction to the plot: a maelstrom of fear, horror, a desire for revenge, an all-too-brief sense of national unity, and a struggle to understand where such evils came from.”, an earlier play, but written quite shortly after the 1603 Main Plot, to which it may well relate.
These four plays undoubtedly stage fears, show some of the ways fears are dealt with, and – most importantly for my purpose – attempt to inflict punishment upon traitors.
Hegel’s distinction between two types of fear, the fear of the penal code or moral law, and a deeper fear of oneself or “fate as punishment,” enables us to probe deeper into the experience of fear, the moral imagination, and the process leading from fear and punishment to a greater degree of self-consciousness.
This paper argues, however, that the implications of Shakespeare’s dramatic treatment of fear are best understood when read in light of early modern theological literature and its attempts to finely rationalize the experience of fear.