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Introduction: The Tyrant's Fear.

Then it is the truth, though some may deny it, that the real tyrant is
really enslaved to cringings and servitudes beyond compare, a flatterer
of the basest men, and that, so far from finding even the least
satisfaction for his desires, he is in need of most things, and is a
poor man in very truth, as is apparent if one knows how to observe a
soul in its entirety; and throughout his life he teems with terrors and
is full of convulsions and pains, if in fact he resembles the condition
of the city which he rules; and he is like it, is he not?

                                    Plato, Republic 9.579d-e (1)

These are both the measures mentioned some time back to secure the
safety of a tyranny as far as possible--the lopping off of outstanding
men and the destruction of the proud,--and also the prohibition of
common meals and club-fellowship and education and all other things of
this nature, in fact the close watch upon all things that usually
engender the two emotions of pride and confidence, and the prevention
of the formation of study-circles and other conferences for debate, and
the employment of every means that will make people as much as possible
unknown to one another (for familiarity increases mutual confidence).

                             Aristotle, Politics 5.11 1313a40-b6 (2)

Tyranny and Fear

Fear is the coessential ingredient of tragedy, and tragedy, since Aristotle, deals with the stories of those who are above us--heroes, kings, and tyrants. Fear, together with pity, is what we, as spectators, are to experience in order to achieve the catharsis of such emotions. (3) Thus, the tragic experience is first and foremost an experience of fear at different levels: onstage, where the action displays the people's fear of the tyrant and the tyrant's own fear of them, and in the interplay between stage and audience, where we all identify with those who fear the tyrant but also with the tyrant who in turn fears them. Famously, Plato and Aristotle underlined in varying degrees the fear felt by the tyrant, pointing to the psychological drives of his behavior. For Plato, he is a slave to both desire and fear since these coalesce into one and the same knot of passions. Incapable of self-control, the tyrant desires and fears all. Aristotle does not linger so much on the tyrant's inward dynamics as on his actions consequent to his fear of losing power, assuming contrasting passions as the springboard for political action. The tyrant prunes the state of those who oppose him or only represent a potential threat or an alternative to his power, preventing debate, the circulation of ideas, and possibilities of consorting. The tyrant is a solitary man. Notably, Xenophon underlined Hiero's solitude in the homonymous dialogue, where he, the tyrant of Syracuse, explains to the poet Simonides his painful condition of loneliness and fear of unsafety. No one is free anymore in a state where the tyrant may trust neither his own guards nor the citizens, and must enlist the barbarians to defend him. (4) Seneca would remark that "errat enim si quis existimat tutum esse ibi regem ubi nihil a rege tutum sit; securitas securitate mutua paciscenda est." (If anyone thinks that the king is safe in a situation where nothing is safe from the king, they are wrong. Security is purchased by reciprocal security) (5) Where the political handling of power within the state is based upon the tyrant's fear and that of the people, it means that the state is founded on a regime of Terror. (6)

These ancient positions make clear that the origin of the perpetuation of fear in the state, spreading terror among the people, resides in the tyrant's own fear, suggesting a curious reciprocity between subject and object: the more the tyrant fears, the more he makes himself feared by his subjects. Seneca added to the picture the psychological torments of bad conscience, turning the fearful tyrant into the opposite of the stoically serene sage. (7) In De dementia, he described the tyrant's condition as hateful to himself and desperately lonely, torn between fear and desire of death. (8) How pitiful is he who wields "his power by murder and robbery," wrote Seneca, "render[ing] everything both abroad and at home suspect in his own eyes, resorting to weapons because he fears weapons." (9) But the worst aspect of all is the uncheckable course of the cruelty ("crudelitas") initiated by tyranny, since once started, "perseverandum est nec ad meliora patet regressus; scelera enim sceleribus tuenda sunt." (You have to persist with it. No way back to better things is open. Crimes have to be safeguarded with more crimes.) (10) Seneca's Clytemnestra knows well that "per scelera semper sceleribus tutum est iter" (the safest path to mischiefe is by mischiefe open still). (11) Macbeth will learn this lesson at his own cost ("I am in blood / Stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er"). (12) Differently from Macbeth, continuance of crime in both Aeschylus's Oresteia and Seneca's Thyestes is internal to the family; it belongs to the genos. In Seneca, Tantalus returns from the other world to prompt Atreus to revenge upon his brother, and brotherly fear is what pushes him to pursue his own vengeance, precisely as fear is what initially makes Thyestes hesitate before Atreus's offer of half of the kingdom. Hesitation, here, signals the emergence of that knot of passions that makes the tyrant desire and fear at the same time. Even Atreus hesitates for a brief moment in devising his bloody intent. (13) When in Seneca's Agamemnon Clytemnestra first enters the stage, she too hesitates, as opposed to the inflexible, self-determined Aeschylean model. Her moral scruples and bad conscience intermingle with fear, pain, and hatred, (14) and under the rule of passions, (15) she falls prey to Aegisthus's manipulative power: her fears of repudiation for betrayal are false, he claims (283, "spe metus falsa levas"; 146v, "Thou easest feare by fickle hope, that falsly thou dost shape"), and making up for her own adultery will not spare her the exile.

Thus, when we turn to Macbeth, we find a curious consonance with both the Greek and the Roman plays on the Oresteia myth: while Shakespeare inverts the gender-power relation in respect to Seneca, suggesting links with the Aeschylean pair of murderers and the foregrounded female agency, a Senecan hesitation constitutes a major focus in Shakespeare's dramatic construction of the tyrant's psychology, suggesting an inward debate that in Aeschylus remains undramatized, except for the recourse to the Erinyes. Like the ancients, Shakespeare explores in Macbeth how a regime of terror is born out of the tyrant's own fears and how these, in turn, are strangely one with his own desires. Thus, although Seneca's emphasis on conscience appears closer to Shakespeare's attention to "free will," Aeschylus grounds his trilogy of the Argive myth in an experience of fear in ways that Seneca does not--but Macbeth does. As Adrian Poole wrote at the outset of his study of the Oresteia and Macbeth,
Fear takes many diverse forms and Aeschylean tragedy is uniquely rich
in its power to represent fear, its symptoms, its sources, objects and
consequences. Macbeth is in this sense Shakespeare's most Aeschylean
tragedy. Fear is something which invades, pervades Macbeth's
experience, shaking him by fits and starts, so that he lives in a state
of "restless ecstasy." (16)

Poole, however, premised his comparative discussion of the two plays on the need not to "press home likenesses between Shakespeare and the Greeks" but rather to preserve "the differences." (17) This is the starting point for the present issue too. Although recent criticism has increasingly argued in favor of a more widespread circulation of Greek texts in the English Renaissance than has been recognized, no uncontroversial evidence of Aeschylus's direct influence upon Shakespeare has been put forward to date. (18) And yet, Macbeth does resemble the Oresteia in many respects. The two plays' common preoccupation with the tyrant's fear and their peculiar engagement with it are not erased by their historical and dramatic differences. The articles collected in this two-part special issue are devoted to an exploration of how this happens.


In what ways do Aeschylus's Oresteia and Shakespeare's Macbeth offer "fundamental" dramatic models for our understanding of the mechanics of ancient and modern tyranny? What do we mean by "fundamental" here, and how do these plays continue to speak to us today? Arendt famously claimed that contemporary totalitarianism is in no way comparable to other forms of tyranny, despotism, or dictatorship registered in the past, because "wherever it rose to power, it developed entirely new political institutions and destroyed all social, legal and political traditions of the country." (19) This would prevent our dialogue with Aeschylus and Shakespeare on questions of authoritarian rule. And yet, regarding Shakespeare, McGrail argued that it is the variety of ideas of tyranny that he had that "might have more than aesthetic value to us." (20) Evidence of contemporary political handlings of the Oresteia and Macbeth also suggests that in fact that dialogue is still vital. Modern examples of censorious practices in totalitarian regimes demonstrate that the experience of tragic fear they encapsulate in their dramatic action continues to pose threats beyond their times. The articles here collected will discuss precisely the delicate balance between their contextual topicality and their capacity to transcend historical boundaries, reflecting upon the insights they offer into the processes of establishment and/or transformation of political systems when authoritarian rule looms ahead. How such processes were dramatized and how they contributed, and still contribute, to shaping our own awareness of how they may take place constitute the primary focus of this issue.

Our contention is that Aeschylus's and Shakespeare's peculiar treatment of the tyrant's fear prompts unique reflections upon human relations and the foundation of rule, as notoriously in the Eumenides. In Macbeth, this is carried out through the protagonist's crucial interrogation of the meaning of "that great bond" (3.2.50) and of the "statute" (3.4.74) at the core of our commonweal, shifting the attention onto fear of judgment as the deep motivation of our subjection to the law. While Aeschylus and Shakespeare adopt divergent strategies of character focalization, both dramatically and psychologically, they raise similar questions on the idea of "security" and "perfection" as well as individual choice and responsibility within (or beyond) a transcendental design (be it political, dynastic, or supernatural). By enacting tragic experiences of "fear," the two plays explore issues of power, legitimacy, subjectivity, agency, and ethos, while probing the possibilities theatre offers of challenging dramatic conventions and exposing, in their own ways, processes of succession, construction, and maintenance of power. The two plays will not be considered as pieces of political theory but as dramatic works participating in a complex net of political and cultural interactions, and in their own contexts devising specific strategies to represent and construct ideas of tyranny and fear onstage and for the stage. All this occurs within two radically different political systems, democratic Athens in the fifth century BCE and monarchical early modern England. This transhistorical discontinuity must be acknowledged when we seek to understand how fear may create reciprocal bonds between polar participants in the system of power; it is also crucial when we consider how theatre may enhance tragic fear on stage and in relation to the interplay between stage and audience.

Thus, the starting point is what is meant by tyranny. (21) In Aeschylus, the tyrant is he who subverts the regime by violence. In Agamemnon, the Chorus perceive the beginning of tyrannis in the king's death cry: "[phrase omitted] (1354-55; Anyone can see it, by these first steps they have taken, / they purpose to be tyrants here upon our city). (22) Clytemnestra and Aegisthus are called tyrants because they have ended Agamemnon's power in blood. The Elders figure them out as wielding their bloody weapons within the house, and this is the eloquent semeion of a sudden, radical change of rule due to a coup:
[phrase omitted]

(1350-55;--No, better to burst in upon them now, at once,
and take them with the blood still running from their blades.
--I am with this man and I cast my vote to him.
Act now. This is the perilous and instant time.
--Anyone can see it, by these first steps they have taken,
they purpose to be tyrants here upon our city.)

Dynastic issues are evaded at this point. Allusion to patrilineality as opposed to tyrannical usurpation will briefly emerge only in Coephori, (23) but Orestes will not become king, and in Eumenides the monarchical regime will be replaced by democracy, while the demos will take center stage: in the absence of delegates from Argos, it will be the people of Athens who will conclude the play and celebrate the establishment of a new political system in the name of justice with the concomitant transformation of Erinyes into Eumenides.

An "untitled tyrant bloody-sceptered," as Macduff calls him in 4.3.104, Macbeth too ends the Scottish regime in blood, and yet his own rule is acknowledged to be tyrannical only when it becomes manifestly arbitrary, cruel, and based upon terror. The first time he is called tyrant is when political opposition begins to form because fear has spread among the nobles: "But peace," says Lennox, fearing Macduff's own fate, "for from broad words, and cause he failed / His presence at the tyrant's feast, I hear /Macduff lives in disgrace" (3.6.21-23). The following fourteen occurrences of the word "tyrant" are mostly disseminated in 4.3 (six times) and in act 5 (three times in 5.7), culminating in Macduff's final announcement of the tyrant's exhibition on a painted pole as a monstrous example of tyranny (5.8.25-27), (24) visually summing up the story "of this dead butcher, and his fiend-like queen" (5.9.35). The political debate at the time, within the context of absolute monarchy, defined tyranny by usurpation, but whatever the implications contained in the play, it is clear that tyranny coincides with Macbeth's regime of fear. As Ross says, the country "is almost afraid to know itself," as it can no longer "be called our mother, but our grave" (4.3.165-66). In this respect, Macduff's attempt to spur Malcolm to intervene as the "legitimate heir" foregrounds, by contrast, the moral aspect of tyranny, which is rooted in "boundless intemperance," itself "in nature... a tyranny" and cause of the "fall of many kings" (4.3.66-67, 69). Albeit "legitimate," Malcolm too, in his pretension of "intemperance," will significantly appear unfit to rule.

Thus, while different political systems call for a distinct conceptual focus on tyrannical fear, the Oresteia and Macbeth also show how diversely "tyranny in the making" may be handled dramatically. When the attention is on the life of the polis, as in Agamemnon, the spotlight is on the people's own reaction to the expected coup while it is being secretly prepared; when it is on the usurpers' own psychological dealing with their own subversive agency, as in Macbeth, a focalization on their own fears and desires is carried out in ways that foreground mental and emotional solitude. In either case, a locus of secrecy (the house in Aeschylus; the characters' own consciences in Shakespeare) is constructed and dramatized on stage as a place of subversion.

This suggests that, even if direct influence were demonstrable, it would not affect their distinctly individual responses to ideas of fear as the origin of subversive power but also, contrariwise, of peaceful communal life, as Aeschylus shows in Eumenides and Shakespeare hints at indirectly through Christian fear of divine judgement. (25) Ancient political treatises reached the English Renaissance through various Latin mediations and continental vernacularizations, French especially. Aristotle's Politics in Leonardo Bruni's Latin translation was published in Rome in 1492, and was first Englished in 1598 from Loys le Roy's 1568 French version. Xenophon's Hiero was Latinized by Leonardo Bruni in 1403 and in 1530 received a new Latin translation by Erasmus. Plato's Republic was known mainly indirectly through his biography penned by Diogenes Laertius and some Italian and French political writers who quoted it extensively. As will be argued in this special issue, Xenophon and Plato represent significant examples of how the political debate on tyranny possibly hindered the reception of ancient thought on tyranny and fear when this was not entirely consistent with official views on the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate kingship. But Seneca's tragedies, which started being anglicized in the mid-1550s, appropriated some of those ideas, and Seneca's De clementia, with Calvin's commentary, was published in Paris in 1532 and in Geneva in 1576. The extent to which Shakespeare might have known Seneca has been much debated, and after skeptical criticism was voiced in the mid-twentieth century, today there is a tendency to recognize that he might have accessed his tragedies in both Latin and English. (26) As regards Aeschylus and other Greek texts, it has been noticed that the stage productions that took place in academic milieus in early modern England participated in a dynamic system of "confluence" of different traditions, including the morality play of the Middle Ages. (27) More recently, criticism has reassessed the presence of Plutarch and Homer, besides Greek Tragedy, (28) and Demetriou and Pollard have convincingly stated that "lost commercial plays such as Troy, Agamemnon, and Orestes' Furies... suggest vernacular responses to Greek works." (29) The hypothesis that these last two plays were in fact a dramatization of the often reprinted Saint-Ravy 1555 Latin translation of the Oresteia (conflating a truncated version of Agamemnon with Coephori (30) under the title Agamemnon and followed by the Eumenides) has been extensively developed by Schleiner and more recently reconsidered by Ewbank. (31) Yet, whatever the case with Shakespeare actually knowing the Oresteia, (32) Macbeth remains in many respects a very different play. And, as suggested above, it is precisely in those differences that strong reasons for comparison reside.

A Journey into the Tyrant's Fear

The essays, divided over two journal issues, are ideally grouped in three sections: the first one comprises two essays that contextualize the following discussion by looking at relevant aspects of the Attic and English Renaissance theoretical and theatrical traditions about tyranny and fear. The second part includes eight articles that explore this topic through analyzing origin stories, blood, and figures of dismemberment (3), female tyranny (4), and male tyranny (4); through interrogating the paradoxes of the tyrant's fear of the legitimate yet alienated heir to the throne (5 and 6); and through dialogue on reticence in the two plays, with a focus on the classical and early modern cultural interdictions and performative conventions to say and show the murder of the king on stage (7 and 8, which begin the second issue). The last two articles in this section (9 and 10), bring the discussion to a closer investigation of affect and stage/audience liminality, respectively. The third part (articles 11, 12, and 13) considers the tyrant's fear from the perspective of the dangers and worries of staging the Oresteia and Macbeth in contemporary tyrannical regimes, from Communist Czechoslovakia to Francoist Spain, from Nazi Germany to the Greek military Junta.

The starting point is provided by two questions: what was the context of Aeschylus's and Shakespeare's individual treatments of the tyrant's fear in the Oresteia and Macbeth and how did ancient political thinking penetrate Renaissance England, influencing drama before Macbeth? In "[phrase omitted].The Tyrant's Fears on the Attic Tragic Stage" Gherardo Ugolini deals with the first question, showing how Attic theatre reflected deep concerns about tyranny before the Peloponnesian War (Aeschylus's Persians and Oresteia; Sophocles's Antigone) and during the early phases of that War (Oedipus Rex; Euripides's Suppliants; parodically also in Aristophanes's Wasps). Ugolini illustrates how drama not only deployed a whole gamut of tyrannical features, from violence to impiety to lust and transgression of the law, but also and especially demonstrated that the genesis of the tyrant corresponded to the dramatic process of metabole, or change/transformation, which coincided with the upsurge of fear in the ruler. Not intemperance per se, but the precise moment when the ruler begins to fear the path to tyranny is ready to be trodden. Glaring examples are Creon in Antigone and Oedipus in Oedipus Rex.

In this respect, continuity may be perceived with early modern English drama before Macbeth, when through Plato and Xenophon, as interpreters of Attic drama, English plays appeared to dialogue indirectly with ancient theatre on this issue. As Francesco Dall'Olio argues in "Xenophon and Plato in Elizabethan Culture: The Tyrants Fear Before Macbeth" after their arrival in English culture in the early sixteenth century, Xenophon and Plato curiously seem to disappear only to resurface in mediated form through French treatises, sometimes circulating clandestinely. Dall'Olio explores the reasons for such an abrupt disappearance in the context of the royal propaganda pivoting on a legal distinction between kingship and tyranny. Grounding the argument on dynastic descent, the official discourse did not allow for ideas of "good tyranny" and "bad kingship" contained in those ancient writings. Through a survey of how fear was made into the "metabolic pivot" for the descent of kingship into tyranny in a few plays of the late sixteenth century, from Cambises (1560-1561) to The Misfortunes of Arthur (1588) and Mustapha (first written in the 1590s), the article unveils the potentially subversive power of those dramas in dealing with the tyrant's fear. It indirectly casts light on the ambiguous political debate in Macbeth 4.3, where legal and moral distinctions of tyranny unexpectedly call into question individual agency.

The following section opens with Susanne L. Wofford's reading of the two plays as origin stories of political order, where fear concerns the impossibility of connecting part and whole without violence ("Origin Stories of Fear and Tyranny: Blood and Dismemberment in Macbeth [with a Glance at the Oresteia]"). Wofford's interpretation goes beyond the fear felt by the tyrant and/or the avenger and translates them into figures of dismemberment, suggesting awareness of "imperfection" of political systems that claim to contain that violence. While Macbeth brings full circle images of dissevering--starting with Macbeth's "unseaming" of the traitor Macdonwald and closing with Macbeth's own beheading and being shown on a post as a spectacle of punished tyranny--it also suggests tanistic resistance to the foundation of monarchical inheritance. The figures of dismemberment that continue to haunt the finales tendency to represent a stable political order signify that resistance. In this respect, the Eumenides's final incorporation in the new justice of the polis of the polysemic idea of dike (justice, punishment, revenge, penalty), itself a figure of fragmentation, renders Orestes both cleanser and polluter, avenger and tyrant. Thus, the two plays depart in their treatment of violence and fear: while Macbeth eventually pretends not to recognize the evil of tyranny and violence shaping history, the Oresteia keeps memory of it in the roots of its own new political institutions.

The disclosure of Clytemnestra's subterranean fear in Agamemnon, her dialectical confrontation with her husband and his symbolic transformation into a tyrant mirroring her own "oriental" tyranny, but also her finally manifest, nightmarish fear of falling under the avenging fury of Orestes in Choephori constitute the springboard for Anton Bierl's exploration of the Oresteia in "Klytaimestra Tyrannos. Fear and Tyranny in Aeschylus's Oresteia (with a Brief Comparison with Macbeth)" The article retraces the formation of democracy out of tyrannical female fear, stressing the fundamental exchange of gender roles in keeping with the Dionysian subversive logic of tragedy. Bierl challenges received views on Clytemnestra's fearless vengefulness and offers psychoanalytic insights within a political interpretation of the play, compounded with a narrative of tyrannical intemperance absorbed and made famous by Plato. A final comparative note on Shakespeare proposes a more prominently ethical reading of Macbeth in contrast to political Oresteia.

But what are the tyrannical traits of Aegisthus, what his relation to Orestes, and what the implications of Orestes not finally being restored to the throne? Also, what is the fate of the avenger in the Argive myth and in Macbeth? These are the questions raised by the following two articles. Marco Duranti, in "When the King Suffers What the Tyrant Fears: The Disruption of Political Order in Euripides's Electra and Orestes" examines the implications of Aegisthus's fear of Orestes and Electra in a comparative approach to Aeschylus and Euripides. The article discusses Aegisthus's relation to Plato's and Xenophon's tyrants, examining Euripides s original presentation of this character not as the traditional fearful tyrant but as a man afflicted by concrete worries about the avenging agency of the two siblings. At the same time, Euripides also constructs the legitimate heir to the throne, and Aegisthus's counterpart, Orestes, as a likewise fearful character, thus doubling these two "figures of fear" as if in a mirror. Orestes is a matricide, and he too must be punished in turn. As Wofford has pointed out, these are the paradoxes of dike, which render him both the restorer of order and its violator, cleanser and polluter. Euripides looks deeply into Orestes's tragic solitude in ways that the Oresteia does not, probing the extent to which Orestes's own fear of his potential subjects, who have rejected him, is gradually replaced by remorse for the matricide, a crime for which he can neither atone nor free himself from terror of punishment.

Threats of succession are connected with Fleance in Macbeth, but also with two avengers, Malcolm and Macduff. Yet, differently from Orestes, none of them is subject to the contradictions of dike. Besides, Macduff is an "ordinary man," and it is he who will eventually kill the tyrant. Robert S. Miola, in "Orestes and the Light of Day," explores this familial drama of revenge in Aeschylus and Shakespeare, foregrounding their different ethical dimensions with an emphasis upon the Christianized world inhabited by Macbeth. Like the Herod figure of the morality play, Macbeth has children slaughtered on stage, and his fear of judgment is first and foremost divinely inspired. But similarities do emerge in the Oresteia and Macbeth, both showing a comparable progress from "darkness" to "light," from disorder to order. While a direct influence does not need to be demonstrated, Miola argues, Macbeth's own influence on one English Orestes, Thomas Goffe's gruesome university play (1613-18; pub. 1630), is clearly detectable, curiously suggesting processes of transmission in which the genetic roles are manifestly reversed. This essay concludes part 1 of the special issue (51.4 Winter 2017).

The following two articles (Guido Avezzu's "Reticence and phobos in Aeschylus's Agamemnon", and Silvia Bigliazzi's "Linguistic Taboos and the 'Unscene' of Fear in Macbeth") open part 2 of the special issue (52.1 Spring 2018) by shifting the focus upon the language of fear on the performative and psychological planes, enucleating strategies of reticence, both verbal and visual, in the Oresteia and Macbeth, and interrogating their function in relation to dramatic conventions and their symbolic values. Traditionally, reticence may be a very effective rhetorical tool. It may help insinuate what cannot be said openly, suggesting ways to negotiate one's position and relocate the boundaries of discourse in relation to the context. In his elaborate 1589 catalogue of rhetorical figures, The Arte of English Poesie, George Puttenham included that "auricular figure of defect" which the "Greekes call... Aposiopesis": that is, that "figure of silence, or of interruption," which occurs "when we begin to speake a thing, and breake of in the middle way, as if either it needed no further to be spoken of, or that we were ashamed, or afraide to speake it out." (33) A typically dramatic figure, reticence relies upon a mutual understanding of the reasons why discourse needs truncation. When it does not, it prompts the hearer to figure out its causes so that the boundaries of discourse are continuously negotiated between the speakers. Stopping a sentence short implies saying more by saying less, foregrounding an unsaid that, as an accretion to speech, bars language (the reason why something cannot be uttered). It (un)voices the origin of silence and gestures to a known or an unknown prohibition. In the latter case, it allows for surmise and triggers the imaginary construction of possible scenarios behind it. Reticence flouts conversational rules and the implicatures it operates condition drama pragmatically. This is paradoxically true even when there is only one character onstage. In this case, the negotiation concerns the mechanics of self-address, including the extent to which solitude may or may not allow transgression, as well as an indirect dialogue with the audience, whose expectations may either be disappointed or confirmed by the speaker's own silence. In the case of soliloquies on stage, reticence affects the level of characterization, while suspense-inducing silence alerts the audience to sense the anomaly of the situation as well as the potency of the interdiction.

The prologue of Aeschylus's Agamemnon opens precisely upon such a linguistic strategy: the Watchman is alone on stage and his reticence has no specific pragmatic meaning but indirectly to introduce the idea that in Argos something horrendous is taking place. Language cannot say it; it is barred even in solitude. The audience, who only partially share the sentinel's knowledge of the events, are the oblique recipients of a message that premises the action about to unfold upon a taboo and its violation. This famous passage pivoting on a coded language made up of silences, negatives, metonymies, and metaphors conveys the idea of an interdiction to say what is taking place behind the gates of the royal house. Likewise, Macbeth's unsaying the murder through lexical variants of "doing" encodes an inextricable tangle of fear and desire in euphemistic speech, which translates visually into the "unstaging" of the killing of the king, comparable to similar strategies of visual concealment and narrative disclosure in both Aeschylus's Agamemnon and Cassandra's vision in Seneca's Agamemnon. The two articles offer a comparative discussion of how taboo language in Aeschylus and Shakespeare is integrated in drama and in fact shapes its pragmatics. In both cases, the language of phobos makes for a strategic use of space and unseen, or "split," scenes, investing the idea itself of tragic action and reshaping the convention of visual ineffability.

Taking up issues of affect and its loss broached in the last two articles, in "Tyranny and Fear in Aeschylus's Oresteia and Shakespeare's Macbeth" Seth L. Schein explores how Aeschylus and Shakespeare construct ideas of tyranny through contrary approaches to the dramatic and thematic function of fear. Deeply akin in language and conceptual complexity, as well as in their obsession with fear and desire, these two plays frame the action against the backdrop of two different ideas of tyranny, which, as suggested above, are defined in opposition to the political systems of democracy and monarchy, respectively. In the Oresteia, the action takes place "outside," in a space and time "external" to the characters, while fear haunts the play through the voices of the Watchman and the Chorus. In Macbeth, that experience is interiorized, occurring within the mind of the protagonist and his wife. Macbeth's final loss of affect, concomitant with his awareness of the meaninglessness of life (as famously expressed in 5.5), is the opposite of the Athenian positive incorporation of fear in its system of justice: if that incorporation in the Oresteia marks the final overthrow of tyranny on the part of the democratic polis, going beyond fear in Macbeth marks the protagonist's descent into tyranny.

With Eric Nicholson's "Who Watches the Watchmen, Especially When They're on Edge? Liminal Spectatorship in Agamemnon and Macbeth," the discussion moves on to an interpretation of how the two scripts alert the spectators to the dangers and dissimulations of tyranny by suggesting an identification with the liminal gazing of the Watchman and the Porter and their "imperfect" knowing and speaking. The focus is on theatergoing and the function of "opsis" with regard to the way the spectators in the theatre of Dionysus, located on the edge of the Acropolis and the lower city, like the spectators in Southwark playhouses at close contact with the stage jutting into the pit, experienced watching while being aware of proximity and distance, empathic participation and critical detachment. Building on the idea of a tantalizing gazing produced by "imperfect" viewing, Nicholson explores the manifold ways in which the two plays prompt alertness to tyrannical behavior as well as to emotional and intellectual responses of a liminal experience of spectatorship.

Gradually shifting the attention to performance and staging issues, these last articles usher in the third section on modern and contemporary productions of the Oresteia and Macbeth within or related to authoritarian regimes. How have they survived or been affected by censorship and how have they prompted the audience to participate in and, at the same time, to witness experiences of fear? How do these plays lend themselves to unflattering renderings of contemporary tyrannical regimes? Have they been "unmountable" at particular moments in time or in certain cultural contexts where censorship was, and still is, strong? Along these lines, can different (possibly depoliticized) stagings communicate the themes and ideas of the plays in order not to offend the regime within which the performance is produced?

The first question is raised by Carlo Vareschi in "Fear and Loathing in Prague: Tom Stoppard's Cahoot's Macbeth" where he deals with Stoppard's political uses of metatheatre in his 1979 shortened version of the seventy-five-minute performance of the Shakespearean Macbeth that Czech dissident Pavel Kohoot mounted in Prague with his Living-Room Theatre Company in 1978. The focus is on the estranging strategies inherent in the breaking of the fourth wall in such cases as the unexpected intrusion of a Communist Inspector in Macbeth's Porter scene. The potentially shocking effect of being immersed in the inquisitive atmosphere of an authoritarian regime and physically experiencing the threat of flashlights being pointed at you constitutes a major area of Stoppard's experimentation on audience response. Exploiting the cognitive and emotional dimension of liminal spectatorship, involving a vicarious glimpse at regimes of fear within the space of theatre, Stoppard explores the performative power of multiple devices instrumental in emphasizing and/or attenuating psychological tension.

In "Macbeth and Regimes of Reading in Francoist Spain," Keith Gregor raises the challenging question whether Macbeth continues to speak to us today even if totalitarian regimes are not comparable to despotic rules of the past, as Arendt famously argued. The starting point is not Arendt, though, but Julian Barnes's Active narrative of Shostakovich's life, The Noise of Time (2016), where the world is said to have moved on and become more scientific and practical, causing tyrants to have moved on too, toward a total loss of conscience. This would make Shakespeare's treatment of tyranny and fear inadequate to modern times. Instead, Gregor demonstrates Macbeth's power to continue to pose uncomfortable questions to contemporary tyrannical regimes. The ban on the play in Soviet Russia and its surgical cleansing from "dangerous" allusions to the political apparatus in Francoist Spain are telltale examples of the reactions it still elicits from regimes based upon fear. The article discusses how the play was dealt with in Spain with the complacent help of censorship in accurately pruning the text, but also how that regime fostered the extraterritorial creativity of poet and playwright Leon Felipe within the context of exilic literature.

Our journey through tyranny and fear on the tragic stage ends with Avra Sidiropoulou. "Directing as Political Act: the 'Dangers' and 'Fears' of Mounting Aeschylus's Oresteia in Contemporary Periods of 'Tyranny'" brings to the table the political and social role of the director in accepting the challenge of producing the Oresteia today. If the conception and the reception of plays is normally affected by their contexts, performances in times of political tension, Sidiropulou holds, are always liable to politicization. Thus, staging the intrinsically political and, in many ways, ambiguous Aeschylean trilogy is itself a political act whose import is increased at times of authoritarian rule. Sidiropoulou discusses a whole range of twentieth- and twenty-first-century productions of the Oresteia, disclosing the dangers of the resignifying processes at work when propaganda campaigns are launched to promote the apparatus's self-celebration (as in 1936 Berlin or during the Greek Junta). To what extent may Aeschylus teach us to recognize the seeds of tyranny and fear-inducing practices in our increasingly, if covertly, de-democratized world and to resist the sirens of political propaganda? Can Aeschylus help us to understand the mechanics and political strategies of fear in the handling of authoritarian power? The article advocates a serious commitment on the part of directors, who are called to take responsibility for their choices within contexts of more or less overt celebrations and/or constructions of authoritarian power, and actively to respond to the pressure laid upon theatres (political) practices.

Within our own performance culture, like those of ancient Greece and Renaissance England, theatre can alert us to the manipulative uses and abuses of discourses of power. Reinterpreting Aeschylus and Shakespeare today may entail a precisely political act, requiring that we take a stand in the processes of remembering and forgetting, reviving the past or canceling it. As Bruce Smith noticed with regard to the staging of ancient scripts in the early modern world, "drama lets us countenance ideas and feelings that may challenge social consensus; it finds ways of dealing with those ideas and feelings, either by discrediting them in the course of the play or by changing the terms of consensus in the end." (34) That is why "it should come as no surprise that conflict marks Renaissance revivals of classical drama when conflict marked the contexts in which those revivals were staged." (35) Conflict marks many contexts of contemporary revivals of the Oresteia and Macbeth too. Aware that our millennium of fears is traversed by ever-changing and ever more subtle forms of authoritarian discourses, we still need to learn how to cope with them as well as with our own fears. By gaining an understanding of how fear intrinsically belongs to authoritarian power, as the ancients taught us and as Aeschylus and Shakespeare powerfully dramatized in their own ways, perhaps we may have a chance to disclose, resist, and oppose contemporary regimes of fear at different levels. Through eleos and phobos, tragic theatre may teach us how.



University of Verona

This introduction is reprinted from Comparative Drama volume 51, number 4, which contains the first six essays in "The Tyrants Fear."


(1) Paul Shorey, trans., Plato, vol. 6 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969)."[phrase omitted] John Burnet, ed., Platonis opera, vol. 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1902).

(2) Harris Rackham, trans., Aristotle, vol. 21 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1944). "[phrase omitted]. W. David Ross, ed., Aristotelis politico (Oxford: Clarendon, 1957).

(3) Aristotle, Poetics, ed. and trans. Stephen Halliwell (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 1448al-5, 1448al6-18, 1449b24-28; 32-33, 34-35, 46-47. As Halliwell notices, "Aristotle's goal can best be seen as the progressive demarcation of an area of possibilities which simultaneously codifies existing achievements of the tragedians, and legislates for the ideal scope of tragedy. This demarcation is initially embodied in the definition of genre (49b24-8), which accentuates two features peculiar to tragedy (and to its Homeric adumbration): the structure of an 'elevated' action, and the arousal of 'pity and fear'. The first of these features... represents partly a generic gravity of tone, but also (or at the same time) a matter of ethical intensity. 'Elevated,' spoudaios, is the term used to denote the typical level of characterisation found in tragedy and epic" (ibid., "Introduction," 13). For a recent discussion of catharsis and its interpretation over time, see the special issue Catharsis, Ancient and Modern, ed. Gherardo Ugolini, Skene. Journal of Theatre and Drama Studies 2, no. 1 (2016).

(4) Xenophon, Hiero 6.4-5: "[phrase omitted]." (To fear the crowd, yet to fear solitude; to fear being without a guard, and to fear the very men who are guarding; to be unwilling to have unarmed men about me, yet not gladly to see them armed--how could this fail to be a painful condition? Furthermore, to trust strangers more than citizens, barbarians more than Greeks; to desire to keep the free slaves, and be compelled to make the slaves free--do not all these things seem to you signs of a soul distracted by fears?) The Greek text is based on Xenophontis opera omnia, ed. Edgar C. Marchant, vol. 5, Opuscula (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960). The English translation is from Leo Strauss, On Tyranny: Revised and Expanded Edition including the Strauss-Kojeve Correspondence, ed. Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth, trans. Marvin Kendrick and Seth Bernardete (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 6.4-5.

(5) Seneca, De clementia, ed. and trans. Susanna Braund (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 1.19.5. These lines end the following passage: "Sed ne nunc quidem illi cursus tutus est; tantum enim necesse est timeat quantum timeri uoluit, et manus omnium obseruet et eo quoque tempore quo non captatur peti se iudicet nullumque momentum immune a metu habeat. hanc aliquis agere uitam sustinet cum liceat innoxium aliis, ob hoc securum, salutare potentiae ius laetis omnibus tractare?" (But even as it is, this man's course is not safe: it is inevitable that he experiences as much fear as he wants to inspire. He must watch everyone's hands and reckon himself under attack even when no one is trying to lay hold of him and experience no moment that is free from terror. Can anyone put up with this kind of life when it is permitted him to exercise the privilege of power beneficially to everyone's delight, without hurting others and thereby freed from anxiety?)

(6) For a succinct but cogent distinction between the regime of "Terror" in the "internal sphere of the state" and that of "terror" in the "external realm of war," see Adriana Cavarero, "For a History of Terror," in Adriana Cavarero, Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 78.

(7) "Rex est qui posuit metus / et diri mala pectoris" (A Kyng he is that feare hath layde aside, / And all affects that in the breast are bread), says the second Chorus of Thyestes, echoing stoic positions, and continues: "mens regnum bona possidet." (It is the mynde that onely makes a king.) Seneca, Thyestes, in Leon Herrmann, ed., Seneque: Tragedies, vol. 2 (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1961), 348-49, 380. English quotations are from the translation by Jasper Heywood of Seneca, Thyestes, in Thomas Newton, ed., Seneca: His Tenne Tragedies Translated into Englysh (London: Thomas Marsh, 1581), 26v and 27r. However, differences between Seneca's theoretical positions and his dramatic treatments of kingship and tyranny have often been pointed out, and Thyestes, in particular, has raised controversial views as to the actual stoicism of Thyestes; see e.g., Alessandro Schiesaro, 'The Passions in the Play. Thyestes and the Dynamics of Senecan Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 139-76. See also, Patrick Gray, "Shakespeare vs. Seneca: Competing Visions of Human Dignity," in Brill's Companion to the Reception of Senecan Tragedy, ed. Eric Dodson-Robinson (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 216ff.

(8) "Ubi circumspexit quaeque fecit quaeque facturus est et conscientiam suam plenam sceleribus ac tormentis adaperuit, saepe mortem timet, saepius optat, inuisior sibi quam seruientibus" (when he has surveyed what he has done and intends to do and has uncovered his conscience brimming over with crimes and acts of torture, often fears death but more often longs for it, hating himself more than his slaves do). Seneca, De clementia, 1.13.3.

(9) "O miserable ilium... qui caedibus ac rapinis potentiam exercuit; qui suspecta sibi cuncta reddidit tarn externa quam domestica, cum arma metuat ad arma confugiens." Ibid.

(10) Ibid., 1.13.2.

" Quotations from the Latin text of Seneca, Agamemnon in Herrmann, Seneque: Tragedies, 115; the English text is from John Studley's translation of Seneca, Agamemnon in Newton, Seneca: His Tenne Tragedies, 143r. References to line and page, respectively, will follow the quotations.

(12) William Shakespeare, Macbeth, ed. Sandra Clark and Pamela Mason, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ser. (London: Thomson Learning, 2015), 3.4.134-36. All references to William Shakespeare's Macbeth are to this edition.

(13) When he comes to decide whether to inform his own sons of his murderous plans and make them accomplice in it, he says, "male agis, recedis, anime: si parcis tuis, / parces et illis" (324-25; Thou leau'ste thy purpose ill my mynde: if thou thine owne [sons] forbeare, / Thou sparest him). Heywood, Thyestes, 26.

(14) "Maiora cruciant quam ut moras possim pati; / flammae medullas et cor exurunt meum, /mixtus dolori subdidit stimulosque timor, / invidia pulsat pectus," 131-34 (143v; Now feble feare stil egges mee on (with dolor beyng prest) /And cankred hate with thwacking thumpes doth bounce vpon my brest / The blynded boy that louers hartes doth reaue with deadly stroake, / Entangled hath my linked mynd with leawd and wanton yoke).

(15) "Proinde omisi regimen e manibus mei," 141 (144r; My kingdome therfore I cast of, my sceptor I forsake).

(16) Adrian Poole, '"The Initiate Fear': Aeschylus, Shakespeare," in Adrian Poole, Tragedy. Shakespeare and the Greek Example (Oxford: Basil Balckwell, 1987), 15.

(17) Ibid., vii.

(18) Occasional arguments in favor of direct filiation have been put forward over time on the basis of thematic or dramatic similarities. Earl Showerman's "Shakespeare's Greater Greek: Macbeth and Aeschylus' Oresteia," Brief Chronicles 3 (2011): 37-70, is one of the most recent. As Charles and Michelle Martindale have rightly pointed out, though, "structural arguments alone are always insufficient to prove direct influence." Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1990; repr., 2005), 43. Showerman's only attempt to demonstrate lexical echoing concerns an assumedly similar use of the "net imagery" in the two plays, and is based on the wrong assumption that Morshead's modern translations of [phrase omitted] (Agamemnon 1382) and [phrase omitted] (Coephori 984) as "trammel" may coincide with Shakespeare's own interpretation of the text in 1.7.3 ("trammel up"): E.D.A. Morshead, trans., Aeschylus: Agamemnon, The Choephori and The Eumenides in The Complete Greek Drama, ed. Whitney J. Oates and Eugene O'Neill, Jr. (New York: Random House, 1938). Incidentally it may be noticed that those [phrase omitted] and [phrase omitted] are translated as "anything thrown round" and "covering, cover, wrapper," respectively, in Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry Stuart Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996). Showerman also fails to notice that the Latin version circulating at the time also in England, Saint-Ravy's, lacked all passages where the net is mentioned but one, when Cassandra calls it in her vision "rete": "Sed rete coniu(n)x et in causa erit / caedis." Aeschyli poetae vetustissimi tragoediae sex... summa fide ac diligentia... ad verbum conversae per Ioannem Sanravium (Basilieae: per Ioannem Oporinum, 1555), 1115-16. The same Saint-Ravy's 1555 translation had the word "tegmentum" (covering, cover, wrapper), not net, least of all trammel, in the passage quoted by Showerman from Choephori. Neither examples from Agamemnon 1382 and Choephori 984 elicit an interpretation of the word as "trammel" through Saint-Ravy's Latin mediation, the only one which could apparently be accessed at the time. For more convincing critical studies of the possible impact of the Latinized Oresteia on contemporary theatre and Shakespeare see note 31 below.

(19) Hanna Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, new ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), 460.

(20) Mary Ann McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare (Boston: Lexington Books, 2001), 14.

(21) For a comprehensive transhistorical interpretation, see Rebecca W. Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990).

(22) Aeschylus, Aeschyli septem quae supersunt tragoedias, ed. Denys Page (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972); translations are from Greek Tragedies, ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, Third Edition, ed. Mark Griffith and Glenn W. Most (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013), vol. 1: Aeschylus. Agamemnon, vol. 2: Aeschylus. The Libation bearers, vol. 3: Aeschylus. The Eumenides.

(23) "[phrase omitted]" (973-74; Behold the twin tyrannies of our land, these two / who killed my father and who sacked my house).

(24) The word "tyrant" occurs fifteen times: besides the passage in 3.6 and the reference in 5.8 quoted above, see 3.6.25; 4.3.12, 36, 45, 104, 179, 186; 5.2.11; 5.4.8, 5.6.7; 5.7.10, 15, 26.

(25) Notoriously, Hobbes was later to theorize a similarly crucial role of fear in the establishment of monarchical power, albeit on different grounds. In Leviathan, "every man" is conceived of as being driven by a will to power and, therefore, "inclined to kill others and fears being killed.... It is precisely the fear of imminent death, that is, the desire to keep oneself alive in a situation of peace and security, that drives men to conclude a pact by which they 'conferre al their power and strength upon one Man, or upon one Assembly of men, that may reduce all their Wills, by plurality, unto one Will.'" Cavarero, Horrorism, 79.

(26) For a recent reassessment of criticism on Seneca's influence on Shakespeare see Gray, "Shakespeare vs. Seneca," 203-14.

(27) "The three sixteenth-century English productions of Greek tragedy that we know something about all seem to have been heavy-handed attempts to hammer out ethical irregularities into dogmatic certainties. Stagings of Sophocles' Ajax at King's College, Cambridge, in 1564, of Euripides' Phoenician Women at Gray's Inn in 1566, and of Sophocles' Antigone probably at St. John's College, Cambridge, in the early 1580s show us a variety of attempts to turn ancient tragedies into medieval morality plays." Bruce R. Smith, Ancient Scripts & Modern Experience on the English Stage 1500-1700 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 215-16.

(28) See Tania Demetriou and Tanya Pollard, ed., "Homer and Greek Tragedy in Early Modern England's Theatres," special issue, Classical Receptions Journal 9, no. 1 (2017); Tanya Pollard, "Greek Playbooks and Dramatic Forms in Early Modern England," in Forms of Early Modern Writings, Allison Deutermann and Adras Kisery, ed. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 99-123.

(29) Tania Demetriou and Tanya Pollard, "Homer and Greek Tragedy in Early Modern England's Theatre: An Introduction," in "Homer and Greek Tragedy in Early Modern England's Theatres," ed. Tania Demetriou and Tanya Pollard, special issue, Classical Reception Journal 9, no. 1 (2017): 1-35 (18).

(30) As was usual in the printed editions of the Greek text up to the 1557 Aeschylus edited by Pier Vettori.

(11) Louise Schleiner, "Latinized Greek Drama in Shakespeare's Writing of 'Hamlet,'" Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 29-48; Inga-Stina Ewbank, '"Striking too short at Greeks': The Transmission of Agamemnon on the English Renaissance Stage," in Fiona Macintosh, Pantelis Michelakis, Edith Hall, and Oliver Taplin, ed., Agamemnon in Performance: 458 BC to AD 2004 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 37-52.

(32) Whose influence has been detected especially in Hamlet; see Schleiner, "Latinized Greek Drama."

(33) George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (London: Richard Field, 1589), 139.

(34) Smith, Ancient Scripts & Modern Experience, 8.

(35) Ibid.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]
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Author:Bigliazzi, Silvia
Publication:Comparative Drama
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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