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May 22, 2003
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The Shattering of the Self

Violence, Subjectivity, and Early Modern Texts

In The Shattering of the Self: Violence, Subjectivity, and Early Modern Texts, Cynthia Marshall reconceptualizes the place and function of violence in Renaissance literature. During the Renaissance an emerging concept of the autonomous self within art, politics, religion, commerce, and other areas existed in tandem with an established, popular sense of the self as fluid, unstable, and volatile. Marshall examines an early modern fascination with erotically charged violence to show how texts of various kinds allowed temporary release from an individualism that was constraining. Scenes such as Gloucester's blinding and Cordelia's death in King Lear or the dismemberment and sexual violence depicted in Titus Andronicus allowed audience members not only a release but a "shattering"—as opposed to an affirmation—of the self.

Marshall draws upon close readings of Shakespearean plays, Petrarchan sonnets, John Foxe's Acts and Monuments of the Christian Martyrs, and John Ford's The Broken Heart to successfully address questions of subjectivity, psychoanalytic theory, and identity via a cultural response to art. Timely in its offering of an account that is both historically and psychoanalytically informed, The Shattering of the Self argues for a renewed attention to the place of fantasy in this literature and will be of interest to scholars working in Renaissance and early modern studies, literary theory, gender studies, and film theory.

About the Author

Cynthia Marshall is a professor of English at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.


Marshall effectively brings to our attention the variety of ways in which late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century texts successfully exploited means to debunk the emergent concept of selfhood... An original and stimulating contribution to the field of Renaissance studies, offering insights that go far beyond the boundaries of a specific discipline.

- Antonella Dalla Torre - Renaissance Quarterly

In this interesting study of violence in early modern English drama, Marshall sets out to demonstrate how these texts offer their audiences an experience of psychic fracture that results from conflicting yet coexistent perceptions of subjectivity.

- Choice


Brilliantly employing the insights of Freudian, Lacanian and post-Lacanian psychoanalysis in a series of close textual readings, Marshall demonstrates the early modern self's desire for self-dissolution in the rough textual pleasures of jouissance and connects that desire with contemporary interest in the ethics of pornography and other violent forms of spectatorship. This is a study of major importance to which I will turn again and again.

- Gail Kern Paster, George Washington University, Editor, Shakespeare Quarterly

Cynthia Marshall's brilliant and challenging book investigates the perverse pleasure catered by some of the most violent texts of the early modern period. At once deploying and strongly taking issue with mainstream New Historicism, Marshall provokes wide-ranging reconsideration of the dynamics of early modern literary production and audience-response.

- Jonathan V. Crewe, Dartmouth College

Scholarly, wonderfully wise, detailed and painful.

- Bob J. Barker

Marshall leaves her own readers with a rich sense of what it may have meant, and may still mean, to lose oneself in the violent pleasures of Renaissance textuality.

- Patricia A. Cahill - Modern Philology

Elegant book... the book's reach goes beyond studies of the early modern period.

- Tzachi Zamir - Partial Answers
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9780801876431 : the-shattering-of-the-self-marshall
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232 Pages
$50.00 USD

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