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Empathy with the Devil: Movement, Kinesthesia, and Affect in The Castle of Perseverance

Wright, Clare (2019) Empathy with the Devil: Movement, Kinesthesia, and Affect in The Castle of Perseverance. Theatre Survey, 60 (2). pp. 179-206. ISSN 0040-5574. (doi:10.1017/S0040557419000048)

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Abstract

In 1997 Claire Sponsler argued that, contrary to conventional interpretations, the anarchic, disruptive bodies of sin in medieval morality plays do not “unproblematically and unilaterally lead to the ratification of virtue over vice.” Instead, “the memory of the pleasures of misbehavior, of the satisfactions that come from unruly bodies allowed free rein” lingered with spectators to the extent that any “attempts made by these plays to bring misbehavior to a halt look highly unsatisfactory and incomplete.” For Sponsler, the powerful allure of vice performed was such that morality plays would have been unable fully “to negate the charms of misgovernance” they enacted. In this article, however, I want to argue against Sponsler's assumption and investigate how one English morality play, The Castle of Perseverance, understood very well the allure of performed sin and actively cultivated it as part of its dramaturgical and didactic strategies. All morality plays, as Sponsler observes, use representations of “disorderly behavior grounded in the misuse of bodies and commodities,” investing these figures of sin “with remarkable energy, interest, and vitality, so much so that the vices are … very seductive.” The Castle is no exception, and the vast majority of its roughly three thousand lines are spoken by the Three Enemies of Man and their affiliated Sins. In addition, the playtext also provides unusually rich, detailed descriptions of how these spiritual enemies and sins should move around the performance space. Drawing on the theory of kinesthetic empathy, I examine the kinesic dimension of these “unruly bodies” and argue, contrary to Sponsler, that it is their presence, and the audience's own embodied responses to them, that deepens and enhances, rather than detracts from, the play's moral message.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1017/S0040557419000048
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Clare Wright
Date Deposited: 30 Apr 2019 11:41 UTC
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2019 09:45 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/73695 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Wright, Clare: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1798-4299
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