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NO BRAINER: THE EARLY MODERN TRAGEDY OF TORTURE

James Simpson
Religion & Literature
Vol. 43, No. 3 (autumn 2011), pp. 1-23
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23347086
Page Count: 23
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NO BRAINER: THE EARLY MODERN TRAGEDY OF TORTURE
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Abstract

Legally-sanctioned torture for the purposes of gathering evidence is extremely rare in the Anglo-American tradition. Aside from the Bush administration, the only other period in which legally-sanctioned torture was practiced was early modern England, 1540-1640, concentrated in the reign of Elizabeth I. This essay initially looks to, and seeks to resolve, a paradox of early modern English torture: the torturers for the most part deny that they torture; and the tortured (for the most part Catholics) do not protest torture's illegality; instead they protest its inhumanity. After resolving the paradox, I turn to the stage, the space of play, and look to the ways in which some late medieval plays and one early modern play (King Lear) uses the play to protest the torturer's "playfulness."

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