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The Tyrant’s Fear: Aeschylus and Shakespeare

A Two-Part Special Issue Edited by Silvia Bigliazzi

Literary and dramatic representations of tyranny abound since antiquity alongside critical distinctions between different forms of totalitarian and oppressive regimes. Yet, book-length studies on this topic are relatively few. As Mary Ann McGrail remarked in one of the rare substantial contributions to Shakespeare’s tyrants, “what tyranny does to the state qua state and to its individual subjects . . . is best understood by looking within the disordered mind and passions of the tyrant himself” (Tyranny in Shakespeare, 2001). After Xenophon in his Hiero, Plato was the first to highlight the condition of fear as typical of the tyrant, and Aristotle detailed the political strategies the tyrant used to check his own fear of loss of power and retribution, in turn causing fear in his subjects. Accordingly, tyrant’s is understood as both subjective and objective genitive, and as such fear will be considered as the fundamental, if seldom investigated, condition of tyranny.

But why Aeschylus’s Oresteia and Shakespeare’s Macbeth? Because they provide fundamental models for our understanding of the mechanics of ancient and modern tyranny within a context of transhistorical continuities which look ahead to contemporary experiences of tyrannical regimes. The aim is not only to trace direct legacies, but also, and especially, to interrogate Aeschylus’s and Shakespeare’s complex responses to ideas of tyranny, and explore their potential to speak to us today. Theirs are perhaps the classical and early modern dramas most implicated with the issue of the tyrant’s fear at all levels, individual as well as collective, entailing a peculiar exploration of the performative possibilities of staging, or unstaging, fear and its causes. In both the Oresteia myth and Macbeth, fear intertwines with desire prompting a deep reflection upon human relations and the foundation of rule. In both, a questioning of the idea of “security” and “perfection” in relation to human agency, individual choice and responsibility within (or beyond) a transcendental design (be it political, dynastic, or supernatural) is raised. A comparative approach casts light upon the ideas of power, legitimacy, subjectivity, agency, and ethos as well as the capacity of theatre to perform such questions, and construct and pass down to us fundamental cultural paradigms alongside their own questioning. The articles identify both direct and indirect filiations as well as paradigmatic connections, leading the discussion to focus upon transcultural relations. The special issue considers the sixteenth century as a foundational age for the modern reinterpretaton of classical models, and contemporaneity as a crucial moment for their exploration and reinvention in the face of ever new cultural and political challenges.

Contents of Volume 51, Issue 4 (2017) Winter

Introduction: The Tyrant’s Fear
Silvia Bigliazzi

Φόβος φυτεύει τύραvvov: The Tyrant’s Fears on the Attic Tragic Stage
Gherardo Ugolini

Xenophon and Plato in Elizabethan Culture: The Tyrant’s Fear before Macbeth
Francesco Dall’Olio

Origin Stories of Fear and Tyranny: Blood and Dismemberment in Macbeth (with a Glance at the Oresteia)
Susanne Wofford

Klytaimestra Tyrannos: Fear and Tyranny in Aeschylus’ Oresteia (with a brief Comparison with Macbeth)
Anton Bierl

When the King Suffers What the Tyrant Fears: the Disruption of Political Order in Euripides’s Electra and Orestes
Marco Duranti

Orestes and the Light of Day
Robert S. Miola

Contents of Volume 52, Issue 1 (2018) Spring

Reticence and Phobos in Aeschylus' Agamemnon
Guido Avezzù

Linguistic Taboos and the “Unscene” of Fear in Macbeth
Silvia Bigliazzi

Tyranny and Fear in Aeschylus’ Oresteia and Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Seth L. Schein

Who Watches the Watchmen, Especially When They’re On Edge?: Liminal Spectatorship in Agamemnon and Macbeth
Eric Nicholson

Fear and Loathing in Prague: Tom Stoppard’s Cahoot’s Macbeth
Carlo Vareschi

Macbeth and Regimes of Reading in Francoist Spain
Keith Gregor

Directing as Political Act: The “Dangers” and “Fears” of Mounting Aeschylus’ Oresteia in Contemporary Periods of ‘Tyranny’
Avra Sidiropoulou