Article Title

Who Watches the Watchmen, Especially When They're on Edge? Liminal Spectatorship in Agamemnon and Macbeth


Eric Nicholson


The politically laden question “Who watches the watchmen?,” classically posed by Juvenal (et alia) and employed as a keynote refrain in Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’s acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen (published 1987), ushers in this article’s comparative appraisal of liminal spectatorship in Agamemnon and Macbeth. It argues that the ancient Greek tragedy’s Watchman character, who opens the entire Oresteia trilogy positioned on the edge, wearily waiting for a beacon light atop the roof of the Atreides’s palace/stage’s skenè, embodies—and through the crucial use of synesthesia, also reflects/echoes—the watching audience members in the Athenian “theatron”: the latter is indeed a seeing place, itself situated on the border between the Acropolis and the lower city, and during the spring “Great Dionysia” dedicated to Dionysus of Eleutherae, a mountain village on the frontier between Attica and Boeotia. Aeschylus’s Watchman and his dramatic descendant the comically “drunken” (or more accurately, hung-over and sleep-deprived) Porter in Shakespeare’s tragedy have much in common, including the facts that they are marginal characters, without names, who appear only once in their respective plays yet resonate through them, especially by expressing the subordinate working man’s skeptical views on the ambition, power, and hypocrisy of “Watchmen”-Tyrants. These edgy figures communicate precarious tensions, vitally linked to their being in the border zone, where they signal audiences to stay on the personal and political look-out.

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