City Tragedy on the Renaissance Stage in France, Spain, and England

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Analyzing dramas that depict the fall of, or civic upheaval in, urban centers (both historical and legendary), this book establishes the author’s concept of “city tragedy” as a subgenre of tragedy in Renaissance theatrical practice. Using some two dozen texts (some by obscure authors, some by well-known playwrights such as Shakespeare and Calderón) from about 1560 to 1650, the book traces the different modes of creation of the city as principal character of the tragedy, then examines how an expanded notion of civic sin becomes its “fatal flaw.” This study is groundbreaking not only in its definition of the term “city tragedy” but in its examination of some of the sociological themes city tragedy presents – the city’s frequent depiction as a victimized woman, individual passion’s culpability in bringing death to the masses, the use of the notion of divine favor and divine wrath in the fate of a city for propagandistic ends. Finally, this study is timely in its discussion of recent dramatized portrayals of the events of 9/11, as it demonstrates that the patterns and conventions of city tragedies of 400 years ago are the very ones we use today.


“Dr. Sharon King’s study offers an original contribution to the history of theatre in Europe from the mid-sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth. Comparative in approach, her work calls for a reconsideration of a distinct body of dramatic works within each of the three national literatures represented. Of the dramas uncovered for us here by Dr. King, only a few belong to the academic and theatrical canon. Some are in fact only known by specialists, but the majority have not until now been made the object of focused study….The principal strength of the study is to define this new genre of theatre, which first appears in the second half of the sixteenth century, as a response to Aristotelian tragedy that is unique to the European Renaissance….demonstrates how this type of theatre presents itself as tragedy lived by a community – in particular by a city, capable of assuming in its turn the characteristics of the traditional tragic hero, or rather heroine: London, La Rochelle, Cabrières, Breda, Zamor, or Rome, among others, are treated as feminine characters who are harassed, besieged, violated, destroyed – dramatic subjects with a fatal flaw….Also brought up is the grand dramatic structure of these plays that envisage the fall of the city as heroine, as victim of a cruel enemy, as well as the lessons – often propaganda – that accompanied the staging of the play in the eyes of the community….an in-depth scholarly work, laying the foundation for a full rehabilitation of this rich theatrical corpus. Eminently comparative in its transcultural and transnational emphases, this study reveals the unity of a genre that coheres three national literatures. The interdisciplinary method is attentive to the historical, social, cultural, political, and religious contexts that give birth to City Tragedy; yet the author always remains close to the texts, thematically and stylistically as well as poetically, frequently citing the original dramas that the bulk of her readers will discover here for the first time.” – Professor Jean-Claude Carron, UCLA

“…an illuminating and highly organized study…offers a deliberate contrast with city comedy and rehabilitates a series of plays that otherwise would be inaccessible to all but the most dedicated students of literature….Her very lucid introduction plots the distinctive content of each chapter, as well as offering a convincing justification of her choice of subject. Her Afterword – “The Tragedy of Our Time” – is an intelligent attempt to find in contemporary events the situations that made city tragedy such a rich and relevant genre. Dr. King show acumen in her readings, and care in her synthesis of the plays she has studied. She writes elegantly, and translates with flair and precision.” – Dr. C. Brian Morris, UCLA

“Sharon King’s study of City Tragedy is a significant achievement. Very few scholars can successfully claim to have rediscovered a lost genre. Given the Renaissance preoccupation with depicting idealized urban settings, both in painting and on the stage, her arguments are especially convincing….King is equally adept in her discussion of Spanish and French plays whose authors have been previously unknown to British and American theater historians and Renaissance scholars. King writes in a clear, lucid style with great empathy for dramatic meaning and theatrical action. Her translations reclaim the texts from historical obscurity and capture the attention of the reader.” – Michael Hackett, UCLA

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Commendatory Preface; Introduction
Part I: The City in Peril
1. City Identity: Construct and Character
2. “The People are the City”: Citizens and Choruses
3. “Fit for Spoil”: The City as Woman
4. The Tragic Hero/Heroine and the City
5. Fate, Fame, and Forebears: The Self-Definition of City Tragedy
Part II: The Fall of the City
6. The Enemy Without
7. The Enemy Within
8. Love and War
9. “Les Dieux sont noz amis”: City Tragedy as Propaganda
10. The Battle Beautiful: Techniques of Siege and War
11. The City Transformed: Consequences of a City’s Downfall
12. The Death and Rebirth of the City
Conclusion: City Tragedy Today
Afterword: The Tragedy of Our Time
Bibliography; Index

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