Mar 2 2012 09:00
March 2nd, 2012 9am - 5pm
room 232 of the Pyle Center
What is cruelty? Is it historically determined? Do its meaning, representation, and reality differ in various religious or national communities?
What is the relationship between cruelty and justice? To whom can one be cruel?
These are the questions this conference will address, from the point of view of early modern European culture.
9:00 am Ullrich Langer (UW-Madison), Director, CEMS: Opening remarks
9:30 am Kathleen Perry-Long (Cornell University): "Literary Dissonance:
Cruelty and the Reader in d'Aubigné's Les Tragiques"
Theodore Agrippa d'Aubigne's hostility towards his readers ("vous, serfs de vanite") is evident
throughout his epic, Les Tragiques. He frequently puts the reader in a position of responsibility
for past events, for example in the episode of the cannibal mother by asking the reader if slhe
wishes to see more. In this paper, I hope to argue that d'Aubigne also seeks to create discomfort
in his reader by mixing genres and aesthetic registers in order to frustrate expectations he has
created in the reader. In some of the most brutal episodes ofthe epic, he uses the language of
Petrarchan love poetry, classical intertexts, and contemporary history in order to create a form of
literary dissonance that evokes both desire and pain, thus intensifYing both the potential sense of
guilt in the reader and the grotesque quality of the violence. The disturbing effect of these
unexpected combinations suggests that what has often been labeled the "uneven" writing of Les
Tragiques is in fact deliberate experimentation in new forms of representation in the attempt to
adequately represent the novel horrors of the Wars of Religion.
~ 10:30-10:45 am Break ~
10:45 am Steven Hutchinson (UW-Madison): "Cruel Turks in Early Modern Alteritist Discourse"
Unless qualified - as when Hamlet says "I must be cruel only to be kind" - cruelty rarely
attaches itself an "I" or a "we". In early modern usage as well as in our own epoch, I'm not cruel,
but you are, or he/she or they are: in the second person singular or plural, telling people they are
cruel tends to function as a complaint or an accusation, sometimes with the aim of altering their
behavior towards our own suffering, whereas saying other people in the third person are cruel
involves making an extremely negative moral judgment masked as an objective character trait.
To be cruel is to be inhuman, which is frequently a substitute for cruel in early modem texts and
points to cruelty as quintessentially contrary to what humans are supposed to be. But cruelty is
also, as Nietzsche would point out centuries later, "one of the oldest festive joys of mankind"
hence all too human - and such public enactments of cruelty were common in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Yet the meaning of cruelty varied according to the "genre" or type of discourse in which
it appeared. For example, political treatises typically signaled tyranny as the prototype of cruelty.
Amorous poetry and prose pointed especially to women indifferent or disdainful towards the
supposed sufferings of enamored men as "cruel", but such "cruelty" could disappear with a
single gesture and was rarely viewed as a permanent or defining personal trait.
Alteritist discourse in early modern Europe most often designated the Muslim "other" as embodying cruelty,
which was seen as an enduring, indelible quality, even though (historically speaking)
cruelty was probably quite evenly distributed on both sides of the Christian-Muslim divide.
Cruel Moors and cruel Turks populate many genres of European texts during this period to such
an extent that cruel is an epithet that simply highlights a dominant quality and by no means
differentiates one person from another. Curiously, the kind of "Turks" most railed against, and
described as cruelest, are the so-called renegades, i.e., converts from Christianity to Islam, who
are most often characterized (especially by religious writers) as filled with a deep hate that turns
into the unspeakably cruel treatment of Christian captives: thus the cruelest Muslim other is us.
What's more, Catholicism needed fresh martyrs, and the best way to produce them was to get so
called renegades to loudly claim that they were returning to Christianity, thus giving the Muslim
authorities no choice but to have them killed as apostates. Without cruel Turks there would be no
Christian martyrs. As a renegade about to be martyred in one of Cervantes plays says: "Don't
change his intention, good Jesus, ... for my salvation depends on the qadi's cruelty." My talk will
explore further the means by which such alteritist discourse projected cruelty away from us onto
Moors and Turks, and the ethical values that accompanied this transference.
~ 12:00-1:30 pm Open Lunch ~
1:30 pm Mitchell Merback (Johns Hopkins University): "Massacre of the Innocents: Cruelty Tropes, Sanctified Emotions,
and Shared Symbols in Medieval and Renaissance Art"
This paper examines the cult of the Holy Innocents and late medieval images depicting the
Massacre ofthe Innocents, with special attention paid to the visual tropes of cruelty and their use
in provoking the intertwined emotions of compassion and contempt. Sanctified collective
emotion in the commemoration of child-martyrs, it will be argued, carried with it a polemical,
even retaliatory charge. During periods of anti-Jewish fervor, audiences for violent
hagiographical imagery --like those who attended the "Plays of the Holy Innocents"
(part of the cycle performed during Corpus Christi) -- learned to associate the atrocities committed by
Herod's men with those characteristically "Jewish" forms of cruelty that played themselves out,
according to the stereotyped accusations, in ritual cannibalism and host-sacrilege. But
Ashkenazic Jewry had its own child-martyrs; in fifteenth-century Germany, during their
Passover rituals, Jews commemorated the blood of innocents poured out in Egypt. This shows
that Jews could likewise draw upon paradigmatic biblical cruelties to reproach their Christian
enemies and call upon God to avenge the blood shed by their oppressors. That the two memorials
shared a common narrative origin in Exodus meant that shared symbols were, under times of
duress, also contested symbols.
2:30 pm Lesley Skousen (UW-Madison): "Branding Sin into the Skin: Punishment and Mercy in Early Modern England"
The early modern legal system in England moved away from the corporeal-based medieval
punishments during and after the Reformation. During this period, ideas of mercy and clemency
occupied a larger grey area in the criminal justice system. The once-clerical privilege benefit of
clergy, which provided immunity from punishment for some felonies, was applied more broadly
to the larger popUlation. Eventually the extension of this privilege would encompass 24% oftrial
records, constituting a major impact on the lives ofpeople throughout England. The key to this
extension of mercy and forgiveness was an increased reliance on branding the body of a
criminal. By marking a criminals' hand or face, the system embedded their crime into their skin
permanently. They lived, but on borrowed time that was marked by the burn in their flesh. In this
paper, I will explore the institutional significance of relying increasingly on branded
punishments rather than the more final execution. The paper will also consider the various
crimes that led to branding and how branded skin would affect a survivor's life in the closely-knit
early modern community.
~ 3:30-3:45 pm Break ~
3:45 pm Sabine Mödersheim (UW-Madison): "Cruelty in Emblems"
In an age of excessive force and brutality during the 30 years war in Europe and in the brutal
colonizing encounters with the non-European worlds, images of alleged, imagined, and actual
cruelties abound. The moralizing genre of emblem books in particular provides an insight into
early modem concepts of affects of excess such as hate, ire, passion, and cruelty. Often emblems
single out such vices to mark and condemn negative behaviors and attitudes in order to draw a
lesson of acceptable and preferable conduct. Examples are drawn from classical texts, the bible,
or history, showing cruel kings and tyrants (Montenay); other examples examine the cruel
actions of parents, families and communities (Alciato). In my contribution I propose to present a
cross-section of examples from 16th and 17th century emblem books ranging from the cruelty of
tyrants to the cruelties of lovers.
Please email Ben Hair with questions.