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For Hegel, the trespasser’s experience of fear, when submitted to the penal code, is always embodied by another person, i.e., the executor of the sentence or the “lord of this reality.” This dread, just as the prospect of punishment that sparks it, is absolute, because alien, and is equated with a fear of death, the ultimate fear.
This paper argues, however, that the implications of Shakespeare’s dramatic treatment of fear are best understood when read in light of early modern theological literature and its attempts to finely rationalize the experience of fear.Chastisement scenes are more or less prominent in each one of these plays.Sometimes they relate only to secondary characters or inset plots, or are even reduced to a very short, reported story within the play, as is the case with the execution of the treacherous Thane of Cawdor in Put together, these scenes of chastisement, execution, or reprieve, suggest that punishment is ineffective in deterring from further wrong-doing (Macbeth is not instructed, for instance, by the example of Cawdor’s treason and execution) and that punishment is ineffective in putting an end to fear, for fear breeds hate which, in turn, breeds more fear.We are given a commanding view of how the use of fear or terror plays into the exercise of power, but it is seldom explored from within or for itself.To find a more intimate view of the dialectics of fear and punishment, we need to revert to the former, longer Romantic trend of criticism that developed out of Hegel’s readings of Shakespeare, privileging the study of the Shakespearean moral imagination, which remained current down to Harold Bloom In “Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate,” Hegel uses Macbeth as an example to distinguish the moral law, expressed in the penal code and generating a fear of something “alien,” from “fate as punishment,” which the philosopher describes as a fear or “awe” of oneself.Charmian’s warning to her mistress Cleopatra that “In time we hate that which we often fear” may well apply beyond matters of love (1.3.14).Later in the play, at the end of act 3, when Antony is defeated, and at the very moment when Enobarbus is about to turn traitor to his master, the servant sheds light upon another troubling aspect of the mechanism of fear in which the fearlessness and valour of the epic hero, turned tragic, are in fact only a higher level of fear, or fear “in her most exalted mood.”ENOBARBUS.Of course, 1606 England is not 1338 Siena, anymore than it is our 2017 more globalized political stage, but might we suppose that the power of Shakespeare’s theatre consists precisely in not concealing anything from the eye, that it addresses fear by becoming a theatre of fears? My particular focus in this paper will be on the dialectics of fear and punishment and the way Shakespeare’s dramaturgy questions both the fear of punishment and punishment as an effective response to fear.If so, how does Shakespeare represent fear and what does he do with fear? I approach these questions through three different lenses, a Foucauldian one, a Hegelian one, and finally through the definitions that are given to fear in early modern religious literature, which appear to be more pertinent in delineating the implications of Shakespeare’s dramatic treatment of fear.The bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays, it is argued, blur the distinction between the theatre and the scaffold as a space of performance, building on the model of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy and its gusto for executions, however in a somewhat more subdued vein.shows Shakespeare pinpointing already at an early stage the impossibility for the performance of the physical ritual of power not to be at once an act of butchery.