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The Politics of Rape

Sexual Atrocity, Propaganda Wars, and the Restoration Stage

Jennifer L. Airey

The Politics of Rape: Sexual Atrocity, Propaganda Wars, and the Restoration Stage is the first full-length study to examine representations of sexual violence on the Restoration stage. By reading theatrical depictions of sexual violence alongside political tracts, propaganda pamphlets, and circulating broadsides, this study argues that authors used dramatic representations of rape to respond to and engage with late-century upheavals in British political culture. Beginning with an examination of rape scenes in English Civil War propaganda, The Politics of Rape argues that Roundhead authors described acts of rape and atrocity to demonize their enemies, the Irish, the Catholics, and the Cavaliers. After the Restoration, propagandists and playwrights on each side of every political conflict would follow suit, altering the rhetoric of sexual violence in response to each new moment of political upheaval: The Restoration of Charles II, the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars, the Popish Plot, the Exclusion Crisis, the Glorious Revolution, and the accession of William and Mary. The study offers an intensive look at British propaganda culture, gathering together a wealth of understudied pamphlet texts, and identifying a series of stock figures that recur throughout the century: The demonic Irishman, sexually violent villain of the 1641 Irish Rebellion tracts; the debauched Cavalier, the secretly Catholic royalist rapist; the poisonous Catholic bride, the malignant consort who encourages the rapes of Protestant women; the cannibal father, the evil patriarch who rapes his daughters-in-laws before ingesting his own sons as a symbol of monarchical overreach; and the ravished monarch, the male rape victim whose sexual violation protests his political disenfranchisement. The study also traces the appearance of these figures on the British stage, examining well-known works by Dryden, Rochester, Behn, Lee, and Shadwell, alongside lesser-known plays by Orrery, Howard, Settle, Crowne, Ravenscroft, Pix, Cibber, and Brady. The Politics of Rape thus offers a new method for understanding of the geo-political implications of theatrical sexual violence. « less more »
University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware Press
Pages: 260Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-61149-404-4 • Hardback • September 2012 • $84.00 • (£54.95)
978-1-61149-543-0 • Paperback • December 2014 • $41.99 • (£27.95)
978-1-61149-405-1 • eBook • September 2012 • $38.99 • (£24.95)
Jennifer L. Airey is assistant professor of English at the University of Tulsa, where she specializes in Restoration and eighteenth-century British drama.

The Generall
Porter, Howard, and the Trope of the Debauched Usurper
Howard's The Usurper and the Trope of the Poisonous Catholic Bride

Chapter Two: Rape and the Roots of Discontent, 1666-77
Dryden's Amboyna and the Trope of the Demonic Dutchman
Male Libertinism and the Poisonous Catholic Mistress: 1670s Propaganda
Male Abdication, Female Poison: Settle's Love and Revenge
The Debauched Libertine and the Failure of Female Revenge: Shadwell's
The Libertine
Conclusion: Aphra Behn's The Rover, Part I, and Political Ambivalence
on the Eve of the Popish Plot
Chapter Three: Lucrece Narratives: Rochester, Lee, and the Ethics of Regicide
Rochester's Valentinian and the Limits of Monarchical Authority
Lee's Lucius Junius Brutus and the Dangers of Revolt

Chapter Four: Rape and the Cannibal Father, 1678-87
The Exclusion Crisis and the Politics of Familial Collapse
Staging Intrafamilial Conflict: Otway and Lee
Crowne's Thyestes and the Horrors of the Cannibal Father
Defending Absolute Monarchy: Ravenscroft's Titus Andronicus

Chapter Five: Rape in the Aftermath of Revolution: Images of Male Rape, 1688-99
Warring Words: Propaganda in the 1690s Articulating Jacobite Sympathies: Settle's Distress'd Innocence
Defending the Revolution: Variations on the Trope of Male Rape

About the Author


Works Cited
Jennifer Airey's study of plays that use rape as a trope for political and socio-political argument is an outstanding debut for this young scholar. … Airey chronologically analyzes a remarkable variety of plays, some by well known authors…which makes the balancing of the five chapters fresh and interesting. … The Politics of Rape as a work of scholarship is confidently written, closely argued, and tightly focused.
The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer

Theatrical sexual violence and political propaganda are the focus of Jennifer L. Airey’s The Politics of Rape: Sexual Atrocity, Propaganda Wars, and the Restoration Stage. Airey argues that dramatic representations of rape responded to developments in British political culture. Constructing a series of stock figures that appeared on stage and off—what Airey terms the demonic Irishman, the debauched Cavalier, the poisonous Catholic bride, the ravished monarch, and the cannibal father—propagandists and dramatists relied upon images of sexually violent atrocity to demonize their enemies.
The Year's Work In English Studies