On Guy Fawkes in Hell

I missed last week’s blogging the quals, but I’ve managed to keep ahead of my schedule a bit.  So here’s what I’ve read in the past two weeks:

Theory

Protevi, John – Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic
Artaud, Antonin – The Theater & Its Double
Bataille, Georges – Visions of Excess
Foucault, Michel – The Order of Things
Copjec, Jean – Read My Desire: Lacan against the Historicists
Butler, Judith – Bodies That Matter
Agamben, Giorgio – Homo Sacer
Bennett, Jane – Vibrant Matter
Morton, Timothy – The Ecological Thought

Primary Texts: Drama

Milton, John – Samson Agonistes
Anonymous – Two Lamentable Tragedies
Preston, Thomas – Cambyses
Dekker, Thomas – If This Be Not a Good Play, the Devil is In It

My little thought for the week comes from the Dekker play; it ends with a scene in Hell during which various characters from the play proper are submitted to torments, but also, because this was 1611, includes a guest appearance by the illustrious Guy Fawkes:

 

In this little snippet, Fawkes is named and discussed by the various demons who surround him in Hell.  The interesting thing about this is that Fawkes does not realize he is in Hell; every other mortal seems aware of their situation, but Fawkes seems a bit mad.

This is due to his punishment, which the demon Shacklesoul explains: Fawkes “Digd cellars to find where hel stood” and now for all eternity believes himself to be in the cellars beneath Parliament, perpetually on the verge of lighting the gunpowder kegs but never actually doing it.

It might be fruitful to speculate why Fawkes is the only person in Hell given such a special treatment — specifically, to never know he’s in Hell.  With Fawkes  traitor and hence doubly abject, Dekker perhaps seizes this opportunity to highlight his own support of James (since the play, overall, is quite critical of James and his court, and in bad need of a balm).

Yet what is also interesting to me here is the rather proleptic (and of course coincidental) way that the scene predicts the appropriation of Guy Fawkes as a revolutionary for “Anonymous” and his deployment in other aspects of modern consumer culture: an emblem of political upheaval locked into a moment of fruitless action and paranoia, always on the verge of lighting the fires of revolution, but never actually doing it.

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