THE 'DRUG' OF DECONSTRUCTIVE AMBIVALENCE IN THOMAS MIDDLETON'S JACOBEAN REVENGE TRAGEDIES

Neil D Graves

Abstract


Jacques Derrida’s discussion entitled 'Plato’s Pharmacy' in Dissemination (1972; 1981) of the birth of writing from Plato’s Phaedrus (c. 375-365 BC) concentrates upon the inherent ambivalence of language, the inevitable epistemological dichotomy between word and object, signifier and signified. The différance he notes in the Platonic lexis pharmakon, meaning both remedy and poison, illustrates the temporality and infinite deferral of meaning which postpones presence and liberates interpretation to endless successive readings. By following the chain of linguistic significations that refuses to site the locus of meaning purely within a particular text, Derrida links the différance of pharmakon with the ambivalent characteristics of the pharmakos, the scapegoat, which like the Platonic text, possesses both insides and outsides. In Violence and the Sacred (1972), Girard argues that such a theoretical framework can be discovered in the equivocal textuality of tragic drama, this being the pervasive ambiguity of the cathartic genre. It is my contention that these deconstructive processes are clearly perceived in the sub-genre of 'revenge tragedy', and in this article I tease out the ambivalent presence of the poison/cure dialectic in three Jacobean revenge tragedies by Thomas Middleton: The Revenger’s Tragedy (1607)[1], Women Beware Women (c. 1621), and The Changeling (1622, with Rowley).

 

 Keywords: ambivalence, pharmakos, deconstructive processes, poison, cure


[1] I will not make comment on the authorship question of The Revenger’s Tragedy in this article.


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