Theatre Studies Thesis: Violence in the Plays by Sarah Kane

Paper Type:  Thesis
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1671 Words
Date:  2021-06-15


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I would like to extend by gratitude to my professor who encouraged me to read widely to have a better grasp of the English language, which has given me the opportunity to experience the remarkable world of literature in its ability to capture day-to-day issues such as violence and love. I also appreciate the diligent support of my peer support group for helping through the writing process and being patient to my demands.


The main aim of this study is to evaluate ways in which violence was used by the playwright Sarah Kane with special attention to her last three plays. Her works were influenced greatly by the ethnic cleansings that were perpetrated in Bosnia as well as the play Mad by dramatist Jeremy Weller. Violence is defined as the intentional use of threatened or actual physical force against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that leads to injury, death, or physiological harm. In-yer-face theatres has been defined as plays that involve grabbing the audience by the scruff of their necks and shaking them till the message sinks in. it was pioneered by Sarah Kane, who produced five staged plays: Blasted, Phaedras Love, Cleansed, Crave, and 4.48 Psychosis- staged posthumously. Love was the supreme-most theme in all her plays, featuring prominently especially in her last three plays. Use of violence enabled the writer to shock the audience into paying greater attention, giving the plays a greater impact and prompting the audience to re-evaluating themselves.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgment i
Abstract iii
Table of Contents iv
1.Introduction 1
1.1.Definition of violence 1
1.2.Types and Causes of violence 5
1.3.Violence in drama 9
1.4.Violence in Yer-Face-Theatres 13
2.Elements of Violence in Sarah Kane Works 17
2.1.The life story 17
2.2.Influences: Personal and Historical 19
3.Violence in Cleansed 22
3.1.Cleansed 22
3.2.Elements of Violence in Cleansed 24
3.2.1.Torture 25
3.2.2.Mutilation 30
3.2.3.Homicide 35
3.2.4.Oppression 37
4.Elements of violence in Crave 44
4.1.Crave 44
4.2.Elements of violence in Crave 47
4.2.1.Psychological Trauma 47
4.2.2.Rape 50
4.2.3.Domestic violence 52
4.2.4.Colonisation/Possessiveness in love 55
4.2.5.Isolation& loneliness 58
5.Elements of Violence in 4.48 Psychosis 61 Psychosis 61
5.2.Violence in 4.48 Psychosis 63
5.2.1.Madness 64
5.2.2.Suicide 68
5.2.3.The Light 71
6.Conclusion 72
7.References 76


Violence has been, through the ages, a persistent feature in the world both on a personal basis and in the society, in the day to day activities and in special cases of wars (Purnavel 237). Ages, religions, civilizations, and remarkable world events are often marked by the greatest violence expressed in them in form of battles. While in a normal case violence is considered to be wrong, war normalizes it and gives those engaging in war a chance to vent out. Apart from wars, aggression is expreinced by people in a variety of ways as discussed below.

Definition of violence Violence has been studied widely by renowned scholars, including Aristotle, Plato, Freud, and many who came after them. The scholars indicate a practice of borrowing from each other the concepts and meanings attributed to acts of brutality. The longest established belief system for violence is the hypothesis of catharsis which was introduced by Aristotle, one of the most prominent of the early ages Greek philosophers. According to Drake, Aristotle attributed feelings of aggression with the internal existence of things which are impossible for man to fully comprehend, but which affect the behaviour of people in remarkable ways (50). He further elucidates on aggression being an internal struggle in which dominant emotions seek to topple logical conduct and cause the subject to act in abnormal ways. Catharsis, or venting out, is the widest studied principle of Aristotles views on violence which puts forward the idea that individuals can be rid of their feelings of aggression by watching dramatizations violent behaviour (Gentile 491).

Mental activity and common sense contributes in a big way to the feelings of increased tension in the body, which may ultimately manifest in anger and forcefulness if not expressed out. To Aristotle, the link between aggression and the state of mind of an individual are inseparable. Awareness is important for the individual to control their rational state of mind both in the acquisition of and the venting out of aggression, an immoral emotion.

Socially, the concept of suprematism expressed by Aristotle argues for the complete knocking down of the traditional thought process of the Western nations. The violence required of the person in the concept is targeted at the mind, redefining meanings, norms, and possibilities in the pursuit of fluidity, enlightenment from the inside out, and a higher state of reality, (Drake 61). New modes of organization and meaning are developed by opening up new parts of human consciousness.

Aristotles philosophy created the template on which majority of the future thinkers would develop their theories although he lacked the pinpoint precision of their concepts. For example, as a tool for social change, violence was best expressed by George Sorel at the onset of the 20th century. At a time of social unrests in Europe and especially France, Sorel defines violence as a quest for freedom in performing ones tasks. Geuss & Skinner discuss the views of Sorel on violence as an emotion manifested as an indication of social conflict, and one that is an efficient weapon to bring about change. Social constructs that establish a perking order in mankind leads to build-up of resistance among the common people, and finally manifests in unrests.

Sorels definition of violence as the expression of built up emotions which are released through venting adheres to Aristotles catharsis, only in this case, the anger is removed when the society revolts. Participation is thus an important aspect of Sorels definition for dealing with violent emotions, a release that allows the individual to be free of turmoil.

Freud also expresses wartime violence in the correspondence exchanged between him and Albert Einstein and subsequent articles during the World War I. According to Sampson, Freud views violence, in this case being decidedly the bloodiest wars in the history of the world at that time, as a mental state that destroys valued conceptions, confounds the intelligent, and debases highly regarded principles (83). Disillusionment to the effectiveness of established norms to solve human problems is attributed to the blinding nature of hostilities. Freud also advances that violence is a direct outcome of embitterment and implacability that yields cruelty when not sufficiently mitigated.

At this time when violence was rife globally, the views of Freud were highly militarized and political, but also highly relevant to philosophy. Freud also held the view that violence is born out of cruel and selfish inclinations of man which are most primitive and hard to overcome. Outward expression of internal ravages is what indicates the presence of them and what society judges of an individual. Barring their expression, feelings of violence are neutral and unlikely to harm the person.

Carl Marx was a Prussian philosopher whose works focused on the communistic social and economic dispensation. Marx identifies violence as a tool to achieve the political will of the people. A subtle form of violence where indirect engagement with the enemy was employed at minimal harm to the instigator is believed to be the precursor to terrorism activities currently plaguing the world. The political definition of violence receives its meaning from Marx, stated explicitly as the combined attacks directed towards a political entity which occur within its boundaries and are aimed towards the policies of or actors in the government, (Cohen-Almagor 4).

Apart from the philosophical definitions given by scholar and social activists, a practical definition is given by the World Health Organisation for practical use as:

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation (Krug 4).

This succinct definition covers admirably the rather diverse topic of violence, creating meaning that is used as a standard in law enforcement, the justice system, social services, and community health among others. Breaking the definition down for better understanding we get:

Physical harm to ones body, or the threat to hurt oneself, qualifies as violence. Even though the definition does not explicitly state psychological force as a cause for violence, the premise that violence can either be real or implied qualifies emotional force in which a victim is dominated by the perpetrator as violent. Psychological self-torture, self-harming acts like slicing, and suicide are some of the outcomes of violent behaviour by an individual to themselves.

Towards other people, aggressive acts or threats to harm other people are the definition of violence. When directed towards people other than the self, violence can either trigger psychological harm that leads to subjugation of people by a real or implied superior person or people. Physical injuries may also be brought about by violent encounter such as abuse at home or in school. Death resulting from forceful acts of other people is defined as murder or homicide, the latter of which is not pre-meditated.

Generally, any malevolent acts of power that are exerted on an individual that threaten their well-being qualify as violence, regardless of from whom they originate and to whom they are directed. Due to the complexity of cultures, backgrounds, and personality diversities, it is hard to pin down violence to one definition, cause, or qualification. In most cases, opinions, not established criteria, determines whether or not violence was perpetrated.

Types and Causes of violence

As stated above, violence can be identified in the society from the effects it has individuals, which is manifested in three ways: psychological harm, physical injury, and death which may come in form of murder or suicide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) gives the typology of violence in terms of personal, interpersonal, and collective violence.

Self-harm can also occur in two ways: suicidal and abuse. Psychological disturbances are rife in self-harm, causing much of the violence recorded in oneself like mutilation, self-starvation, neglect, and irresponsible physical behaviour. Suicidal violence is the more serious of the two as it causes the individual to desire or try to end their life. Stages of seriousness in suicidal harm are: imagining, contemplating the prospect, actively pursuing the means to kill oneself, making an eff...

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Theatre Studies Thesis: Violence in the Plays by Sarah Kane. (2021, Jun 15). Retrieved from

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