Neither a Devil nor a Man: D’Amville in Tourneur's The Atheist’s Tragedy

Aspasia Velissariou


D’Amville, the protagonist of Tourneur’s The Atheist’s Tragedy (pub. 1611), is a hero devoid of interiority conceived in terms of psychological depth and coherence in the sense of the unitary subject of liberal humanism. I suggest that the almost unanimous assessment of The Atheist’s Tragedy as a thesis play on the basis of the religious issues, which a not entirely ‘human’ hero raises through his emblematic atheism, could be one of the reasons that it has not attracted the critical notice it deserves. Drawing on Judith Butler’s theory of the construction of identity my argument is that D’Amville’s character lacks interiority because it is conceived as the ‘“unthinkable” and “unsayable” within the terms of an existing cultural form’, which, nonetheless, ‘is not necessarily what is excluded from the matrix of intelligibility within that form’ (Gender Trouble, p. 77). His atheism is therefore a cultural category for the ‘unthinkable’, which in reality forces the dominant culture to consider, while marginalising, perceptions of reality that are not socially sanctioned such as, for example, the hero’s extreme materialism. The play essentially inscribes in its ‘dehumanised’ hero the subject’s transgressive desire for power as monstrous criminality while, at the same time, it shows that what is perceived as the dreadful ‘outside’ to the dominant culture emerges fully from within it at the specific historical moment.


Jacobean Tragedy; Tourneur; incest; atheism

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