Verbal violence, as a sophisticated means of persuasion and manipulation, is as effective on the stage as physical violence. Since the destructive effects of verbal violence are less recognized and long-term, it is a vital instrument for constructing power and authority. Sıla Şenlen tackles this subject in Renaissance and contemporary English drama.
In Renaissance tragedies composed in blank-verse such as Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Part I, and Shakespeare’s Richard III, political power is identified and matched with a powerful rhetorical style. Almost all of the battles in such plays are fought verbally rather than physically on the stage. In these verbal duels or battles, competent speakers such as Tamburlaine and Richard III exploit the frontiers of deception, manipulate, abuse and destroy their opponents with low verbal competence through verbal violence. Thus, a parallel is drawn between rhetorical skills and military power, and between ‘word’ and ‘sword’.
In contemporary English plays, the violence of daily language not only contributes to the creation of a realistic spectacle, but also –and more importantly– to the process of replacing free critical thinking by automatically preconceived patterns of thought and speech. Institutions and related discourses function to set up norms or standards against which people are defined, categorized, judged and punished. In Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party and Anthony Neilson’s The Censor, verbal violence in the form of daily language is not only deployed to construct authority, dominate and ‘standardize’ subjects, but also to deconstruct and defy authority.