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Cruel Britannia

Sarah Kane’s Postmodern Traumatics

Jolene Armstrong

Cruel Britannia: Sarah Kane’s Postmodern Traumatics examines four plays by British playwright Sarah Kane (1971–1999), all written between 1995 and 1999 within the context of the «Cool Britannia», or «In-Yer-Face» London theatre movement of the 1990s. Kane’s plays were notorious for their shocking productions and challenging and offensive subject matter. This book analyzes her plays as products of a long history of theatrical convention and experimentation, rather than trend. I read Kane’s plays through an optic of trauma theory, and link the trauma to postmodern experience as defined by war, inter-personal violence, repetitive memory, and sex as medium of violence. Kane’s plays’ unrelenting violence and graphic depictions of violent sex suggest a relationship with theories and practices such as Artaud’s theatre of cruelty, and Kroker and Cook’s theory of the postmodern as sign of excremental culture and an inherently abject state of being. Through a play by play analysis I conclude that Kane’s work suggests that violence and trauma are endemic to postmodern life, and are ultimately apocalyptic due to their culmination in Kane’s final play, the suicide text of 4.48 Psychosis.
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I am deepy grateful to Professors E.D. Blodgett and Jonathan Hart whose insights early on in my research and most importantly their support and encouragement kept me steadfast and dedicated. I would also like to thank Professors Manijeh Mannani and Veronica Thompson for their unwavering support and confidence in me. I wish to thank Dr. Michael Lahey for the countless hours of reading, discussions, support and encouragement. Many people were pivotal over the years in encouraging me and believing in me and to them I also owe a debt of gratitude for the laughter and wisdom in even measure, in particular Martin Rapati, Rickard Enström, and Anna Arneson. And to my family who were endlessly patient, I can not say thank you enough for always believing in even my craziest ideas: my mother Beverley Armstrong, my father Larry Armstrong, my brother Brock Armstrong and my children Remy and Savianna. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the financial support via research grants provided through Athabasca University that facilitated the publication of this book.

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