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Murder by Accident

Medieval Theater, Modern Media, Critical Intentions

Over fifty years ago, it became unfashionable—even forbidden—for students of literature to talk about an author’s intentions for a given work. In Murder by Accident, Jody Enders boldly resurrects the long-disgraced concept of intentionality, especially as it relates to the theater.

Drawing on four fascinating medieval events in which a theatrical performance precipitated deadly consequences, Enders contends that the marginalization of intention in critical discourse is a mirror for the marginalization—and misunderstanding—of theater. Murder by Accident revisits the legal, moral, ethical, and aesthetic limits of the living arts of the past, pairing them with examples from the present, whether they be reality television, snuff films, the “accidental” live broadcast of a suicide on a Los Angeles freeway, or an actor who jokingly fired a stage revolver at his temple, causing his eventual death. This book will force scholars and students to rethink their assumptions about theory, intention, and performance, both past and present.

312 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory, Romance Languages

Medieval Studies


“Jody Enders’ Murder by Accident offers an extraordinary amalgam of historical work and contemporary theory. We have here, as in her earlier work, richly detailed evocations of the social world of medieval spectacle. But we also have the theoretical and ethical concerns that her historical readings raise brought front and center. This book engages issues critical to anyone interested in art or in accountability (legal and moral)—that is, all of us.”

Julie Stone Peters, Harvard University

“Enders is a remarkable scholar who uses the intellectual freedoms accorded to theater historians to the fullest. Not constrained by the limitations of historians or literary scholars, she moves easily between fact and fiction, medieval and modern. But what will always delight readers of Enders’s work is the sheer pleasure of her style, her insights, and her asides.”

Barbara Hanawalt, Ohio State University

“Once again Jody Enders has given us a brilliantly new perspective on the premodern dramatic tradition. In its graceful recovery of intention as the very ground of theatrical knowledge, Murder by Accident represents a signal contribution to some of the most pressing questions in the humanities today.”

Bruce Holsinger, University of Virginia

"This work fully embraces the old and the new and in so doing suggests . . . that we are not as far removed from medieval France as we think. . . . Moving fluidly from medieval texts to modern representations, the author forces us to consider the absolute impassivity of the audience, where the spectacle of reality television and the evening news replay versions of medieval stage deaths."


Table of Contents


List of Abbreviations

Mise en Scène

Introduction: Doing Theater Justice

Part I Back to the Medieval Future

1 Behind the Seen: All Hell Breaks Loose

2 The Final Run-Through

3 Fear of Imminence and Virtual Ethics: Staging Rape in the Middle Ages

4 Killing Himself by Accident: Of Broken Frames, Mimetic Blindness, and a Dance of Death

Entr’Acte: This Fallacy Which Is Not One

Part II The Theater and Its Trouble

5 The Theatrical Contract

6 In Flagrante Theatro

7 Theater Nullification

Talk-Back: Black Box and Idiot Box

Appendix: Original Documents in French and Latin


Works Cited


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