OBSERVATION, CONTROL AND SIR THOMAS MORE

Per Sivefors

Abstract


It is hardly controversial to say that the Elizabethan play Sir Thomas More (1592–93?) is insistently preoccupied with issues of surveillance, control and punishment. In its depiction of the Ill May Day Riots in 1517 and the subsequent downfall of Thomas More, the play represents both More’s role as surveyor of the crowd and a victim of royal surveillance and punishment. The play in other words invites discussion of latter-day theories of control and justice such as Michel Foucault’s in Discipline and Punish. However, in its twists and turns of plot Sir Thomas More transcends generalizations about penal justice. While not staging a “pre-panoptic” system of control, the play frequently but ironically thematizes surveillance
as an instrument of power, but it falls short of suggesting that surveillance produces pliable individuals. Instead, Sir Thomas More comes close to suggesting repentance rather than retribution as a model of justice, though this model is also made problematic through the character of Thomas More. In other words, the play can be said to defy generalizations about punishment as represented in the theories of Foucault as well as in later research.



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