'What'S the matter?' Murderous husbands and 'adulterous' wives in early modern English and Spanish drama

21 Mar 2018

© The Author 2017. This essay situates two wife-murder plays, Shakespeare's Othello and Calderón's El médico de su honra, in a transnational cultural context of anxieties about adultery, cuckoldry and female sexuality, all of which are both affective and legal. Neither Shakespeare's Desdemona nor Calderón's Mencía has committed adultery, but in these plays that does not matter. Mere suggestion is enough to convince husbands of their wives' guilt and, fuelled by a dangerous combination of rhetoric and passion, suspicion all too easily becomes proof. Quintilian's idea of vividness, or enargeia, is central to this process, and this essay considers enargeia's role in creating belief in early modern drama, its legal afterlife in a nineteenth-century adultery case, and its role in the modern courtroom.