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Summoning the spectacle.

James M. Fitzmorris. "Summoning the spectacle." Diss. U of Washington, 2004.


The Roman Emperor Nero, Prince Charles I of England, and Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini were all plagued by the powerful and lingering spirit of a predecessor. A predecessor whose shadow they could not escape. These three men did what any man weary of echoing hallways and disembodied finger prints would: each ruler sought a means by which to banish that predecessor. Simultaneously, they attempted to harness the spirit of their predecessor for the benefit of their own political maneuverings. Each followed this particular pattern: placing themselves in the role of spectacular clairvoyants, they willfully and publicly conjured the shade of their predecessors. During this séance, each man sought to appear as the ghost that had moved the spirits of times past--but séances are so often simply a show of smoke and mirrors, dependent more on the sleight-of-hand of the conjuror rather than the presence of actual spirits. At the height of these shows the conjurors stepped into the guise of the spirits they had called and donned the mantel, privilege, and power of their predecessor. However temporarily, the three rulers came to embody the spirit they had summoned so that they might solidify their own control over the often slippery apparatus of state power. This dissertation will argue that three events--Nero's first century Roman triumphal procession, the Jacobean allegorical drama A Game at Chess , and the fascist march on Rome--were theatrical séances meant to conjure up the precedents of the three rulers' predecessors so that the conjuror might claim the future.

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