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Explore the use of violence in Sarah Kane’s ‘Blasted’ and ‘Cleansed’, saying to what purpose violence is being employed. Illustrate your essay with specific examples.

There is no doubt that Sarah Kane was a troubled person. Suffering from depression, she committed suicide at the age of twenty-eight, despite her success as playwright and director. Her plays share themes of extreme violence and oppression, with layered meanings, superimposing one location with another, thus forcing us as spectators/readers to draw the parallels which she saw between situations which, on the surface, are not commonly associated. 'Blasted' (1995) and 'Cleansed' (1998) are two such plays. Some could see Kane's plays as gratuitously violent, self-indulgent and pointless, but many also view them as inspired, thought-provoking and refreshing. Kane was part of a new revolution in British Theatre, a group of writers who saw a need to push the boundaries further in an age when complacency was becoming the norm. Theatre has long strived to present life and its problems in an exaggerated form in order to emphasise, the subconscious part of our existence and help the spectator find some level of solution. Since the time of the modernist movements, theatre had evolved from pure entertainment for, in the main, the educated middle and upper classes, to a method of communicating truths with multiple meanings as has become a unifying trademark of postmodernism.  With each generation, the emphasis has to grow stronger and the imagery and action with it, in order to be noticed. Kane and her contemporaries, such as Martin Crimp, Naomi Wallace, Anthony Nelson and others, have been placed together by Aleks Sierz under the umbrella of 'In Yer Face Theatre' in his book  of the same name, which perfectly sums up  its nature. Kane's work in particular has an expressionistic and symbolic influence, which is vital in analysing it. We are forced to see beyond realism and experience the pain and suffering of the characters who are symbols themselves, through their experiences and actions. How symbolic of Sarah Kane her works are is debateable. (quote) We will never really know how much of her symbolism represented parts of herself and her own psychosis, and how much is deliberately symbolic of her perception of the outer world. When analysing the use of violence by this young female playwright, these issues must be taken in to consideration, alongside the effect on the spectator. What is the purpose of such violence and abuse? How effective is that extreme violence in making a statement, and is it really necessary to go to those lengths in order to make those points, i.e. could it be done with less shock tactics?  Was Kane simply trying to be noticed, and in order to do so gratuitously wrote into her plays the most horrifying acts of cruelty? It is unlikely since Kane's plays do not introduce violence unheard of previously in theatre. Oedipus, Macbeth, King Lear all contain brutal cruelty and bloodshed, and in mainstream film around the time of Blasted, Quentin Tarantino was popular, with his theme of violent shooting and torture. The question then is not the violence itself, but the scale and concentration of it, and the abstraction of context which makes these plays stand out.

Sarah Kane was brought up by Evangelical parents and followed their religion until early adulthood. Knowing this, we can therefore draw strong links between her plays and the bible:

Sarah Kane did not merely want to be noticed through showing graphic violence on stage. She did not put scenes on stage which have never been seen before. Since the days of Greek Tragedy, horrifying acts of incest, rape, mutilation, murder and more have been seen. Kane was not alone in her desire to wake up the British Theatre scene of the 1990's, but her work attracted probably the most media attention at that time. The key to analysing Kane's work is to look at the whole play, not one aspect. As with Greek plays, the worst of the action happens off stage, and is talked about, although what happens on stage is gruesome. In both Blasted and Cleansed, we see aggressor and victim in most of the characters, and are therefore unable able to place judgements on them as either good or bad. Instead we find ourselves 'bond' with them on a humane level. Horrifying acts of violence do happen around the world every day, and Kane brings this to our attention through her innovative writing.  Parallels can also be drawn with ourselves, and we are forced to become aware of the dark side of our nature and the base line of humanity, and of the choices we make each day in our behaviour. This is the purpose of violence in these plays, not to shock or titillate, but to wake up and examine ourselves in full and truly be aware that we are alive. In the words of David Grieg, Editor of Sarah Kane: The Complete Plays:

"To read these plays for what they tell us about the author is, to my mind, a pointlessly forensic act. The work's true completion comes when the plays are read for what they tell us about ourselves." (2002: xviii)
And in the words of Sarah herself:
'If a play is good, it breathes its own air and has a life and voice of its own. What you take that voice to be saying is no concern of mine. It is what it is. Take it or leave it."(www.inyerface-theatre.com)

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