Theater of Bodies

The course of lectures is devoted to the different forms of representation of power and channels of social control, in which the main actors are two polar political substances: the body of the monarch and the body of the criminal. The coronation of the monarch, the public death penalty, its theatrical imitation of "political death", as well as public repentance and public pardon are considered on the concrete historical material of the 16th - 18th centuries. This period makes to trace the evolution of the personification of power and the symbols of reprisals against its enemies.

The coronation of Ivan the Terrible in 1547 meant the rebirth of the personality and body of the first Russian tsar. This event had a great influence on the process of sacralization of power. The messianic sentiments of the ruler and the entire Orthodox population were intensified with a result of the fall of Constantinople, the offensive influence of Catholicism, and the general expectation of the Apocalypse during the years of the last calculated Easters. The deep political crisis (named Oprichnina), as well as the psychological characteristics of Ivan the Terrible himself, exacerbated eschatological sentiments and led to mass executions, which were likened to the punishment of the sinners’ bodies during the Last Judgment.

During the 17th century, after the Time of Troubles and the strengthening of a new dynasty on the Russian throne, the first all-Russian code of laws appears, which clearly defines “death crimes” and forms of reprisal against the body of a criminal. Any encroachments on the Orthodox faith, the church, the life and health of the monarch and his family members, as well as the treasury, that is, the state’s political body, are most severely punished. This time was marked by the development of scenarios for public executions.

The 18th century in Russia was notable for the rapid Europeanization of the upper strata of society, which came into sharp conflict with the dominant archetypes of consciousness. This conflict can explain such phenomena as the identification of the image of the emperor with the body of the Antichrist, the cruel punishment of the body of the criminal after death with help of the achievements of anatomical theaters, the sudden moratorium on the death penalty for monarch’s religious reasons, and the pragmatic use of church practices to correct the soul of a criminal.

The course of lectures uses methods of semiotics, biopolitics, cultural transfer theory, Begriffsgeschichte, Cambridge School of intellectual history, intermedia approach, combination of general and individual, etc. on concrete historical material.


Donnerstags, 14 Uhr c.t. - 16 Uhr

Erste Sitzung:

Letzte Sitzung:

Adenauerallee 4-6, 53113 Bonn
Raum 3.010


  • Zhivov, Victor and Uspenskij, Boris: ”Tsar and God” and Other Essays in Russian Cultural Semiotics. Boston 2012.

  • Kollmann, Nancy: Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Russia. Cambridge 2012.

  • Marasinova, Elena. Punishment by Penance in 18th-Century Russia: Church Practices in the Service of the Secular State. In: Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. 2016. №17, 2 (Spring). P.305-332.

  • Wortman, Richard: Visual Texts, Ceremonial Texts, Texts of Exploration: Collected Articles on the Representation of Russian Monarchy. Boston 2014.

  • Kantorowicz, Ernst: Die zwei Körper des Königs. Eine Studie zur politischen Theologie des Mittelalters. München 1990.
  • Wortman, Richard S.: Scenarios of power. 1, From Peter the Great to the death of Nicholas I. Princeton 1995.

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