Thunderbolts, Routers, and Ruffians: Early Modern Bullies and Bullying, Panel, NeMLA Conference, March 21-24, 2013, Boston, MA

full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

In the last ten years bullies have gained serious attention as cyber-bullies have inflicted emotional damage so serious that some victims have resorted to suicide to escape their tormenters. Mid- to late-twentieth-century popular depictions of bullies paint them in a different light, mythologizing these figures as threatening in appearance, but ultimately harmless. These images show bullies' power as rooted in language—their toughness is constructed in tough talk. Confronting bullies is portrayed as a rite-of-passage from childhood to adulthood: once bullies' victims openly expose their tormentors' cowardice, they render them impotent. If we consider a longer history of depicting bullies, it becomes clear that early modern culture mythologizes these figures in different terms. From capricious monarchs to vile usurpers, and all the figures in between, early modern artists take bullies seriously as threats to their societies' foundational institutions and to the larger social order. While the term bully as 'a tyrannical coward, who makes himself a terror to the weak' is relatively new (the first use in this context dates to the late seventeenth century England; see OED), bullies and bullying discourse are woven into the fabric of early modern cultural production. This panel asks us to consider a longer history of imagining the bully to investigate how bullying is depicted, how it is conquered, and the relationships between bullying, discourse, and social power and authority in early modern cultural production, in any national tradition. Paper topics might include analyses of bullying discourse, examinations of depictions of bullies, studies of the ways bullies' threats are contained or conquered in art or literature, or investigations of early modern cultural mythologies of bullies. Papers theorizing the bully are equally welcome. Papers considering national traditions other than English are encouraged, but abstracts should be in English or French. Please submit brief abstracts of 300 words or fewer via email to Elizabeth Ketner at

Please submit abstracts by September 30, 2012.