Date of Award

Spring 5-4-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA English




Russell Sbriglia, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Donovan Sherman, Ph.D.


Brecht, Artaud, Bakhtin, theatre of cruelty, epic theatre, Batman, terrorism, society, city


The political implications of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy have been noted by many scholars and commentaries, the majority of whom view the trilogy specifically through the lens of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath. As Jacques Derrida notes about 9/11, the “maximum media coverage . . . spectacularize[d] the event” (qtd. in Stubblefield 3). In Nolan’s trilogy, Batman’s crusade to save Gotham from its criminals and villains takes on similarly spectacular qualities, as Gotham City becomes “ground zero” for acts of terrorism, vigilantism, and theatricality. Rather than engaging in a strictly political analysis of these films, this thesis focuses on the theatrical, spectacular, and performative implications of The Dark Knight Trilogy. I use Bertolt Brecht’s and Antonin Artaud’s writings on theatre to foreground the theatricality that permeates the trilogy’s setting, characters, and themes. Furthermore, I draw on Mikhail Bakhtin’s study of carnival to reinforce the idea that Gotham City functions as a site of spectacle and social upheaval in these films. Lastly, through an examination of the intersection between performance, gender, and disability studies, I expose how the Dark Knight establishes an ideal of hypermasculinity, superior physicality and able-bodiedness, and immense accumulation of wealth and resources, all of which limits rather than inspires the participation of Gotham’s body politic. This thesis ultimately explores the varying degrees to which Batman and his rivals use dramatic examples to shock Gotham’s citizens out of apathy and to encourage their active participation in either saving or destroying Gotham City.