Free Will

Art and power on Shakespeare’s stage

Author: Richard Wilson

This book is a study of theatre and sovereignty that situates William Shakespeare's plays in the contraflow between two absolutisms of early modern England: the aesthetic and the political. It is a book about art and power on Shakespeare's stage, and argues that his plays are systematically engaged in untying freedom from royalty by dismantling sovereignty in all its forms. The book tracks the pre-Kantian nucleus of willed nonentity or interested disinterestedness in Shakespeare's own recorded words. The passive aggression of the creaturely voice that answers power back with the delinquent alterity of such a bad echo is found to be embodied in Shakespeare's dependent relations with his own Tudor overlords. In Julius Caesar, cries of 'peace, freedom, and liberty!' reverberate within the monumental irony of the Globe playhouse's imitation imperial design. The book views Hamlet as the great refusal of the absolutist system symbolized by certain triumphal facades. It considers King Lear as a staging of the challenge to speak freely by command which confronted the dramatist when the players were, after all, co-opted to proclaim the Stuart monarch's 'Free and Absolute' power. Shakespeare's obsession with doubleness arises in Macbeth from the play's barbaric circumstances. The book also argues that Antony and Cleopatra be viewed as an equivocation before the regime of absolutism, and a tactical surrender to the perspective technology focused on the sovereign only in order to subvert it.

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