This book analyses three Shakespearean plays that mainly deal with abusive forms of banishment: King Richard II, Coriolanus and King Lear. These plays present with particular clarity the mechanism of the banishment proclamation and its consequences, that is, the dynamic of exclusion and its repercussions. Those repercussions may entail breaking the ban to come back illegally and seek revenge; devising strategies of deviation, such as disguise and change of identity; or resorting to mental subterfuges as a means of refuge. They may also lead to entropy – exhaustion, letting go or heartbreak. Each in its own way, they invite us to reflect upon the complex articulation between banishment and abuse of power, upon the strategies of resistance and displacement employed to shun or endure the painful experience of ‘deterritorialisation’; they put into play the dialectics of allegiance and disobedience, of fearlessly speaking and silencing, of endurance and exhaustion; they question both the legitimacy of power and the limits of human resistance. This study draws on French scholars in Shakespearean studies, and also on contemporary French historians, theorists, anthropologists, psychoanalysts, essayists and philosophers, who can help us read Shakespeare’s plays in our time. It thus takes into account some of the works of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Gaston Bachelard, Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Boris Cyrulnik and Emmanuel Housset. The hope is that their respective intellectual approaches will shed specific kinds of light on Shakespeare’s plays and initiate a fruitful dialogue with Anglo-Saxon criticism.
This book analyses King Richard II, Coriolanus and King Lear, three Shakespearean plays that particularly deal with abusive forms of banishment. In these plays, the abuses of power are triggered by fearless speeches that question the legitimacy of power and are misinterpreted as breaches of allegiance; in these plays, both the bold speech of the fearless speaker and the performative sentence of the banisher trigger the relentless dynamic of what Deleuze and Guattari termed ‘deterritorialisation’. This book approaches the central question of the abusive denial of territory from various angles: linguistic, legal and ethical, physical and psychological. It also explores various strategies of resistance: illegal return, which takes the form of a frontal counterattack employing a ‘war machine’; ruse and the experience of internal(ised) exile; and mental escape, which nonetheless may lead to madness, exhaustion or heartbreak.
Chapter 1 contrasts the duty of allegiance with the affirmation of an individual code of ethics that goes against it. It thus examines, in King Richard II, King Lear and Coriolanus, the dialectics of loyalty and disloyalty as subjective notions. Allegiance is presented according to three modes: absolute (obedience is unconditional), contractual (obedience makes sense only if contractual reciprocity is respected) and conflicting (obedience stands in a dialectical relationship with disobedience, a situation which generally breaks down in the face of some personal code of ethics). This chapter focuses on the subordinate figure who refuses to support political excesses (justified by the doctrine of divine right, absolutism or ‘theatrocracy’) and turns into a ‘fearless speaker’, or parrhesiast, that has the courage to speak the truth, thus endangering himself, but also threatening the power of performative speech, as Michel Foucault has shown in his Lectures at the Collège de France.
Chapter 2 examines the connection between abuse of power and banishment in King Richard II, King Lear and Coriolanus. Abuses of power that take the form of banishment can be interpreted as a direct consequence of parrhesia, insofar as parrhesia has been experienced by the interlocutor as speech abuse. Abusive banishment may thus be taken as an ‘effet de retour’ of abusive speech. Naturally, this abuse is not presented as such, as ‘wrong or improper use’, but is openly justified by (mis)interpreting free-spokenness as treason (political misinterpretation) and hubris (moral misinterpretation). A third party is also called for to support or side with the abuser – pagan gods in King Lear, the council in King Richard II and the people in Coriolanus. Yet abuses of power are perceptible in the shift from institutional justice to personal revenge betrayed by the motif of the wilfully deaf ear, by arbitrary decisions, and by the ‘catapulting force’ of affect (here ‘wrath’).
Chapter 3 examines how King Richard II, King Lear and Coriolanus present three tragic variants of the comic motif of the biter bit: the banisher banished. The dynamic of retaliation runs through the three plays, though in different ways. Most of the time, if not always, deterritorialisation is announced by an upsurge of violence, both when the king (or authority in power) expulses the fearless speaker and when the king himself (or authority in power) is rejected, in turn. To take up Foucault’s terms, ‘the sentence takes the form of a counter-attack’, and ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’ becomes ‘deterritorialisation for deterritorialisation’. This chapter focuses on the characters who speak fearlessly in the three Shakespearean plays and shows how those parrhesiastes are banished because they have, linguistically and ethically, a threatening, deterritorialising potential.
Chapter 4 turns to the Shakespearean characters who, being unjustly banished, will not passively endure (Bolingbroke in King Richard II, Coriolanus). Once abroad, they initiate a dynamic of frontal counterattack and illegally return with a Deleuzian ‘war machine’. In King Richard II, Bolingbroke’s intentions remain ambiguous, since he first claims that he comes but for his own, but he then deposes the king to take his place (re-appropriation, reprisal and self-territorialisation). As for Coriolanus, his aim is to destroy Rome so that it is reduced to a tabula rasa (retaliation, deterritorialisation and eradication). This chapter examines how, in Coriolanus and King Richard II, the protagonists’ illegal return is a means to regain one’s name, claim one’s title or forge oneself a new name. It is also the result of a choice that privileges action over words, refuses the soothing quality of words, the refuge of imagination and mental spaces, the benefit of the doctrine of consolatio.
This chapter presents Deleuze’s and Guattari’s theories (from A Thousand Plateaus) and explores several oppositions, such as ‘smooth space’ versus ‘striated space’, ‘game of Go’ versus ‘chess’, which are related to the main opposition, ‘war machine’ versus ‘State apparatus’, before turning to Coriolanus and King Richard II to see how relevant they can be to analyse Coriolanus’ and Bolingbroke’s respective illegal returns. This chapter focuses on the strength of the ‘war machine’: unpredictability and dazzling speed. Such dazzling speed favours an uncommon striking power, which cannot be found on traditional battlefields where enemy armies face one another, one advancing, the other withdrawing, and vice versa, until the issue is decided. The ‘war machine’ is like a weapon of mass destruction for Coriolanus, whereas, for Bolingbroke, it is a deterrent weapon that will ultimately lead to the king’s deposition and his own coronation. Yet the starting point is the same in both plays: so as to maximise its efficiency, the ‘war machine’ must be set in motion at the right time, so as to take advantage of the weakness of the ‘State apparatus’.
Chapter 6 is concerned with possible alternatives to the ‘war machine’. The first alternative it focuses on is to serve another ‘State apparatus’ or ‘structure, for example, to become God’s soldier, which is Mowbray’s choice in King Richard II. Mowbray reterritorialises himself within a politico-religious structure whose ideals transcend any Christian territory’s specific nationalism. The second alternative is to engage in single combat with ‘nomadic’ advantages, that is, following the codes of chivalry but in a Deleuzian ‘smooth’ space, which is Edgar’s decision in King Lear. Single combat is to Edgar what the ‘war machine’ is to Coriolanus: the opportunity to recover his lost name or to forge himself a new one. The third alternative makes a detour via the island of The Tempest with Prospero’s option: Deleuzian ‘magic capture’. Magic may offer a different alternative to the ‘war machine’ – unless it happens to be a ‘war machine’ in disguise.
Chapter 7 concentrates on an indirect strategy of resistance that is the product of ruse, of ‘cunning intelligence’, or metis in Greek. The dynamic of frontal riposte gives way to the dynamic of deviation (the choice of Kent and Edgar in King Lear). This chapter examines how deviation paradoxically means staying here, in the homeland, instead of going away, elsewhere, and how this entails dissembling: changing one’s physical appearance, one’s behaviour and one’s voice, creating an unexpected persona to produce an effect of trompe l’oeil, temporarily renouncing one’s identity to assume the semblance of otherness, so that one’s former self can go unnoticed, as if imperceptible. In King Lear, Kent turns to service, and Edgar to Bedlam begging. Their becoming imperceptible paradoxically entails showing up in the most risky places, right before one’s banisher’s nose, for instance, or publicly undressing to exhibit a nearly naked body that can be scrutinised like a map. It is as if imposing one’s ostentatious persona were the best way to hide one’s genuine identity, and this is why this chapter also focuses on the dialectics of ostentation and dissimulation.
Chapter 8 studies how one experiences otherness (a displacement of social identity) in one’s own country (inner exile), facing a fall in status and humiliation (eating what is not edible, suffering from infamy and lack of charity) and, at times, facing ‘uncanny’ situations. This chapter shows how the dynamic of deviation is soon transformed into a dynamic of humiliation and degradation, and how one tumbles down the social ladder. Making a detour via a debasing form of otherness while staying in one’s homeland amounts to experiencing not what is elsewhere but what lies at the bottom, to hitting rock bottom at home. The horizontal dynamic of (external) exile gives way to the vertical dynamic of (internal) degradation, also raising the question of whether one can recover from it. Fall in status, humiliating punishment, refusal of hospitality, denial of charity and dietary degradation posing a threat to sanity are generally experienced when the exile finds himself in a hostile foreign territory. Yet the internal exile suffers from the same dynamic of debasement in his homeland, and there may be certain similarities with facing the sudden appearance of the ‘uncanny’.