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.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts covered in the preceding chapters of the book. The book focuses on all new approaches to a familiar narrative, in which cultural form and religious reform were as closely identified as Shakespeare's constabulary suspects, and the aesthetic emerged as a placeholder for toleration when the Wars of Religion stalled, because, in the words of Hugh Grady, 'it began to appear that art, not any faith, would have to provide a cultural community'. 'Confession is a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship', Micheal Foucault had maintained, 'for one does not confess without the presence of the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgive, console, and reconcile. The contributors to Forms of Faith have apparently taken a self-denying ordinance never to mention the term 'political theology' which so excites Shakespeareans.
The thought of the outside in Shakespeare’s histories
William Shakespeare structured his histories around the thought of the outside as a consummation devoutly wished, the escape from the 'water wallèd bulwark' of Dover cliffs. In 1599 the Lancashire poet John Weever praised Shakespeare as creator of characters like Richard III in a book of Epigrams. What is certain is that Richard III is constructed around a series of tributes to the Stanleys that exaggerates their importance in the invasion of 1485 which brought the Tudors to power. The battle of Bosworth takes place, in Shakespeare's rewriting, on All Souls' Day and it could be that Richard III was written for performance in 1593 on that day of the dead. By making Henry VII's first thought as king concern for the boy who was known as Lord Strange, Shakespeare concluded Richard III with a question that would have had sinister implications for Strange's actors and their audience.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book talks about art and power on William Shakespeare's stage, and how the sovereignty of the playwright is complicated by his service as a player. It argues that his plays are systematically engaged in untying freedom from royalty by dismantling sovereignty in all its forms. The book describes the Hamlet as the great refusal of the absolutist system symbolized by such triumphal facades. King Lear is its author's profoundest critique of his own Ubu- like 'abject position', of the perverse power of weakness, the queer art of failure, and the absolutism of the autonomous artwork. As a King's Man, Shakespeare may himself have 'borne the canopy' on one of the triumphal arches at King James's coronation in 1604.
William Shakespeare span many sad stories about the 'bare/ruin'd choirs' and 'thorny point of bare distress', caused by England's textile-driven capitalist revolution. Historian Paul Veyne likens Shakespeare to Michel Foucault for his 'sceptic renouncement' of a self- presence that would make sense of the world. Shakespeare was, not the first to pathologize the infuriating silence of the 'Spartan dog' who hides himself behind impenetrable lies, as Katharine Eisaman Maus demonstrates in her study of interiority. The physical act of kneeling embodies the paradoxical power of weakness for Shakespeare. The old legal figment of Nobody, a subject without an identity, was much on Shakespeare's mind as an Odyssean figure for the disavowal of subjective authorial responsibility, recent critics show. Shakespeare was the author of his own authorship, who produced himself as the 'subject of his own creation'.
William Shakespeare's posture towards his Welsh patrons can be viewed as an indicator of the entire relation of his art to power, and of his preoccupation with the paradoxical strength of weakness. Shakespeare's lucky escape from questioning when his company was suspected of reviving a play about Richard II, probably his own, as a reveille for the Essex Revolt is one of the great mysteries of his biography. In his study of 'The Question of Britain,' Between Nations, David Baker interprets this famously backhanded compliment as a plea to "conqu'ring Caesar" to save 'Englishness' from 'barbaric Gaels'. The subaltern theory of Celtic repression in the Henriad would be a test case for postcolonial Shakespeare criticism. From a post-devolution Welsh perspective, a Shakespeare play is itself 'the ailment' it 'helps to diagnose', so culpably is the text to be associated with the Anglo-Saxon imperium that culminates in the Pax Americana.
The echoes of Rome appear to strike the author of Julius Caesar as both literal and figurative. In the circular world of Julius Caesar, as Theodor Adorno wrote of Richard Wagner's opera house at Bayreuth, 'every step forwards is a step back into the remote past'. Like Marat, William Shakespeare's revolutionaries intend to be authors of a 'lofty scene' that abstracts 'peace, freedom, and liberty' from the carnal matter of the dead sovereignty. In Julius Caesar Shakespeare's Roman triumph is said to reprise Elizabeth's Armada parade. The 'conscious classical parallel' with the empire structured Elizabeth's festivals because the regime projected its power as a Roman renovatio, and English poets 'thought of these shows as "triumphs"'. Of all the 'untimely matters' in Julius Caesar it is the installation of 'the public chair' or official 'pulpit' that introduces the greatest derangement of Shakespeare's playhouse yet attracts least comment.
Srigley suggests Hamlet was, in fact, revived at Greenwich in July 1606, when 'the King of Denmark would have watched a play in which the mirror was held up' to his inebriated and philandering court. William Shakespeare goes to conspicuous lengths in the Hamlet quartos to make Elsinore a vertiginous 'place of desperation'. Andrew Hadfield speaks for a current consensus when he deciphers Hamlet as 'a coded warning' of 'the problems that James might bring with him to England political instability. Far from being Shakespeare's own artistic manifesto, Hamlet's patronizing 'advice' to the players as their self-appointed Maecenas would have made for 'a disastrous failure in the Elizabethan commercial theatre'. On 23 January 2009 fresh evidence was published to confirm that Shakespeare's apprehension about the rottenness of Denmark had been acute. 'It is even suggested', one newspaper reported breathlessly, 'that Shakespeare used the alleged liaison as an inspiration for Hamlet'.
New Historicist critics liked to believe that in King Lear, William Shakespeare 'insists on the iconic nature of the monarch's body'. Stephen Booth observes, in King Lear the cliche that 'All the world's a stage' has suddenly become so fraught because the play as an event in the lives of its audience. Shakespeare's revulsion from his conflicted desire 'to please you every day' may have been triggered by the sheer number of days on which the King's Men were expected to perform for King James. In the year preceding the tragedy about 'the great stage of fools' the Revels Office listed eleven court appearances by His Majesty's players. Shakespeare devised at the instant of his greatest access to the royal palace should be his retelling of Cinderella. Charles Perrault, the architect who first recorded Cendrillon, had been Colbert's aide for historians 'suggesting and supervising cultural policies to glorify the king'.
The theorist of political theology considered that Shakespeare was committed to the myth of divine right, and in allusions like the one to touching for the 'King's Evil' as 'A most miraculous work in this good King. William Shakespeare's framing of the body of the monarch in the mirror of Macbeth has come to be viewed as one of the definitive statements of Baroque court art. In Portrait of the King Louis Marin described how the Eucharistic doctrine of sacral kingship came in France to be disastrously identified with his body natural. For a survivor of Hitler and Stalin, such as Kott, the 'double trouble' of Macbeth is the nightmare of the criminal state. The stirrer of 'double trouble' in Macbeth was obsessed by the doppelganger story of Cain and Abel, writes R.A. Foakes in his study Shakespeare and Violence, but with a sense of the arbitrariness of God's empowerment.