Shakespeare and the Politics of Community
University of Dundee
Ward, Ian. "Shakespeare and the Politics of Community."
Modern Literary Studies 4.3 (January, 1999): 2.1-45 <URL:
The turn towards a distinctively narrative idea of community has emerged
as a central conceptual premise in both communitarian and postmodern scholarship.
In this article, we will investigate this idea of narrative community,
and suggest its import for contemporary legal and political theory. In
the first part of the article, we will discuss the idea of a narrative
community, concentrating particularly on the work of Martha Nussbaum and
Iris Murdoch. At the heart of their theses is the suggestion that literature
provides a necessary "supplement" to legal thinking, one which reveals
the essentially illusory nature of liberal legalism and which maintains
an alternative and subversive discourse of community. In the second part
of the article we will discuss the extent to which early modern political
thought wrestled with evolving ideas of private association and their challenge
to the idealised models of civic community. This discussion will then provide
a necessary context for the introduction of a literary "supplement," and
the following two parts will discuss Shakespeare's description of the politics
of association, concentrating in particular on that presented in Love's
Labours Lost. In the final part of the article, we will discuss the
extent to which use of the Shakespearian "supplement" necessarily undermines
any uncritical acceptance of the narrative idea of community. The fact
that both public and private associations are created, but immediately
destabilized, by textuality does not deny the idea of a narrative community.
Indeed, it makes it undeniable. But it does destabilize any attempt to
assert any rigid model of communitarian politics. It is precisely this
insight which characterises postmodern ideas of communities, from Rousseau's
cynical commentary on idealised friendship, through Rorty's ironic postmodern
liberalism, to Derrida's recent invocation of a "politics of friendship."
The Idea of an Imagined Community
Michael Ignatieff has suggested that modern society can be characterised
as one of alienated "strangers" no longer bound together by a sense of
community. Sharing the common rejection of liberal legalism, "there is
more to respect in a person than his rights," Ignatieff decries the repeated
failure to address human "needs" by restoring a politics of human "good."
He seeks to use literature in order to conceptualise a political problem,
largely because liberal political discourse is unable to do so. Whilst
political science tends to dismiss the relevance of political "utopias,"literature
remains a realm of hope. We can only "imagine" what strangers need. Accordingly,
a reconstructive politics must be premised on "images of belonging." We
need such images in order "to keep us human," for without "the light of
language we risk becoming strangers to our better selves."
It is in this spirit, part despairing, part desperately hopeful, that Martha
Nussbaum has sought to reinvigorate the classical idea of a narrative political
community. In Cultivating Humanity, Nussbaum advocates the use of
literature as part of the wider responsibility for educating "world citizens"
(ix). The ambition of a liberal education should be one which seeks to
liberate the "mind from the bondage of habit and custom, producing citizens
who can function with sensitivity and alertness as citizens of the whole
world." The ability to relate "stories of people's real diversity and complexity"
is essential if this ambition is to be realised. What must be reinvigorated
is the "narrative imagination," which means "the ability to think what
it might be like to be in the shoes of a person different from oneself,
to be an intelligent reader of that person's story, and to understand the
emotions and wishes and desires that someone so placed might have." Moreover,
the ability to "identify" with others leads to the ability to make moral
judgment, and to engage constructively in the processes of civic government.
Literature plays a "vital" political role, by "cultivating powers of imagination
that are essential to citizenship." This is not to suggest that literature
operates to level political difference. As Nussbaum notes, the quality
of "imagining" is that it "reveals to us that we are not all brothers under
the skin." What literature can do, however, is offer a medium by which
moral judgment can operate to assist political accommodation through constructive
This project is one which Nussbaum has developed over a number of years.
In Love's Knowledge, she emphasised the immanent relation between
literature, politics and ethics. The affinity between literature and ethics
is founded on a shared search for truths. Both demand ethical engagement,
but the virtue of literature lies, not merely in the accessibility of its
medium, but also in the more "realistic" way in which it incorporates the
worlds of emotion, compassion and imagination. It is literature which most
effectively "speaks about us, about our lives and choices and emotions,
about our social existence and the totality of our connections."
The idea of civic responsibility underlines the political affinity which
complements Nussbaum's educational vision. A liberal education that is
founded on the Socratic ideal of critical questioning and moral judgment
can reveal a "life that is open to the whole world." It will show that
there is "after all more joy in the kind of citizenship that questions
than in the kind that simply applauds, more fascination in the study of
human beings in all their real variety and complexity than in the zealous
pursuit of superficial stereotypes, more genuine love and friendship in
the life of questioning and self-government than in submission to authority."
Ultimately, the "future of democracy" depends upon the need to reinvigorate
a sense of political community and civic responsibility through a reawakened
political imagination (84, 94-7).
As she suggested in Love's Knowledge, a "community is formed by
author and readers," and in such a way a community can better appreciate
the reality that it is bound together by a shared "ethical interest," even
if it admits the contingency of that ethics. A politics that is founded
on the idea of community is premised on the binding force of narrative
imagination. In Poetic Justice, Nussbaum
affirmed the immediately political import of narrative imagination. Public
discourse is, necessarily, a literary engagement, and the "literary imagination"
is the "essential ingredient" of the "ethical stance" which founds a politics
of community. It may not be the only ingredient in such a politics, but
it is one which cannot, and should not, be diminished. It is the failure
of the liberal tradition to take account of emotions and literature in
its conceptions of justice which has led to an essentially dislocated politics
and impoverished sense of democracy. Accordingly, the "democratizing mission"
lies, as it always has, with the poets and the ideal of the poet-judge.
The "mission of imagination, inclusion, sympathy and voice," which has
always characterised the poet, must now be championed by judges. This does
not just mean judges in courtrooms, but also all of us, citizens engaged
constantly in moral and political judgments.
Both the political ambition of Poetic Justice and the educational
ambition of Cultivating Humanity are immanently related. Both are
centred on the need to reinvigorate the Socratic ethic in order to better
appreciate the idea of practical reason. The return to classical Greece
in order to reinvest a communitarian politics with an appropriate form
of education, one that is critical and imaginative, is immediately resonant
of other communitarians such as Alisdair MacIntyre or Charles Taylor. In
his Sources of the Self, Taylor sought to reestablish a sense of
community on the premise that "we grasp our lives in a narrative" (47).
A politics of community must be founded on a reinvigorated politics of
the self. We "learn our languages of moral and spiritual discernment,"
Taylor tells us, "by being brought into an ongoing conversation by those
who bring us up." In such terms, we stand in "conversation" with our "immediate
historic community." Our identities are constructs of past, present and
The reconstructive communitarian vision of politics is founded on the reconstitutive
potential of literature. Any "good" life requires conversation, and articulation
is "a necessary condition of cohesion." Conversely, according to Taylor,
the triumph of liberalism is premised on the diminution of narrative and
the literary imagination in the political process. Its reversal, accordingly,
can only be effected through a return to the Platonic appreciation of the
narrative congruence between the good of citizen and community (115-23,
159-68, 212-49, 275-89). To be moved by literature is to be drawn into
political sensibilities, to see the fate of others as intrinsically linked
with the fate of the self. The self is "recentred" in literature. We can
learn to assert ourselves by describing our own situation in the public
sphere, and in doing so we use literature to destroy the pretended barriers
which seek to distinguish public from private, and thus divide the self
Like Taylor, Nussbaum insists that the critical ambition of a Socratic
education lies in the education of citizens in the arts of government.
If the idea of participatory democracy is to be realised, then it must
be founded on a form of education that is not driven by scientific certainties,
but which, in contrast, properly appreciates the diversity and plurality
of a world described and understood through the media of narrative political
imagination. Such an imagination nourishes a practical, as opposed to pure,
reason, one that is capable of directing a community's "deliberative judgment
about the overall good." Within this ethical frame, the Aristotelian idea
of practical reason was founded upon the ability to effect particular justice
through the employment of emotion and imagination. It is this "passionate
engagement" with political life which is absent in the modern world (Humanity
36n, 55-101, 184). What the Greeks understood so much better that we do
today, is the simple fact that democracy is only democracy if everyone
feels they belong, and it is this notion which underpins the communitarian
concentration on the politics of friendship. According to Nussbaum, the
classical conception of "justice" is founded on a "compassionate imagination."
The modern world, like the classical, must come to realise that politics
is as much about love and compassion as it is rules and rights.
Iris Murdoch has consistently championed the integral role of literature
in the quest for a revived moral philosophy. Echoing the pervasive sense
of intellectual and moral crisis, she asserts that, for "both the collective
and the individual salvation of the human race, art is doubtless more important
than philosophy, and literature most important of all." At the root of
Murdoch's writings is a determination to investigate Plato's seminal argument
between philosophy and poetry, truth and fiction (Existentialists and
Mystics xii-iii, 362, 386-463). Literature "stirs and satisfies our
curiosity, it interests us in other people and other scenes, and helps
us to be tolerant and generous." The literary writer, and here Murdoch
cites Shakespeare as a particular example, is an "inconspicuous" thinker,
a philosopher who chooses to philosophise through the media of fiction
or poetry. The civic import of Murdoch's elision of literature and philosophy
is clear. Literature, she concludes, helps the "good citizen" to know what
to do. Even if our post-metaphysical world has abandoned ethical absolutes,
no one can avoid moral judgments, and so every citizen is engaged in the
construction of a political morality in every community.
In this sense, art is the only means by which the ideal of democracy can
be reinvigorated and given meaning in modern society (228).
The ethical engagement is, then, a political engagement, and, by demanding
our constant participation, the root of potential democratic renewal. It
is here that the "imagination," as a construct of emotion as well as reason,
plays such a pivotal political role. The "world which we confront is not
just a world of facts but a world upon which our imagination has, at any
given moment, already worked." We are constructed, in part, by our historical
imagination. Moreover, many of our "beliefs" are founded in our "active
imagination." The "formulation of beliefs about other people often proceeds
and must proceed imaginatively and under a direct pressure of will." We
"have to attend to people, we may have to have faith in them, and here
justice and realism may demand the inhibition of certain pictures, the
promotion of others." To be a "human being" is to actively engage in the
political imagination, to make moral judgments, about both self and others
(199). Imagination does not just facilitate moral judgment. It also guides
it. Like Taylor and Nussbaum, Murdoch repeatedly advocates a sense of moral
"good." If modern rationalism has shied away from any determinate sense
of good, art is prepared to fill the void. The notion of community, founded
on the "love" of others, can only make sense if there is a conception of
moral good. It does not need to be a rationally determinate "sense," but
communities must be defined by some notion of political morality, even
if it is merely an instinctive response to the hungry or the distressed
The mere absence of metaphysical absolutes does not, then, excuse morality
from its political responsibilities, anymore than the admission of fundamental
political contingency denies the role of morality in binding individuals
together in communities. More than ever there is a need to revitalise the
"tired imagination" of political "practice," and this can only be achieved
by a moral philosophy which appreciates its literary constitution (184).
The abandonment of metaphysical foundations establishes the context of
Murdoch's particular interest in existentialism, and the essential Nietzschean
assertion that modern man is trapped by a process of imagined self-determination.
The individual is a piece of art, and in our anti-metaphysical intellectual
environment, art provides the only ethical foundation, albeit a necessarily
indeterminate and fluid one. The reassertion
of the contingent over the determinate, of art over the mythology of pure
reason, and of the struggle between literature and philosophy, was the
central thesis in her Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. Murdoch's
history of philosophy is one which tells a "story" of the rise and fall
and rise again of the aesthetic imagination; a story which enjoys an immediate
parallel with the rise and fall of religion (10-18, 51-77). This is, of
course, the critical issue. Literature does fashion the political imagination,
but it is not the only constituent of politics. There is also real experience,
political science, and even, to some degree, the "logic" of law. As Derrida
warns, and as Murdoch acknowledges, the "art object" can too easily become
a "false unity" (86, 185-216). The invocation of literature is a "supplement"
to political practice. Although practice is fashioned by imagination, that
imagination is not itself practice. It is a salutary warning, one which,
as Murdoch notes, remains to haunt the aspirations of Derridean postmodernism.
The Arts of Association
The invocation of literature as a necessary "supplement" to political and
ethical questions is then common to both Nussbaum and Murdoch. Indeed,
the latter explicitly suggests that a post-metaphysical humanism is premised
on a return to a pre-socialist romanticism, one of the heart as well as
human consciousness, to Shakespeare rather than to Marx (Existentialists
171-86, 240-2). Taylor, too, suggested that a specific return to early
modern literature is a necessary premise for any revitalised sense of political
community. The age of Shakespeare, he suggested, was the last to address
as well as experience the acute sense of alienation and despair which pervades
contemporary public philosophy, an age which witnessed a fundamental struggle
between those who clung to an idea of community, or commonwealth, and those
who sensed that a natural state of disorder better described political
reality. In the end it was an intellectual struggle won by the pessimists,
the Machiavellis and Hobbes. Man was indeed, as Machiavelli suggested,
"hell-bent" on "self-ruin," and the only mechanism for the preservation
of society lay with an emergent liberal legalism, the fiction of public
and private spheres of government and mythologies of "rights" dedicated
to patrolling these notional boundaries (Sources
Certainly the political theology of the Elizabethan commonwealth was founded
on an image of fraternity. Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity,
having established the description of the Anglican settlement on an Aristotelian
idea of community, understandably approved the classical "duty" incumbent
on men "no less to love others than themselves." We are, he affirmed in
an explicit counter to Machiavelli's pessimism, "naturally induced to seek
communion and fellowship with others" (79-80, 87). Montaigne echoed the
Aristotelian injunction. "There is nothing for which nature seems to have
given us such a bent as for society," he assured his readers. "And," moreover,
"Aristotle says that good lawgivers have paid more attention to friendship
than to justice." Friendship is the "peak" of a "perfect society" (Essays
92-3). In these more secular terms, friendship was generally esteemed.
Etienne de la Boetie advised that "our nature is such that the common duties
of friendship consume a good portion of our lives" (Charier, A History
of Private Life 21). The idea of "duty" is important. For many, the
idea of friendship was immediately idealised, in classical terms, as a
matter of responsibility to fellow members of the community. In his Book
of the Governor, Sir Thomas Elyot defined the good magistrate as one
who was a "plain and unfeigned friend." The
secular aspect was, then, intimately related to classical models of public
and civic association. James Harrington's Oceana, whilst described
more in terms of agricultural settlement than ideals of Roman civic governance,
was firmly based on received models of citizen "virtue." Indeed, as John
Pocock noted, the importance of Oceana lies precisely in its translation
of classical ideas of association into a world determined by the jurisprudence
of the common law. Oceana was described
in terms of a "supplementary" jurisprudence of civic association.
According to Harrington, the "greatest artist in the modern world" was
indeed Machiavelli, whose Discourses had graphically portrayed the
merits and demerits of republicanism and its associated moral and political
affinities. Rome, and its greatness, were
founded on a conception of citizen virtue, as exemplified by "good education"
and "good laws" (113-14). Nothing binds together a community as effectively
as a feeling of "fellowship," and a constitutive sense of active citizenship,
and there is no good community without "citizens of good repute." Of course,
the "repute" is more important than the "good." For Machiavelli, government
is always a form of "theatre," and the primary purpose of law was to provide
an aesthetic representation of this "good."
The good citizen and good laws were co-determinative of an ideal, imagined,
model of political association. Deep down, at least in terms of political
aspirations, men were simple "brutes." Accordingly, the imaginary "well-being
of the community" is paramount, and the disadvantage of any "private" interest
can always be justified in terms of this fiction (375).
The idealised community is entirely dependant upon the complementary ideal
of active citizenship. This citizenship provided a dynamic political concept,
suggestive of participation but falling short of democracy. The hazard,
as the history of Rome reveals, is the tendency for democracy to give way
to anarchy. Being both "wicked" and stupid, men must be allowed to think
they participate, but nothing more. The public aspect of the model citizen
was quite distinct from the private reality of the self-interested individual.
Erasmus appreciated the dissonance between ideal and real models of citizenry,
but in a rather different way. For Erasmus a virtuous citizenry was precisely
necessary in order to check the natural propensity for the private interest
of the godly prince to overcome his appreciation of public magisterial
responsibility. The political responsibility of the body of citizenry was
essential for the good government of the political community, and so accordingly,
the citizenry must be educated with regard to what is "conducive to common
good" (The Education of a Christian Prince 37, 79-81). With Erasmus,
as with Harrington, the idea of Aristotelian virtue is refashioned so as
to accommodate the necessary constituents of a reformed and godly commonwealth.
At the same time, aside from these classical conceptions, friendship was
also seen as something more private and personal, and it was this perception
which gained in strength as liberal ideology consigned friendship to a
more private domain. Montaigne recognised both forms, and perceptively
prophesied the evolution of a more "private" conception (92-3, 97-8). It
was not that liberalism was prepared to abandon the politics of friendship,
but by forcing this demarcation it was better capable of channelling and
controlling the potentially destabilizing forces of affinity (A
of Private Life 21-57). It was partly for this reason that so many
contemporaries thought the rise of private friendship to be an indirect
threat to the role of the family as the central unit of affinity within
the community. In a paradoxical sense,
an echo of this threat can be found in Montaigne, who founded his ideal
of friendship on Aristotelian grounds, but who admitted that a "unique
and dominant friendship dissolves all other obligations" (101).
The ideal of the honest friend, one whose association was not defined by
a sense of public duty, was much cherished. Sir Thomas More placed it at
the heart of his Utopia. The social relations of Utopia were
"uniformly friendly," primarily because the integrity of friends was not
threatened by avarice and competition. The ideal of a commonwealth of common
property, which More implicitly recommended, was premised on an idea of
friendship. Erasmus, likewise, approved Aristotle's injunction that "what
friends have is common property." More's ideal form of the Christian commonwealth,
the commonwealth of friends, was one which would be defined in terms of
communal possession. Francis Bacon echoed
More's ideal, but also expressed the more pragmatic doubts with regard
to the potential for friendship to be translated into faction. All communities,
he acknowledged, are founded on the fellowship fashioned by friendships
between citizens. As a matter of fashioned public understanding, friendship
"maketh daylight in the understanding, out of darkness and confusion of
thoughts." Moreover, there is greater practical wisdom to be gleaned from
"an hour's discourse than by a day's meditation." Yet, taken to extremes,
"private suits" of political faction can only "putrefy the public good"
(Essays 138-42, 207-8). The tension between the good of civic association
and the potential license of private friendship haunted both Bacon and
Montaigne, just as it had Machiavelli.
If the notion that friendship could be a foundation for public relations
was accepted, even if many clearly had their doubts about its constitutive
role in a political community, the same to a certain degree was true of
the family, a unit of association which occupied a distinctly ambiguous
position in the cusp of both public and private spheres. According to Bacon,
the virtue in a man having a family to govern lay in its dissipating his
energies and reducing his temptation to get involved in public life (81).
The family was an area of private retreat, but also of public responsibility.
The family unit was the essential unit of identity and community in Shakespeare's
England, so much so that when love threatened the sanctity of the family,
it posed a direct challenge to the very idea of commonwealth.
According to William Gouge, the godly family was a "little commonwealth,"
a "school wherein the first principles and grounds of government and subjection
are learned." John Downame referred to the family as "a seminary of the
church and commonwealth, and a private school, wherein children and servants
are fitted for public assemblies" (Fletcher, Gender, Sex and Subordination
In this sense the politics of family became an immediately constitutional
issue. Sir Thomas Smith believed that the family was the founding unit
of the commonwealth, the "first and most natural beginning and source of
cities, towns, nations, kingdoms, and of all civil societies" (Amussen,
An Ordered Society 199).
The centrality of the family as the basic social unit immediately militated
against any countervailing notions of free association. Again, the idea
of friendship as a public duty was essential if the constitutional role
of the family was to be preserved. Someone somewhere must have the power
to regulate associations, and that figure, of course, was the father. Emphasising
their inherent constitutional reponsibility, Hooker affirmed that "fathers
within their private families nature hath given a supreme power, for which
cause we see throughout the world even from the first foundation thereof,
all men have ever been taken as lords and lawful kings in their own houses"
(90). In the political imagination the family was a metaphor for government
at all social levels. In Patriarcha, Sir Robert Filmer described
the English commonwealth as one national family. Thus, "as the father over
one family so the king, as the father over many families, extends his care
to preserve, feed, clothe, instruct and defend the whole commonwealth."
The idea of a civic education was central to the ideal of the protestant
family, and provided the imagined link with the public world of civic association.
The coupling of constitutional and theological responsibility, in a polity
which defined itself precisely on these terms, was critical. As Filmer
affirmed, the ordering of a commonwealth was founded on the acknowledgement
that the "subordination of children is the fountain of all regal authority,
by the ordination of God himself."
Given the deeply public nature of the private family, and its defining
role in the English commonwealth, it was therefore all the more alarming
when it appeared to be under threat. The puritan William Stubbes voiced
the concern of many when he wondered, "Was there ever seen less obedience
in youth of all sorts, both menkind and womenkind, towards their superiors,
parents, masters and governors?" (Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion
The commonly sensed root of this deeply constitutional disobedience was
free association, the democracy of love and friendship. The early modern
mind, like today's, was obsessed with love. It is, Bacon advised, "impossible
to love and to be wise" (88-9). Humanist education shared a common suspicion
of love, admiring its romantic ideal but fearing its potential for disrupting
the essential unit of private government and civic association. Not least
disruptive, both politically and economically, was the potential for love
to encourage disobedience of patriarchal authority with regard to marriage,
an institution which remained firmly situated within the public sphere
of civic association. According to Plutarch, the humanist definition of
love was precisely that of an emotional bond between those socially unsuited
for marriage. Unrequited love was far more virtuous than requited love,
and became a central cultural fiction at the court of the Fairy Queen.
Many of Elizabeth's courtiers felt it their duty to follow the example
described by Sidney, and fall in love with unattainable or otherwise unsuitable
lovers (Fletcher, Gender 96-8).
Love was seen to be an intensely private emotion, acceptable only so long
as it did not infringe upon public responsibilities, either to state or
family. The core unit of the public and political community remained the
family, and the idea that the private passions of love should be subordinated
to the public responsibilities of family stability, the sanctity of marriage
and procreation, was well-accepted. At the same time, however, so too was
the increasing sense that this particular fiction was ever less tenable.
Montaigne suggested that all private relations, marital or otherwise, must
be founded on a conception of free association. "In the friendship I speak
of," he asserted, "they mix and blend one into the other in so perfect
a union that the seam which has joined them is effaced and disappears."
The political community, he implied, needed love and free association far
more than it needed classical fictions of dutiful friendship (97). For
Montaigne, the attraction of a distinct private sphere lay precisely in
its ability to secure free association, and thereby promote an incipient
form of liberal democracy.
A Sweet Fellowship in Shame: Love's Labours Lost and the Literature
The late twentieth century mind, schooled in the norms of liberal legalism,
might find it difficult to appreciate that the laws of friendship are every
bit as important in jurisprudential terms as laws of property, contract
or tort. But the idea that forms of association, from friendship to love,
were matters of both public and private import was readily accepted by
the early modern mind. Aside from the observations of Bacon, Machiavelli
or Montaigne, there is the evidence of contemporary literature. As we noted
earlier, the narrative communitarian seeking to challenge the pretended
fictions of public and private spheres of government, urges a recourse
to the "supplementary" jurisprudence of literature, for it is literature
which both describes and constitutes our present political and legal imagination.
It is an approach which, as Nussbaum or Murdoch emphasise, characterised
early modern intellectual life. Today's Shakespeare might be a canon of
a demarcated discipline of English literature, but the Shakespeare of the
turn of the sixteenth century was a public philosopher, precisely because
he wrote plays for public performance, which immediately addressed matters
of politics and philosophy. When Shakespeare wrote about the politics of
civic and private association he consciously enjoined a burning contemporary
debate about the political morality of the early modern constitution. As
Murdoch suggests, the great strength of Shakespeare's writings lies in
a ready acceptance of the creative capacity of the audience. A willingness
to "invite immediate involvement and participation," necessarily invites
a form of participatory democracy which, though appreciated in the late
sixteenth century, has been rather lost in intervening centuries.
Recent Shakespearian scholarship has stressed the extent to which the cosy
demarcation of texts, the histories, the comedies, the tragedies, is itself
the product of a particular, distinctively modern, ideological frame of
mind which prefers to see history or politics as something performed only
in the public sphere, whilst comedy is somehow a matter of private delectation.
In fact, as the cultural materialist critique has emphasised, the politics
of the comedies is every bit as political as that of the histories, and
in these terms, the politics of Illyria or Arden is as relevant to the
discussion of constitutional issues in Shakespeare as is the politics of
Richard II's England or Caesar's Rome.
According to Peter Smith, the comedies best illustrate Shakespeare's appreciation
that politics, understood as the relations between individuals within communities,
the definition of which is constantly shifting, is a "labyrinthine world
with no fixed signposts." It is comedy, rather than history or tragedy,
which, ultimately, can suggest mechanisms for social "consensus," because
it is comedy which is best able to reconcile individuals to human difference;
a conclusion which bears striking similarity to that of Nussbaum, which
we discussed earlier (Social Shakespeare 17-39).
In this part of the article we are, accordingly, going to examine the politics
of Navarre in Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost, a play which has
recently come to prominence in the attempt to ascertain a Shakespearean
politics of community. Love's Labours Lost, it has been recently
suggested, describes the hazards of any magisterial attempt to rule over
people's private lives and emotions, rather than securing a commonwealth.
It is an error of sovereign jurisdiction which leads to its potential destabilization,
and reveals a destructive tendency, intrinsic to the image of the complete
renaissance prince, to establish sovereign jurisdiction over imagined spheres
of public and private government (Montrose 60-71). The fact that
the play was probably written for an audience well versed in the law and
the idea of government as a rhetorical art, most likely an Inns of Court
audience, has confirmed the impression that the play is dedicated to questions
of community and affinity; questions which would have been perceived at
the time as being deeply political.
The King of Navarre appears to be the image of the ideal renaissance prince,
courtier, negotiator, administrator, justiciar. Yet, these duties are relegated
behind that of pursuing further knowledge, and his explicit hope that greater
knowledge will confer upon him a "god-like recompense" (1.1.58).
The play revolves around the attempt of four men to translate their friendship
into an ascetic relationship dedicated solely to the attainment of knowledge
and to the exclusion of all other natural association, including love.
Theirs is a most acute form of exclusion, refusing to admit of any other
meaningful social interaction, as well as denying the natural impulses
of love, sexuality and regeneration, and implicitly the constitutional
authority and responsibilities of patriarchy. Navarre, the King hopes,
will become the "wonder of the world," a "little academe" reserved for
a handful of favourites and friends (1.1.12-3). The established opposition
between the perceived order provided by knowledge, and language, and the
feared disorder of love is pivotal. When Berowne admits that he has fallen
in love, Longaville suggests that he is subjugated. Indeed, when Berowne
then becomes its advocate, he stresses the irresistible nature of such
a "fiery" force (4.3.272-3, 314-61).
The fact that the King attempts to make their arrangement binding by taking
an oath further condemns their venture. It is, he affirms, an "edict" which
is sealed by their respective "deep oaths" (1.1.11, 19, 22-3). Oaths are
not to be lightly taken, representing in the private world a form of customary
jurisprudence which gestures towards the legality of contracts and other
binding agreements. It is a deeply unnatural
act, the legalising of mere "vain delight" as the King admits, made all
the more unnatural by the seeming realisation by the friends that what
they do is against the dictates of both nature and politics, as well as
the laws of "gentility" (1.1.71, 127). As Berowne admits, they "cannot
cross the cause why" they "were born," which is love and procreation (4.3.214).
Indeed, by going further and suggesting that their search for knowledge
goes beyond the dictates of "common sense," it is clear that Berowne appreciates
that knowledge for its own sake is potentially futile; an appreciation
that was vividly asserted in Bacon's Advancement of Learning (1.1.25-7,
33-48). Berowne is consistently the most subversive of the friends, not
because he immediately intends to subvert friendship, but because he seems
to appreciate the folly of trying to regiment it. From the very beginning
he realises the folly of their "game," and the danger that such "oaths
and laws will prove an idle scorn," but is prepared to go along with it
anyway (1.1.111-7, 300). The events in 4.3 merely confirm his fears, as
the King recognises that they have all broken their oaths with indecent
haste, and for nothing but love. Yet when it becomes apparent that the
friends have all broken their oaths, he seems relatively unconcerned by
their "sweet fellowship in shame" (4.3.46).
In Love's Labours Lost, whilst not criticising knowledge itself,
Shakespeare clearly ridicules its unwarranted veneration. In Praise
of Folly, Erasmus had affirmed that too much knowledge can lead men
to deny their essential humanity. The critical
problem with the over-reliance on the form of learning is the temptation
of hypocrisy. For many of Shakespeare's contemporaries, the form of learning
was too readily translated into an art of hypocrisy and deceit, and Berowne,
happy to exploit his deceptions in order to "whip hypocrisy," comes to
epitomise this tendency (4.3.148). Indeed,
as Berowne appreciates, all the fellows of the "little" academy have embraced
hypocrisy by submitting themselves to poetry, and in the final scene he
further admits that the friends have behaved as foolishly in love as they
did in trying to deny love; on both occasions, having attempted to dissimulate,
to deceive both themselves and the objects of the affection (4.3.342-5,
The sub-plots are dedicated to the same theme. The fantastic Spaniard Armado
is a caricature of the pomposity of excessive learning, a man quite incapable
of appreciating the necessary balance required for its proper application,
a man who esteems the "Sweet smoke of rhetoric," without appreciating that
language can as much create obfuscation and confusion as it can connect
individuals (3.1.60). Nathaniel clearly aspires to be a "good member of
the commonwealth," but assumes that social exclusivity, founded on an ability
to dissimulate effectively through the use of language, will qualify him
(4.2.74). Rhetoric is employed to constrain and shape private relations,
and it is in the exchanges between these characters that Shakespeare can
again emphasise the political ambiguity of language. Nathaniel is determined
to prove himself by establishing truth in words, whilst Holofernes immediately
destabilizes his ambition, disproving any pretended truth in sentence meaning
Costard and Moth, in their respective ways, provide the mocking voice of
common sense. In the very first scene, Costard undermines the attempt to
define some sort of model woman, which the men can then evade (1.1.280-90).
The public image of female gender is a political fiction necessitated by
a determination to constrain private association. Moth, meanwhile, similarly
dedicates himself to undermining the idea that a man can determine himself
solely through language. Language connects, but it is a means, not an end.
Moreover, Moth further emphasises that words can just as easily deceive
as inform, entrap as liberate (5.1.44-63). The tendency for knowledge to
be subverted by language, and for the application of knowledge to be denied
by the poetic formality is readily appreciated by the Princess, who notes
that flattery, "beauty" created purely by "tongues," is tenuous (2.1.13-6).
Moreover, it is the Princess and her ladies who finally force Berowne to
admit that exclusive reliance on language, on "tafetta phrases" and "silken
terms precise," is ultimately futile (5.2.402-15). It Rosaline who finally
instructs Berowne that the meaning of words ultimately rests with the audience,
"him that hears it," not the speaker "that makes it" (5.2.853-5).
The Princess and her ladies provide a consistent alternative voice of common
sense, directed against the ever-present potential of language to furnish
dissimulation and exclusivity. It is Katherine who reveals her contempt
for "huge translation of hypocrisy" represented by a "thousand verses"
of a dissimulating lover (5.2.50-1). Words alone cannot define love. As
Rosaline confirms, men who devote themselves to poetic arts in order to
disguise their true identities are "worse fools to purchase mocking so."
Berowne, she appreciates, is precisely such a man, one "replete with mocks"
(5.2.59-68, 835). Berowne ultimately concedes that a preference for hypocrisy
and "hyperboles" have brought about their downfall and "perjury," the "terror"
of which is enhanced by the double defeat by the women, and their imposition,
on their terms, of new oaths of abstinence (5.2.389, 394-415, 431-2, 470-1).
The fact that the King had set out to govern private relations, by subverting
their natural course, and is then bested by the women, is both subversive
and paradoxical, for it immediately questions the inherent practicality
of the image of patriarchy; the idea that the man should represent dual
sovereignty over both public and private spheres. Whilst being governed
in the political imagination by the patriarch, the same imagination consigned
the private sphere to women, and certainly in Love's Labours Lost,
the interference of man is clearly repulsed. The men's foolishness is seen
to be both socially and politically threatening. Rather than attempting
to govern a polity, they devote themselves to fashioning a "little commonwealth,"
detached from the rest of the world. Little commonwealths are for women
to populate and to constitute.
Thus, the final determination that the King and his friends must wait twelve
months before they can be married is of considerable importance. It is
the education that the king requests (5.2.431-2, 786-90). Harmony will
be restored by the free associations of hearts and minds, and it will be
completed after twelve months, a period of natural regeneration. Such may
seem to be a satisfactory conclusion, but it should be remembered that,
five acts later, nothing has really happened in Love's Labours Lost.
As the title implies much energy has been expended, but little of it constructively.
It is the sheer waste of energy, and the lack of achievement, which gives
the play its political import. This, it seems, is what happens when people
misunderstand the nature of a community, and its public-private jurisdictions.
Moreover, of course, the fact that the final resolution is actually postponed
until after the play is over, means that the harmony is postponed indefinitely.
All that the audience is left with is the illusion of expected regeneration,
and the hope that "plain words" will really become the currency of political
Shakespeare and the Politics of Comedy
The ambiguity produced by the public aspect of private associations, familial
and otherwise, is consistently satirised throughout Shakespeare's comedies.
The idiocy of over-formalised friendship was presented in one of Shakespeare's
first plays, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, where the extent to which
the Duke in Two Gentlemen contrives in the dislocation of both private
and public associations is again striking. He even breaks the seal of a
private letter of love, an action which resonates both with the Foucauldian
idea of magisterial surveillance and the kind of government of "shadows"
described in Measure for Measure (3.1.139). In Romeo and Juliet
the idea of the family unit as a constituent of public politics is placed
in direct contradiction with the dynamics of private affection, and instead
of resolution there is ultimate carnage. The natural force of love challenges
the political force of the family unit, and the resultant dynamic threatens
to destabilize an entire commonwealth. The tragedy for Romeo and Juliet
lies less in their love than in the suffocating nature of familial and
kinship enmity. The veneer of civility masks a primitive and brutal society
in which the natural and redemptive qualities of love struggle to survive,
where the bonds of kinship are turned inwards, in order to exclude those
who are merely described in terms of a familial "otherness." In the struggle
between kinship and love, neither wins, and the play closes with the Duke,
and the other ageing representatives of the warring families, noting the
destruction of their progeny, and with it the potential for future union
and harmony. Not least distressing is the Duke's admittance that the responsibility
for failing to recognise the need to effect private harmony within his
commonwealth rests with him. The whole commonwealth is "punish'd" by a
magistracy unable to appreciate the jurisdictional responsibility of governing
an emergent liberal community (5.3.294).
Shakespeare's treatment of sex and marriage, friendship and family reveals
the tensions endemic to the fiction of a community demarcated in terms
of imagined public and private spheres of government. It does not necessarily
condemn the concept, but it does question its discretion. At all times
the dynamics destabilize one another, and it is clear that the constituents
of private relationships do not easily translate into public responsibilities.
Such a conclusion chimes to some degree with the more recent turn in Shakespearian
scholarship which has tended to see the comedies as saying as much about
social instability as merely reiterating standard forms of festive ritual.
Barber's Shakespeare's Festive Comedy, whilst noting the potential
social subversion, assumed the form of festive criticism provided a contextual
harmonic closure to the plays. In other words, the audience would recognise
an implied harmony, that the fictive form of festive art itself inhered
closure (8-9). But more recent commentators suggest that there is alternative
and intrinsically ambivalent structure to Shakespeare's supposedly lighter
comedies, the complementary running of two "equally valid, equally desirable"
resolutions that describe persistently "contradictory" social dynamics
(Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning). The conflicts
between love and friendship, love and marriage, public and private, are
precisely such contradictory dynamics. Such an approach has been taken
up with enthusiasm by commentators who wish to identify a postmodern Shakespeare,
one in which the text is perpetually self-destabilizing. Thus Peter Smith
can conclude that, far from effecting any sort of closure, Shakespeare's
comedies are dedicated to an "anarchic" undermining of authority, describing
a "world with no fixed signposts." The contradictions, described by the
inability to stabilize realms of public and private life, ensure a world
of perpetual destabilization.
Friendship, family, love. All are, ultimately, fictions of the narrative
imagination, and their relative stability and instability within the social
and political frame is so determined. As Michael Bristol has recently emphasised,
Shakespeare's constitution is one which acknowledges the role of cultural
memory, the "ingredient of consciousness," in the "micro-organisation"
of political communities (Big-Time Shakespeare 140-4). It is here
that the social commentary in the comedies can be allied with the textual
criticism which addresses the degree of closure which text, and imaginary
ritual, can provide. Beneath the fiction,
the real instabilities of private association, of friendship and family,
forever threaten. One of Shakespeare's very first comedies, The Comedy
of Errors, reveals the miseries and frustrations which women, in particular,
suffered in a society governed by the fictions of ideal family units. Kate's
fate in The Taming of the Shrew is similarly riven with ambiguities
which reflect on both the public and private aspect of life in Padua. It
has been suggested that Shakespeare accommodates Kate's ultimate submission
in such a way that, although she supplicates the patriarchal authority
of her husband, she maintains a substantive autonomy in the "private" world
of the household. Of course, such an interpretation is entirely dependent
upon accepting that the household is indeed a private world, securely detached
from the public. At the same time, Kate's submission speech clearly implies
that her willingness to accept the role which society has constructed for
her, is itself dependent upon Petruchio continuing to perform his, as "husband,"
"lord" and "sovereign" (5.2.147-8).
Plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing
further emphasise the essential tension which lies at the heart of "private"
governance. Family and personal affinities which are founded on duty and
authority, and described in the narrative imagination, are forever destabilized
by the forces which they seek to constrain. The determination to channel
such energies into a distinctly "private" sphere is part of a conscious
political strategy. It is at the heart of liberal ideology, but it is also
riven with tensions of which Shakespeare was clearly aware. Governance
in Much Ado is, as one commentator has observed, "heavy on hasty
judgment" but "light on justice." So many characters are socially dysfunctional
to some degree, from Don John to Dogberry to Benedick to Beatrice, that
they seem to be incapable of appreciating the delicate fiction which describes
worlds of public and private governance. The merriness of their "merry
war" is compromised by a series of brutal miscarriages of justice, each
of which is the result of magisterial meddling in the course of ordinary
lives. So unsettled is Don Pedro's confidence, by the end of the play,
that he is entirely unsure as to the nature of his responsibilities. The
final lines, "Prince, thou art sad; get thee a wife, get thee a wife. There
is no staff more reverend that one tipped with a horn," are indeed a "taunt"
directed at an "insecure" man, no longer sure as to the extent of his magisterial
jurisdiction (5.4.121-2). Moreover, it is again striking that, as with
Labours, suspicions of magisterial incompetence are exacerbated by
an inability to comprehend the role of women, and their peculiar situation
at the margins of the public and private worlds of government.
The suggestion that Shakespeare describes a holistic idea of commonwealth,
one that is constructed by private constituent relations, as well as public,
but then immediately undercuts it by emphasising the essentially imaginary
nature of the critical public-private divide, does not mean that we must
assert a deconstructionist or postmodern Shakespeare. Alternative theories
of narrative communitarianism or postmodernism advocate an appreciation
of politics which recognises the constitutive relevance of relations which
liberalism might denote as being purely "private," but which enjoy an immanent
public identity. At the same time, the fact that Shakespeare's portrayals
of these private relations, both in friendships and families, is riddled
with ambiguities and tensions, does not mean that he is dismissive of their
potential for defining and securing communities. But what it does reveal
is the extent to which narrative form militates against any attempt to
demarcate public and private spheres of government. Individuals live in
both, and create dialogic and narrative relations within a community that
are at once public and private. A narrative conception of politics does
not respect boundaries, and even if positive laws may do so, their application
within a narrative conception of legal morality does not.
Good magistracy in Shakespeare is founded upon a proper appreciation of
this understanding of politics, and it is these related lessons which the
putative magistrates in Love's Labours finally admit. Of all men
or women, a magistrate enjoys both a public and a private identity, and
the distinction between the two is both determined and deconstructed by
the narrative imagination. It exists within the imagination, but is immediately
undercut by the idea of an inclusive imagined commonwealth. In the same
way, magistrates such as Duke Theseus in A Midsummer Nights Dream
and Prospero in The Tempest, like the King of Navarre, finally come
to realise that magistracy is defined by the ability to recognise the constitutive
nature of the political imagination in such a commonwealth; the ability
to create illusions of public and private, whilst deploying such illusions
in order to stabilize a political community through the immediately unstable
dynamics of the narrative political imagination. Once again, as with the
gender politics described in Measure for Measure or The Taming
of the Shrew, with Love's Labours Lost, Shakespeare challenges
the fiction which remains central to contemporary liberal ideology, and
does so by consistently refusing to limit the political morality of a community
to a narrow conception of constitutionalism. The world of the text, of
stage and audience, is far greater than that admitted by the emergent forms
of early modern liberal constitutionalism, and it is this lack of congruence
which serves to underline the illusory nature of any such limited political
Language and the Limits of Community
Community, then, as Nussbaum asserts, may be reinvigorated by literature,
but it is also limited and undermined by textuality. The paradox is immediate
and irresolvable. Text creates the imagined community, but refuses any
deeper foundation. No one appreciated this any more than Rousseau, whose
on Inequality adopted Hume's general suggestion that all actions are
founded on sentiment and passion, and concluded that "whatever our moralists
say, human understanding owes much to the passions." Moreover, such an
understanding, being communicative, necessitates a language of the passions.
The other is loved because it is in man's interest to inspire the love
and respect of others. At the same time, the experience of compassion acts
to reduce any of the socialised competitiveness which man in his civil
state will encounter (99-101). In
Emile, Rousseau used narrative
form in an attempt to restore an idea of social harmony in the political
imagination. With a considerable degree of prescience, Rousseau noted that
the world was moving towards a "state of crisis and an age of revolutions,"
and that the only recourse was to a revised form of community founded on
a better understanding of human relations. Sentiment must always "enchain"
the imagination and defend it (102, 1345-7, 194, 219-20).
Friendship is the "first act of nascent recognition," and the ideal citizen
will be one who remains "submissive to the voice of friendship" (418-19).
The "exercise of the social virtues" founded on compassion, "brings the
love of humanity to the depths of one"s heart," and it is the "image" of
compassion and the happiness of others which makes the "common good" possible
Such is the ideally educated citizen. Such also, Rousseau admitted, is
the product of literary "delirium" (473-80). The ideal friend, like the
ideal community, exists in the narrative imagination and nowhere else.
Contact with "others," both in the private and the public spheres, will
always militate against the pretended stability of the imagined community.
On the one hand, man will experience more acute forms of affection and
passion, and the love of one can only lead, as Hume noted, to factionalism
and the antagonistic and competitive relation with others. It is this progression
from this "nascent state" to a more sophisticated civil one which actually
prescribes man's fall. It is here, also, in the civil state that friendship
translates into a form of public association, which then nurtures a spirit
of comparison and competition in public and private affairs, and it is
in this political state, that man increasingly seeks recourse to the "imagination"
in order to satiate various personal and social lusts. With "memory and
imagination" comes pride and ambition, and finally the "burning passion"
to "enlarge one's relative fortune" in both public and private terms (Discourse
102-3, 114-122, 130-7). Such is the inevitable fate of civil society. In
Social Contract, Rousseau took particular pains to demystify the
particular Christian idea of a commonwealth of friends. Such a utopia is
a "wholly imagined" one which wilfully fails to take account of the political
reality of man's socialised determination to self-destruct (182-3).
Rousseau presents the pessimistic counterpoint to Aristotelian hope, the
suspicion that literature and the imagination are as just as capable of
destroying the images of association it creates. The ultimate contingency
of the narrative communitarian project is well appreciated in contemporary
criticism by Richard Rorty. Whilst applauding the turn to literature in
postmodern philosophy, Rorty remains acutely aware of the dangers which
such an anti-foundationalism presents. It is not, however, a threat which
can be merely ignored, and so ultimately, political theory becomes a matter
of "conversation," the need to persuade modern liberal citizens of the
virtues of community, without pretending any foundational authority. In
the final analysis, it does indeed become a matter of impressing a "spirit
of hope" against the countervailing rhetoric of Nietzschean despair. The
Nietzschean world of "private irony" is balanced by the Deweyan sphere
of "public hope" or "solidarity." The two are complementary. The key philosophical
switch lies in the conceptual readjustment, from freedom or truth, to freedom
and truth. Truth no longer constrains freedom of opinion, but is constructed
by it. The marrying of these related dualities, of freedom and truth, and
public solidarity and private irony, will realise a liberal utopia which
is determined as narrative rather than theoretical. Solidarity becomes
a construct of the community of selves, and being created by this community
is not a challenge to the autonomy of its constituents (Contingency,
Irony, and Solidarity xiii-vi).
The appreciation that language is always shared and intersubjective, fashioned
by a never ending sequence of contingencies, is both liberating and empowering.
"The world," Rorty emphasises, "does not speak. Only we do" (5-6). The
self is a conversationalist, and constructs his or her own identity through
this conversation. Life, in turn, is a narrative and we, as self-assertive
ironic liberals, are "poets" of our own contingencies (23-43). In this
way the postmodern liberal realises that society is "what it is, has the
morality it has, speaks the language it does, not because it approximates
the will of God or the nature of man, but because certain poets and revolutionaries
of the past spoke as they did." Accordingly, to "see one's language, one's
conscience, one's morality, and one's hopes as contingent products, as
literalizations of what once were accidentally produced metaphors, is to
adopt a self-identity which suits one for citizenship in an ideally liberal
state" (50-4, 60-1). It is an appreciation which Rorty has controversially
suggested can be found amongst other "reluctant" postmoderns, such as Roberto
Unger, whose "kernel of solidarity" lies in "our feeling of responsibility
for those whose lives touch in some way upon our own and our greater or
lesser willingness to share their fate." Ultimately, solidarity expresses
the "social face of love." Unger's Passion
was dedicated to the "idea of sympathy" as a necessary complement to any
politics of community. The sense of affinity which any community requires
cannot be secured by reason alone. The "personality" that lives a life
of "passion" is one that experiences the liberating potential of political
participation. Ultimately, such a "personality" is one that acknowledges
discursive and narrative "possibilities of understanding."
The aspiration for a revived politics of friendship is not then the sole
preserve of the classical narrative communitarian. It is the centrepiece
of a postmodern political morality. Aside from Rorty's postmodern liberalism,
it also defines Drucilla Cornell's "philosophy of the limit," a philosophy
which is founded on the acknowledgement that the active participation of
private individuals must recognise that politics is fashioned by emotion
and sympathy. Such a politics and such a recognition "privileges" the fact
of being human. The present "crisis" of judgment is one which, she suggests,
is founded on the matter of admitting the contingency of sympathy into
the public juridical sphere. If the idea of a "common good" which must
still found a postmodern ethics, is not one which can be accessed solely
through the exercise of reason, or indeed at all, then it must be one that
recognises and employs emotions of compassion, sympathy and love (Cornell,
"Toward a Modern/Postmodern Reconstruction of Ethics" 345-8), (The Philosophy
of the Limit 30-7, 107-20). In his recent The Politics of Friendship,
Jacques Derrida has turned to the idea of friendship as a potential non-foundational
foundation for a post-modern politics. The redetermination of friendship,
he suggests, is the "question" of political philosophy, for there is no
conception of democracy without a "community of friends" (viii, 20-2).
It was this premise which underpinned Aristotle's idea of justice, as a
way of behaving constructively towards others. In a striking echo of Nussbaum,
Derrida invokes an Aristotelian conception of justice which is founded
on the idea that "the work of the political... amounts to creating (to
producing, to making etc.) the most friendship possible."
However, against the classical determination of public friendship as a
means of stabilizing society, Derrida seeks recourse to Nietzsche for a
conception of friendship which denies the assumption that relations are
ever precisely rational or reciprocal. Friendships, being established in
the private sphere are irrational, the products of pleasure, and cannot
then become a panacea for an apparent crisis in modern public philosophy.
There must be no concession to the communitarian temptation to sequester
a conception that is solely derived from private relations, and to then
try to use it to refound the public sphere; the kind of "fraternal" politics
described by ironic romantics such as Rousseau. The contingency of a Nietzchean
politics counters that friendships are variable and mutable. A postmodern
idea of "fraternal" democracy must, then, be one that cherishes instability
and refuses to accept any political demarcation which is favoured either
by liberalism, even its more communitarian variants. A public sphere of
association, even if determined by fraternal "attitude," rather than merely
reason, will still tend to inclusivity and the exclusion of "others" (Politics
The Nietzschean idea of friendship as a radical unstable and mutable force,
thus becomes an acutely democratic narrative; a form of "remembrance" which
can define the narrative community (100-5). It is the "bond" of friendship
which "places me under the law of the other." Yet, at the same time, friends
do not "need" the law. In other words, a redetermination of justice as
friendship can deconstruct the pretended legitimacy of positivist conception
of law, and admit an alternative jurisprudence of the particular, which
likewise denies the metaphysical pretence of natural law and order. It
is a justice that is "just beyond the law" (194, 278, 302-6). This juridical
determination of this politics of friendship is again consistent with Derrida's
wider turn to justice as the idea which can found a postmodern ethics.
Thus, whereas Nussbaum uses friendship as a stabilizing concept in an Aristotelian
idea of community, for Derrida it represents the critical constituent that
always destabilizes politics. As Murdoch emphasises, whereas for Hegel
consciousness provided a foundation for man's idealised state, for Derrida
the consciousness is a force which expresses human contingency and precisely
denies ideality, and any genuinely "post" modern theory of private human
association should be understood in these terms.
1. M. Ignatieff, The Needs of
Strangers (10-8, 28-53, 107-42). Intriguingly, he uses King Lear
as an example of describing the clash between public and private conceptions
2. M. Nussbaum, Humanity (8-11,
85-6, 90). For a commentary suggesting that literature should not be seen
as a levelling medium, see M.Walzer, On Toleration.
3. M. Nussbaum, Love's Knowledge:
Essays on Philosophy and Literature (ix, 3-7, 171). Interestingly,
Nussbaum cites Adam Smith as someone who particularly appreciated that
the "experience of readership is a moral activity in its own right." See
pp. 338-9. We shall return to Smith in chapter five. For a critique of
Nussbaum's arguments, see J.Kalin, "Knowing Novels: Nussbaum on Fiction
and Moral Theory."
4. M. Nussbaum, Knowledge
48 (142-3, 148-76), suggesting at 166 that the literature "joins readers
with both characters and author (and with one another) in bonds of community."
5. M. Nussbaum, Poetic Justice:
The Literary Imagination and Public Life, particularly xiii-vi, 9-12,
79-121. The book reworked arguments originally presented in "The Literary
Imagination in Public Life" (877).
6. M. Nussbaum, Humanity (90-4).
Nussbaum suggests that this idea returns most strikingly in Rousseau. See
also Knowledge (28-43 and 53), suggesting that ethics and love "support
and inform one another."
7. I. Murdoch, Existentialists
(3-30, 66-70). In her opinion, Shakespeare's drama reveals a world slowly
coming to grips that there are no certainties in life, and the breakdown
of civil order is always imminent. See p.222. It is a controversial thesis,
and one which we will revisit throughout the following chapters.
8. "Imagination," she suggests, "is
a kind of freedom, a renewed ability to perceive and express the truth."
(255). Also like Taylor, she suggests that the role of imagination
is best illustrated in the literature of the romantics. See Metaphysics
as a Guide to Morals (316-24). It was for this reason that she described
Sartre as one of the last of the "great romantics." See Metaphysics
(104-6). For an extended discussion of Sartre's romanticism, see Murdoch,
Sartre: Romantic Rationalist.
9. See G. Burgess, Absolute Monarchy
and the Stuart Constitution (55).
10. For Pocock's observations, see
his "Introduction" to J. Harrington, The Commonwealth of Oceana
11. J. Harrington, Oceana
(155-7). For the rapid spread of Machiavelli's ideas and their enduring
influence on English legal thought, see I. Berlin, The Proper Study
of Mankind (269-325).
12. N. Machiavelli, Discourses
(459-71, 481). For a recent discussion of Machiavelli's idea of politics
as theatre, see S.de Grazia, Machiavelli in Hell (326-33).
13. See A. Macfarlane, The Origins
of English Individualism.
14. T. More, Utopia (106-28).
For a commentary, see R. White, Natural Law in English Renaissance Literature
15. For a general commentary on
the constitutionalization of the early modern family, see D. Underdown,
Riot and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England 1603-60
(19-87), and C. Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England
16. The Adamic succession, within
which could be placed the Stuart dynasty, was part of God's original division
of the world into family units. "There is, and always shall be to the end
of the world," he affirmed, "a natural right of a supreme father over every
multitude." In his commentaries on Aristotle's Politiques, Filmer
concluded that the politics of community was founded on the "right of fatherly
government" as "ordained by God for the preservation of mankind." See R.
Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Writings (1-11, 14-7, 283). For a commentary,
see Fletcher, Gender (205).
17. Obedient children, Thomas Cromwell
instructed the nascent Anglican clergy in 1536, were the "great commodity
and ornament of the common weal," and as Sir Simonds D'Ewes affirmed nearly
a century later, "Parents are especially bound to instruct the children,
pray for them and train them up in the fear of God because they drew original
corruption from their loins." See Hill, Society (432), Fletcher,
(207), and Amussen, Ordered Society (197).
18. See I. Murdoch, Existentialists
222, suggesting that Shakespeare writes "marvellously about political power,"
but does so "on the very edge of things," taking account of the contingencies
necessarily donated by the receptive audience. See also her comments at
pp.228 and 271.
19. See J. Dollimore, "Introduction:
Shakespeare, Cultural Materialism and the New Historicism" (2-17).
20. See R. White, Natural Law
21. L. Montrose, "Sport" (61-2).
22. White suggests that the agreement
is clearly intended to have legal form. See White, Natural Law (151-2).
23. See C. Barber, Shakespeare's
Festive Comedy (92). An often suggested immediate context for the play
is the rivalry between the pamphleteers Nashe and Harvey, much of which
was immersed in the niceties of linguistic form, and by implication the
idea that ability, and right, to discourse was primarily a matter of form
rather than substance. Such pomposity was subject to widespread contemporary
24. As a possible immediate context,
it has been suggested that the play presents a satirical comment on the
disgrace and banishment of Sir Walter Raleigh from court, for his impregnating
a royal maid of honour. Raleigh, it seemed to many contemporaries, had
articulated the greater values of learning, but succumbed to the natural
forces of sexuality. See W. Oakeshott, The Queen and the Poet (100-27).
25. A number of contemporary commentators
have suggested the extent to which the ability of the women, not just to
perceive the hypocrisy of the men, but to humiliate them, would have appeared
deeply subversive. At the same time, the suggestion that it is Berowne
who is "replete with mocks" would have inverted the traditional perception
that such characteristics of shrewishness were the peculiar characteristic
of women. See L. Montrose, "Sport" (68-70). According to Malcolm Evans,
the feminist critique in the play is directed against the men's over-reliance
on formal language and the written word. Female language, in contrast,
is seen to be more spontaneous and original. This critique, of course,
chimes neatly with the thesis that the language of women was seen to be
dangerous precisely because it did not obey ordinary cultural and social
constraints. Such was the definition of the shrew. See M. Evans, "Deconstructing
Shakespeare's Comedies" (78-9). For related critiques emphasising the role
of women in using language in order to subvert social norms, see P. Smith,
Shakespeare (120-35), and L. Hutson, The Userer's Daughter (52-85).
26. For a related commentary on
the conclusion, see M. Mangan, A Preface to Shakespeare's Comedies
27. A striking example of the elision
of text and illusion, is provided by the use of the bed-trick, the value
of which was portrayed in Measure for Measure. Illusion fashions
a closure which private relations could not otherwise effect. It is for
this reason that so many comedies are structured around flight. As in Midsummer
Nights Dream, so too in the Two Gentlemen, As You Like It,
Comedy of Errors, as well of course, as King Lear and
Tempest, confused or threatened individuals are forced to fly to the
political imagination in order to access a clearer understanding of their
situation in pubic and private worlds of government and association.
28. For a general discussion, see
L. Boose, "The Taming of the Shrew, Good Husbandry, and Enclosure." (182-4).
29. For a critical commentary, see
R. Levin, Love and Society in Shakespearean Comedy (86-116).
30. J. Rousseau, A Discourse
on Inequality (89-93). "Solitude," he admitted in his Confessions,
is my greatest dread."
31. See R. Unger, Knowledge and
Politics (3-25, 220-1), and Law in Modern Society (206).
32. R. Unger, Passion: An Essay
on Personality (8-15, 126-35, 146-57, 260-1). Passion presents
an immediate complement to his three volume Politics. For a discussion
of their relations, see I. Ward, Kantianism, Postmodernism and Critical
Legal Thought (104-10).
33. Critical to the revision of
the Aristotelian thesis is the distinction between public and private friendship.
For Aristotle, public friendship could be determined by virtue, whilst
private friendship was more readily witnessed in passion, pleasure and
procreation. See J. Derrida, Politics (1-24, 198-206).
34. The postmodern idea of justice,
as described in The Force of Law, is precisely founded on a conception
of justice in the particular. See J. Derrida, "The Force of Law: The Mystical
Foundation of Authority" (925).
35. See Murdoch, Metaphysics
Amussen, S. An Ordered Society: Class and Gender in Early Modern England.
New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
Bacon, Francis. Essays. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1985.
Barber, C. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and
its Relation to Social Custom. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1959.
Berlin, I. The Proper Study of Mankind. London: Chatto and Windus,
Boose, L. "The Taming of the Shrew, Good Husbandry, and Enclosure." Shakespeare
Reread: The Texts in New Contexts. Ed. R. McDonald. Ithaca: Cornell
UP, 1994. 193-225.
Bristol, Michael. Big-Time Shakespeare. London and New York: Routledge,
Burgess, G. Absolute Monarchy and the Stuart Constitution. New Haven:
Yale UP, 1996.
Chartier, R., ed. A History of Private Life. Vol 3. Cambridge: Belknap
Cornell, D. "Toward a Modern/ Postmodern Reconstruction of Ethics." University
of Pennsylvania Law Review 133 (1985): 345-8.
---. The Philosophy of the Limit. New York: Routledge, 1992.
de Grazia, S. Machiavelli in Hell. London: Macmillan, 1989.
Derrida, Jacques. "The Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority."
Law Review. 11 (1990): 921-1045.
---. The Politics of Friendship. London and New York: Verso, 1997.
Dollimore, Jonathan. "Introduction: Shakespeare, Cultural Materialism and
the New Historicism." Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural
Materialism. Eds. J. Dollimore and A. Sinfield. Manchester: Manchester
UP, 1985. 2-17.
Erasmus, Desiderius. The Education of a Christian Prince. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1997.
Evans, M. "Deconstructing Shakespeare's Comedies." Alternative Shakespeares.
Ed. J. Drakakis. London and New York: Routledge, 1985. 67-94.
Filmer, R. Patriarcha and Other Writings. New York: Cambridge UP,
Fletcher, A. Gender, Sex and Subordination in England 1500-1800.
New Haven: Yale UP, 1995.
Harrington, James. The Commonwealth of Oceana. Cambridge and New
York: Cambridge UP, 1992.
Hill, C. Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England. New
York: Penguin, 1991.
Hooker, R. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Cambridge: Cambridge
Hutson, L. The Userer's Daughter. London and New York: Routledge,
Ignatieff, Michael. The Needs of Strangers. New York: Penguin, 1986.
Kalin, J. "Knowing Novels: Nussbaum on Fiction and Moral Theory." Ethics
(1992): 135-151. Chicago: U of Chicago P.
Levin, R. Love and Society in Shakespearean Comedy: A Study in Dramatic
Form and Content. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1985.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. Discourses. New York: Penguin, 1983.
Macfarlane, A. The Origins of English Individualism: The Family, Property
and Social Transition. Oxford: Blackwell, 1978.
Mangan, Michael. A Preface to Shakespeare's Comedies. London and
New York: Routledge, 1996.
Montaigne, Michel. Essays. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958.
Montrose, L. "Sport by Sport O'oerthrown: Love's Labours Lost and
the Politics of Play." Shakespeare's Comedies. Ed. G. Waller. New
York: Longman, 1991. 60-71.
More, Thomas. Utopia. New York: Penguin, 1965.
Murdoch, Iris. Existentialists and Mystics: Writings in Philosophy and
Literature. London: Chatto and Windus, 1997.
---. Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. New York: Penguin, 1993.
---. Sartre: Romantic Rationalist. New York: Penguin, 1987.
Nussbaum, Martha. Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform
in Liberal Education. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997.
---. "The Literary Imagination in Public Life." New Literary History
(1991): 877-910. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP.
---. Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. New
York: Oxford UP, 1990.
---. Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public life. Boston:
Beacon P, 1995.
Oakeshott, W. The Queen and the Poet. London: Barnes and Noble,
Rabkin, N. Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning. Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1981.
Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge and
New York: Cambridge UP, 1989.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. A Discourse on Inequality. New York: Penguin,
---. Emile, or On Education. New York: Penguin, 1991.
---. The Social Contract. Baltimore: Penguin, 1968.
Smith, Peter. Social Shakespeare. London: Macmillan, 1995.
Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989.
Underdown, D. Revel, Riot and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture
in England 1603-1660. New York: Oxford UP, 1985.
Unger, Roberto. Knowledge and Politics. New York: Free P, 1975.
---. Law in Modern Society. New York: Free P, 1976.
---. Passion: An Essay on Personality. New York: Free P, 1984.
Walzer, M. On Toleration. New Haven: Yale UP, 1998.
Ward, I. Kantianism, Postmodernism and Critical Legal Thought. Dordrecht
and Boston: Kluwer, 1997.
White, R. Natural Law in English Renaissance Literature. New York:
Cambridge UP, 1996.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum
may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.
1999-, R.G. Siemens and Lisa Hopkins, Editors, EMLS.