Shakespeare and the Politics of Community
Ian Ward
University of Dundee

Ward, Ian. "Shakespeare and the Politics of Community." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.3 (January, 1999): 2.1-45 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-3/wardshak.html>.

  1. 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

  3. 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."[1]

  5. 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 debate.[2]

  7. 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."[3] 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).

  9. 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.[4] 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.[5]

  11. 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 future (25-52).

  13. 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 from others.

  15. 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 15-41, 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.[6]

  17. 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.[7] In this sense, art is the only means by which the ideal of democracy can be reinvigorated and given meaning in modern society (228).

  19. 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 (233).

  21. 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.[8] 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

  23. 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 10-11, 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 115-23,159-68, 212-9, 275-89).

  25. 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."[9] 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.[10] Oceana was described in terms of a "supplementary" jurisprudence of civic association.

  27. 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.[11] 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."[12] 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).

  29. 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.

  31. 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 History 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.[13] 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).

  33. 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.[14] 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.

  35. 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.[15] 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 204-5). 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).

  37. 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."[16] 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."[17]

  39. 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 116). 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).

  41. 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 of Association

  43. 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.[18]

  45. 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.[19] 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).

  47. 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.[20]

  49. 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).[21] 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).

  51. 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.[22] 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).

  53. 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.[23] 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).[24] 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, 5.2.745-68).

  55. 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 (4.2.151-6).

  57. 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).

  59. 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.[25]

  61. 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 discourse (5.2.745).[26]

    Shakespeare and the Politics of Comedy

  63. 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).

  65. 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.

  67. 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.[27] 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).[28]

  69. 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 Love's 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.[29]

  71. 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.

  73. 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 ideology.

    Language and the Limits of Community

  75. 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 Discourse 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.[30] 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).

  77. 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 (220-2, 250-1).

  79. 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 The 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).

  81. 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).

  83. 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."[31] 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."[32]

  85. 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."[33]

  87. 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 34-45, 93-9).

  89. 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.[34] 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.[35]
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 of need.
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." Existentialists (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 xv-xvii.
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 (122-4).
15. For a general commentary on the constitutionalization of the early modern family, see D. Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England 1603-60 (19-87), and C. Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (429-34).
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, Gender (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 (149-52).
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 ridicule.
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, Social 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 (147-9).
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, The Comedy of Errors, as well of course, as King Lear and The 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 (210-6).
Works Cited


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© 1999-, R.G. Siemens and Lisa Hopkins,  Editors, EMLS.