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Thinking with Shakespeare: Essays on Politics and Life

Thinking with Shakespeare: Essays on Politics and Life

by Julia Reinhard Lupton


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What is a person? What company do people keep with animals, plants, and things? Such questions—bearing fundamentally on the shared meaning of politics and life—animate Shakespearean drama, yet their urgency has often been obscured. Julia Reinhard Lupton gently dislodges Shakespeare’s plays from their historical confines to pursue their universal implications. From Petruchio’s animals and Kate’s laundry to Hamlet’s friends and Caliban’s childhood, Lupton restages thinking in Shakespeare as an embodied act of consent, cure, and care. Thinking with Shakespeare encourages readers to ponder matters of shared concern with the playwright by their side. Taking her cue from Hannah Arendt, Lupton reads Shakespeare for fresh insights into everything from housekeeping and animal husbandry to biopower and political theology.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226710198
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 10/04/2019
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Julia Reinhard Lupton is professor of English and comparative literature and associate dean for research in the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Shakespeare Dwelling: Designs for the Theater of Life.

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Thinking with Shakespeare

Essays on Politics and Life

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2011 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-49671-9

Chapter One

Animal Husbands in The Taming of the Shrew

In his Cheape and Good Husbandry of 1614, agriculturalist Gervase Markham describes the role of the capon in the sociology of the poultry yard:

These Capons are of two uses: the one is, to lead Chickens, Ducklings, young Turkies, Peahens, Phesants and Partridges, which hee will doe altogether, both naturally and kindely, and through largenesse of his body will brood or cover easily thirtie or thirty and five; he will lead them forth safely, and defend them against Kites and Buzzards, more better than the Hennes; therefore the way to make him to take to them, is, with a fine small Briar, or else sharpe Nettles at night, to beate and sting all his brest and neather parts, and then in the darke to seate the Chickens under him, whose warmth taking away his smart, hee will fall much in love with them, and when so ever he proveth unkinde, you must sting or beat him againe, and this will make him hee will never forsake them.

The other use of Capons is, to feede for the Dishe, as eyther at the Barne dores, with craps of Corne and the chavings of pulse, or else in Pennes in the house, by cramming them, which is the most daintie.

The capon serves up an instance and allegory of what I call in this chapter the "animal husband." He is a creature with immense domestic responsibilities, caring in the scene set by Markham for "thirtie or thirty and five" smaller birds drawn from several types of domestic fowl. The capon's immense bulk suits him to "brood and cover" the little ones and to defend them against birds of prey, "more better than the Hennes" could do. The capon does all of this "naturally and kindely," from his being and out of species-love, yet no capon is found in nature, since he is the product of animal husbandry. Once castrated, the cock grows large in size and gentle in temperament; but his paternal bonding with little chicks, who by definition cannot be his offspring, requires the supplemental stinging and beating of his "brest and neather parts" with nettles, followed by the nocturnal tucking of the chicks beneath him for warmth and comfort, a barnyard bed trick to be repeated whenever he "proveth unkinde." More than kind and less than kin, the capon is manufactured in and for the farm and the table, a figure whose larger-than-life capacities issue from a fundamental subtraction, and whose promised end is ultimately "the Dishe," a goal enhanced through force-feeding.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "husband" means "master of a household," "a man joined to a woman by marriage," "one who tills and cultivates the soil," or "the manager of a household or establishment; a housekeeper; a steward"; behind the primary, modern, marital sense lies a series of agricultural and administrative meanings, stemming from animal husbandry as the art of raising domestic beasts for food, labor, transportation, and sport. I use the phrase animal husband to demarcate those moments when the different senses of husband hybridize, doubling meanings and offices. Often the effect is simply to magnify masculine authority: thus the husband as householder is also husband to a wife, duties that authorize man's jurisdiction over woman as chattel. Yet convergences can also cross and tangle proper lines of mastery: to be an effective domesticator of animals, the husbandman must learn to participate in animal psychologies and ecologies, mortgaging a bit of his humanity in order to channel the virtues of the environment. To be caught up in the world of labor is not simply to take control of one's milieu, but also to enter into relations of dependence, attention, physical intimacy, self-limitation, and even self-loss. Finally, the animal husband finds his mate in the animal housewife, who submits to her husband's governance while also husbanding her precious goods and charges, exercising her own knack for thrift, remedy, increase, and ordering in relation to household stuff both animate and inanimate. It is she who sauces the capon, and perhaps manufactures it, too.

Shakespeare harbors many animal husbands in his stable of characters. Closest in name and spirit to Markham's capon is Shakespeare's Capulet, a man of the pantry and the trestle table whose brooding, solicitous hospitality nurses an ancient grudge; later, greater instantiations include Shylock, Antonio, and Timon, all marked by the terror of bodily subtraction and the burden of household management, vocations that affiliate them with a range of animal avatars. The play in which Shakespeare most assiduously cultivates the bond between husband and husbandman, however, is The Taming of the Shrew. It has been a staple of Shrew criticism to read the play in relationship to discourses of falconry, horsemanship, and home economics, and my reading borrows heavily from these ventures. What distinguishes my approach here, however, is my interest in the phenomenological and existential fruits of animal husbandry in Shakespeare. I have labored to avoid either a rhetoric of praise and blame or a hermeneutics of suspicion in favor of piecing together some features of human-animal cohabitation broached in Shakespeare's play, as well as the modes by which Shakespeare makes them appear in the space of theater. My goal is not to historicize Shrew but to probe the possibilities for experience, cognition, interaction, imagination, and subjective disclosure that we continue to share with Shakespeare, which means marking in chalk, not stone, the differences between his world and ours. I conduct my domestic investigations with Gervase Markham by my side. As the seventeenth century's most prolific writer on household stuff (and a one-time candidate for the office of "rival poet" to Shakespeare), Markham is not only a purveyor of Renaissance domestic ideologies, but also a phenomenologist of the farmyard: an acute observer of animal behavior and vegetable virtues, and an avid trainer of human beings, both male and female, to be apt and able respondents to an environment that solicits both their cruelty and their kindness.

The Taming of the Shrew harbors within it the demands and duties of creaturely life, including the ligaments tying humans to nutritive needs, to labor and work, and to the order of the oikos. Moreover, the play adamantly yokes these concerns to the life of the city and thus to the piazzas of human appearing, the space of action cultivated by drama as the art of self-manifestation in the scene of plurality. The central taming motif cross-couples human husbanding (the man-wife relationship) with animal husbandry (the man-animal relationship). Both man and woman's animal affinities come forward in the play, not simply as signs of base or irrational instincts that must be controlled by reason or excluded from the body politic, but as players in a multidimensional discourse of virtue that includes the plant and animal kingdoms as well as the bios politikos in its reach. The tamed wife produced at the end of Shrew, as the play's animal readers have long pointed out, is not cowed so much as falconed. In Shakespeare's play, to tame a wife is not to break, expel, or subdue her animal capacities, but rather to perfect them, to render them newly visible in a human world they help to build and sustain, calling her to demonstrate those capacities on the stages of their shared world, in this case the boards provided at the end of the play by the theater of hospitality. The taming of Katharina most decidedly yields a wife "conformable as other household Kates" (2.1.270), a program that engineers forms of life conceived as less than fully human (female, animal, thingly) in relation to the instrumental needs of man. It is thus biopolitical in the most brute sense: the sequestering, shaming, and torment of a vitality forcibly separated from its autopoetic capacities in order to expand and support a governing instance conceived on the narrowest of class, sex, and species terms. Yet Petruchio, too, by submitting to the yoke of marriage, has undergone a certain caponage by the end of the play. Shrew remains starkly biopolitical with respect to both sexual and creaturely divisions of labor, but that fact should not blind us to the variety of life forms and the politics they might breed, including styles of stewardship, curation, and tendering, hosted in the more experimental sectors of the play's topography. In dramatizing the actualization of one potentiality in Katharina-that of the conforming wife-the taming scenario unveils the vista of potentiality as such, as a scene for the ongoing political and dramatic investigation of virtue. (We know that the experiment continues, as Kate molts into Beatrice, and Lady Macbeth, and Emilia, and Paulina.) In this early play, I argue, Shakespeare taps a landscape of human, animal and artifactual resources, not in order to deplete them, but in order to open their entanglement up for further inquiry.

Although I focus on animals, I am also interested in the copious object world of Shrew. Divided between urban Padua and Petruchio's rustic ranch, the play is at least as concerned with the proper curation of apparel and appliances as it is with the maintenance of the animal kingdom. Here, too, much work has been done, especially in groundbreaking essays by Natasha Korda and Lena Orlin. Once again, however, I would like to shift focus from the rise of mercantilism and modern consumption in Shakespeare's England to the kinds of company that persons, objects, and animals might keep in the imaginative inventories of Shakespeare's plays. Although I pay attention to the disposition of objects over time, my interests lie more in phenomenological affordances than historical constraints, and my ultimate aim is to draw out points of possible affirmation and assonance among texts, epochs, and life forms rather than submit Shakespearean blind spots to contemporary critique.

Phenomenon means "appearance." By phenomenology, I intend here not only an attentive description of Shakespeare's household stuff, but also some account of the conditions under which animate and inanimate things appear as such to human consciousness. To bring biopolitics to bear on the appearances made by things in Shrew entails recalling the debts of the biopolitical critique to this book's heroine, Hannah Arendt. In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt delineates politics as the arena of a specifically human appearing, a platform that depends for its existence on the extraordinary labor expended by artisans, women, slaves, and beasts of burden to make the pressures of biological life step back for a moment so that public action can take place. If Foucault is the animal husband of biopolitical thinking, Hannah Arendt is most decidedly its animal housewife, first wary cultivator and severe hostess of the distinctions and dependencies between zoe and bios in the modern era.

Shakespeare's Book of Virtues; or, Arendt in Italy

Lucentio's sojourn in Padua begins under the sign of virtue:

    And therefore, Tranio, for the time I study,
    Virtue and that part of philosophy
    Will I apply that treats of happiness
    By virtue specially to be achieved. (1.1.17–20)

Lucentio speaks here of ethics in the Aristotelian vein, in which happiness is achieved through the exercise of the moral virtues as their own reward. For Aristotle, the virtues of courage, temperance, or friendship exist not as attributes or qualities of the "friendly," "courageous," or "temperate" man, but only in and through their habitual practice. Happiness is not a reward given to the actor in exchange for doing the right thing, but the state of well-being that accrues to the exercise of virtue itself, as the harmony between virtues as particular excellences (courage, friendship, etc.) and their actualization in the practice of living well. Lucentio touches on the practical and performative dimension of virtue when he speaks of "applying" philosophy and of "achieving" happiness through virtue.

In The Human Condition, Arendt addresses virtue as the practice of the good life:

Aristotle, in his political philosophy, is still well aware of what is at stake in politics, namely, no less than the ergon tou anthropou (the "work of man" qua man), and if he defined this "work" as "to live well" (eu zen), he clearly meant that "work" here is no work product but exists only in sheer actuality. This specifically human achievement lies altogether outside the category of means and ends; the "work of man" is no end because the means to achieve it—the virtues, or aretai—are not qualities which may or may not be actualized, but are themselves "actualities."

Since virtues only exist in, through, and as their performance, politics (and ethics as a prolegomenon to politics) are comparable to the arts of "healing, flute-playing, play-acting," the occupations that "furnished ancient thinking with examples for the highest and greatest activities of man" but were denigrated by Adam Smith as "unproductive" labor, since they do not yield a durable product.

Arendt follows Aristotle in linking ethical and political action to the acting achieved in drama and music, where indeed there is no product, no "end," apart from the performance itself. In this sense, we might say that virtue is virtual, existing only as performance. Action is above all exercised in speech, in situations of deliberation, adjudication, witnessing, or contestation that unfold in the presence of others; to act in public for Arendt is to let something of oneself appear to others, and to become oneself, to become a subject, through this revelation. In Arendt's political phenomenology, the polis is "the space of appearance in the widest sense of the word, namely, the space where I appear to others as others appear to me, where men exist not merely like other living or inanimate things but make their appearance explicitly." She quotes Dante: "For in every action what is primarily intended by the doer, whether he acts from natural necessity or out of free will, is the disclosure of his own image [propriam similitudinem explicare]."

As Paul Kottman and Richard Halpern have recently reconfirmed, such a vision is dramatic through and through, for what is drama if not the appearing of actors in public, in scenarios of self-exposure and interpersonal liability that generate a story in excess of any one character's will or intention? 10 It is also a vision that traces a certain separation between the properly human form of life produced in virtuous action and the existence of "other living or inanimate things," which do not, according to Arendt, make their appearance on the human stage in the same way. In a passage I cited in the introduction, Arendt writes that the specifically human life of action "is itself always full of events which ultimately can be told as a story, establish a biography; it is of this life, bios as distinguished from mere zoe, that Aristotle said that it 'somehow is a kind of praxis.'" Although Arendt follows Aristotle and the civic humanist tradition in valuing the self-disclosing processes of the vita activa over the efforts of the animal laborans, she by no means degrades or debases creaturely life, and she includes its relentlessly responsive maintenance through the labor of the oikos and the work of the artisan in her overall conception of the human condition. The phenomenological language of appearance continues to mark the manifestation of natural life in human experience: "While nature manifests itself in human existence through the circular movement of our bodily functions, she makes her presence felt in the man-made world through the constant threat of overgrowing or decaying it." Arendt speaks of natural life neither as "bare" (stripped of all human structuring) nor as "constructed" (a fabrication of human systems of culture, meaning, or ideology), but as that which makes itself known through the metabolic rhythms of digestion and through the tendency of human artifacts to fall into disrepair under the incessant flourishing and decomposition of organic growth.

The flexible crease between bios and zoe, broached essayistically and in passing by Arendt, has taken center stage in contemporary critiques of bio-power, above all in the work of Giorgio Agamben, whose writings on sovereignty, bare life, and states of exception have become a touchstone in recent Shakespeare criticism. What is not usually noted in this criticism is the extent to which Agamben, along with other Italians writing on biopolitics, takes Arendt as his point of departure and remains in many ways attuned to her central critique of the housekeeping mission of the modern state. In his essay "The Work of Man," Agamben returns to the same virtue complex that Arendt addresses in The Human Condition. In Agamben's gloss of Aristotle, happiness is "psukhes energeia ... kat' areten, the being-at-work of the soul in accordance with excellence." Agamben sees Aristotle as opening the possibility of a "work of man" that would not be defined by any function and that would not force the breaking up of life into different grades of existence (nutritive, sensitive, and rational). Agamben is reminding us that for the Aristotle of the Physics, virtue characterizes every substance, as the perfection of its particular form, and not just human action. Yet Aristotle, in Agamben's reading, finally binds the work of man, and hence human virtue, to that feature of life—rationality—that is not shared with nutritive plants and sensitive animals, thus forever identifying properly human being with "'a certain kind of life' (zoe tis), life that is in accordance with logos." The life left over—zoe, bare life, creaturely life—originally excluded from what is properly political, has returned in the modern era as the main object of politics, assiduously calculated, managed, and manipulated by the bureaucratic state. Here Agamben echoes Arendt: even while the modern state takes the biological safety of the people as the normative object of a benevolent public policy, that same state also sequesters and concentrates extreme, aberrant, or superfluous quantities of life in spaces conceived as juridically outside the body politic—encampments where the rule of law can be suspended.


Excerpted from Thinking with Shakespeare by JULIA REINHARD LUPTON Copyright © 2011 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

A Note on Texts

ONE / Animal Husbands in The Taming of the Shrew
TWO / The Hamlet Elections
THREE / All’s Well That Ends Well and the Futures of Consent
FOUR / Job of Athens, Timon of Uz
FIVE / Hospitality and Risk in The Winter’s Tale
SIX / The Minority of Caliban
SEVEN / Paul Shakespeare

Epilogue / Defrosting the Refrigerator with Hannah Arendt

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