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EAGLETON - Shakespeare

EAGLETON - Shakespeare

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Terry Eagleton 7986,1987

Fint published 1986 Fint published in the USA 1986 Fint published in paperback 1987 Reprinted 1986, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995 (twice)
Blackwell Publishen Ltd 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 UF, Blackwell Publishen Inc.
238 Main Street


Awu and Marlt


Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142, USA
reserved. Except for the quotation of short pâsseges for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or oúerwise, without the prior permission of

All rights

the publisher.

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without úe publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other thân that in which it is published and wiúout a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Bitish Libnry Cataloguing in Publieatioit'Datai

A CIP catalogue record for this book

is available

from the British Library.

übrary oJ Congtess Cataloging in Publiuüon Dau Eagleton, Tetry,1943-

'William Shakespeare.
Includes index.
1. Shakespeare,

(Rereading literature)

William, 1564-1616-Criticism and interpretation.




Series: Re-reading literature.

PR2976.817 1986 822.3',3 8512927
ISBN c-ó31-14ss4-{ (pbk.)

Typeset by Cambrian Typescttcn, Frimley, Surrey Printed in Great Britain by Hartnolls Limited, Bodmin, Cornwall


j This book

printed on acid-free paper










Night's Drcam,

TwdÍlh Night



Desire: A Midsutwncr Night\ Drcam, Twclfth Night

it is also intolerably hackneyed and banal, somcthing that millions of people have donc beforc and millions more will do again. To say'I love you', asJonathan Culler Points out' is alúays at some level a quotation;r in its very moment of absolute, original value, the self stumblcs acnoss nothing
but other people's lines, Íinds itself handed a mcticulously detailed sôript to which it must slavishly conform. It discovers, thãt is, that it is always alrcady'writtcn', scored through in its noblest thoughts and most sPontanoous aÍfections by the whole tediously repetitive history of human sexual behaviour, subjected to impcrsonal codes and conventions at exactly the moment it feels most euphorically free of them. Sexuality is a theatre with a strïctly limited a$ay of roles: cold mistress, unrequited lover, jealous paranoiac, unblemished madonna, vampiric whore. The most 'natural' human activity is thus a question of high artiÍice, as is perhaps most obvious when Shakespearian characters writc their love to each other, deploying stilted literary formulae to articulate that which supposedly beggars all description. I-ooc's labour's Lost is múõtr preoccupied with such ironic discrepancies betwcen high-falutin poetic discourse and the plain imprrlses of seiual attraction. Language, once touched by such desire, tends to run Íiot: as Benedick remarks of the love-sruck Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing,'He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man and a soldier, ánd now he is turned orthography; his words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes' (Il.iii). The love between Benedick and Beatricein Much ádo is the effect of elaborately Íictitious information fed to cach partner, so that it is impossible to decide whcther this groundless discourse uncovers a lovc which was 'naturally' there, or actually oonstructs it. The mordant, sardonic wit of this admirable pair of iconoclasts is a strategy for holding out against the banalitics of romantic love; and even when that love overtakes them they persist in their satirical debunking, discarding a conventional lovers' discourse for mutual raillery.

Thc place where language and the body most obviously
intersect is in sexual dcsire. For if sexual d-esire is a physical matter, rrratrçr, tr it rs is cvcn evcn morc more (as ünaKespeane Shakespeare wett well appreclates) iates) a question of discourse: sonnets, lovc letters, velbal fencing, seductive rhetoric. Indeed the disproportion between these two aspects of sexuality in Shakespeare is striking: the

elaborate idioms of desire - loveis' quarrels, coúrting rituals, moonstruck maunderings - arã all ,about' the physical act of coition itself, y.t úe- absurdly excessive of it, to the point where one begins to wonder whether the truth is not the reverse, and the physical act merely provides a convenient occasion for certairr forms of verbal display. Since the sexual act itself cannot be performed on stage, its absence from the language which súrrounds it is all the more eloquent. But,it is not clear whethcr physical sex is- the missing 'real' - oFstage, so to speak I which Íinally ground all this baroque rhetoriC in something 1vo_ul$ deÍinite, or whether it is merely ìncidental to the poetry itsg!fi | trivial, well-nigh dispensable supplement to it. Shakespearian comedy is ãcutely awárã that characters in love are simultaneously at their most 'real' and .unreal' most true and most feifning. [,ove is the ultimate ,.ld deÍinition, the most precious and unique mode of being; yet

This. deviate. As such. one instantly associatcd with money: Theseus complains in the play's opening lines that the slow-waning moon 'lingers my desires. That it alone is high fantastical. but the phrase borders on the oxymoronic: taste is 'natural' in the icnse that there is no accounting for it. stable form. throws its oÍIicial assumptions into radical question. And if desire is 'natural'. sray out of place. This. Instead. as in Mcasurcfor Mcasurc. notwithstanding thy capacity Rcceiveth as the sca. displaccd parodies of the real thing. known as the institution of rnarriage.anaúal as to bc .g-l 5) If sexuality is anarchic./Long withering out a young man's revenue. both in their 'natural' errancy and in their homogenizing eÍlect. is true of signs. as we have seen. But falls into abatement and low'price Even in a minutc. Is love natural because itis sojtnd. When you discover your appropriate marriage partner you can loolc back. 'subjective' and 'objcctive' togcther. spcaks of having had his 'natural taste' restored to him. and Shahespeare draws a close parallel between desire. If marriage is ideally the place where individual desire finds public sign and body. There is something anarchic about sexual desire which is to be feared. It is at once free personal choice and impersonal bond. how quick and fresh thou art! That. In this sense. then it would seem to require a repressive external authority to keep it firmly in place. it has something of the density and inertia of the body itself But it also hasìhe waywardness and promiscuity of language. language and money. an exchange of bodics which becomes the rnedium of the fullest mutuality of minds. I. Of what validity and pitch. But this will merely result in an eternal quarrel between libido and law. Eros oÍfers a potent threat to social order. is the moment of the end of the comedies. Desire in Shakespeare is often a kind of obsessiòn. but its whimsicality makes it quite the opposite of Naturc as a scttled olt'cetivc structure. Twclfth Night 2I There is also a móre complex sense in which sexuality brings both body and language into play./Like to a stepdame or a dowager. rewritc your autobiography and recognize that all your previously covctcd objects were in fact treacherous. however. but reveals its vcry inward structurc . Desire plunges you into the body's depths and roots you to the spot. near-identical objccts: O spirit of love. and the fear is less moral than political: in exposing the provisional nature ofany particular commitment. the way they level out distinctive values and merge them into onc amorphous mass of debased.soe'er. patriarchal public law on the one hand (Theseus and Egeus) and a purely random subjectivity of Eros on the other (the four intcrchangeablc lovers). shadows of the true substance. then the unwelcome corollary of this is that it is natural for things to wander. if only it had known. had wanted all the time. It is the true language of thc erotic sel{. once unitcd with Helena. Marriage is not an arbitrary force which cocrcively hems in desirc.20 Desire Midnmmcr NWt\ Drcam. broadly speaking. in the scnse of being the outward sign or social rolc which expresses your authentic inward being.i. diíluse and selfdivided in its workings. the play's actual sexuality is torn betwcen a deathdealing. nought enters there. So full of shapes is fancy. but it tends to shuttle you on soon enough to some other spot where you feel just as rooted. sliding indiÊ ferently from one love-object to another. Marriage is natural. the point at which the spontaneity of individual feeling and the stability of public institutions harmoniously interlock. a well-nigh monomaniacal Íixation on another which tends to paralyse the self to a rigid posture. marriage is the organic society in miniature. as opposed to thosc deceitful idioms which belie it. Demetrius. desire must find its own natural. (Twc{th Night. a solution to sexual and political dilemmas so ludicrously implausible that even Shakespeare himsclf seems to have had diÍIiculty in believing it. The action of A Midsummcr Night's Drcam is framed by the marriage ofTheseus and Hippolyta.what desire.' What takes place within this framc.

Then tell me. But if everyone. Then Patroclus. The law is. and this. Bottom's play fails to convince 'realistically' because the dramatic illusion is incomplete. fashioned in relation to some other. Then tell he. what's Thersites? Thcrsitcs I pray ffi€. this. tell (rr.iii. Twc{lh Night 29 currency: anything can be exchanged with anything else. this after all is exactly what Theseus demands of the rebellious Hermia at the beginning of the play. If 'natural' relationships are disrupted by magical illusion and then benignly restored. for which a man (as Coriolanus says of himself) is author of himself and knows no other kin. This doctrine is a powerful weapon in his critique of bourgeois individualism. This is particularly worrying for Shakespeare. only a moment later to be exposcd as fortuitous. as in the forest imbroglio. since he cannot see his own face. such that after Oberon's magic has gone to work. is prccisely what the lovers do in the forest. Thy knower. Come.only goes to suggest that love . thee.but whether their illusions interlock. what Lysander is for Hermia (her lover. Patroclus.was bound up with illusion in the first place.22 Desire inexplicable. nor what Helena is . here bccausc elsewhere. When Bottom wears his ass's head there is a rift between how others view him ancl how he views himself. Social and sexual identities have the mystifying mutability ofa paltering language or counterfeit Midsummer Night\ Drcam.all iclentity is reciprocally constructed. just as fairyland is quite as sadistically patriarchal as the court. when lived. If thcy do. If identity is always partly 'other'. Achilles. well-intentioned asides to paciS the audience. does this not suggest an empty circularity of identities. without an admixture of deception (Oberon's magic in making Demetrius love Heléna) the 'real' problems of the drama would not be resolved. so that identity is always at once here and elsewhere. it may well be illusion (Oberon's magic) which brings this about. Helena).since anyone aftcr all can love anyonc else . constituted by social bonds and Íidelities. disruptcd as it is by bungling. to see through her father's eyes. then one can exert no full control over itl the self is radically 'split' from the outset. Magical devices are thus structural to the play's'realistic' conclusion. what's Achilles? Patroclw Thy Lord.a matter of inexplicable preference . Thersites. Each role. a way of seeing which lacks objective grounds. . The bumptious Bottom is reluctant to confine himself to a single part in his drama.is deÍined by what they are not. a prey to the capricious identificaiions of those with whom it identifies. . what's Agamemnon? Thy commander. exchanging roles with dizzying speed. If Oberon's liquor literally induces characters to perceive each other differently. thcn this is perhaps the nearest we can appnoximate to truth or reality. Patroclus. what art thou? Patroclus Thou must tell that knowest. mutual and intcrnally consistent. wishing to play several at once. quite as fantastical as any fairyland hallucination. or is it inexplicable because it is errantly subjective? What would seem 'natural' is the fact that all relationships are potentially reversible.4G6) To love is to live an imaginary identiÍication with another. and the same is true of the revolving misperceptions of the four lovers. in this sense. What mattcn in the cnd is not whether characters 'rcally' love each other or not . appeanr as absolute. not mere supplementary aids to Naturc. if the illusion is total. since it traditionalist belief that. of course. plunging you into selÊ estrangement. but the magic is an allegory of the misperceptions 'naturally' part of all human action. herse[f) is not what he is for himself (his beloved. Is loving Theseus really any less foolish than loving an ass? Indeed. ungrounded in any absolute? The circularity is acted out in a brief knockabout charade in the Trojan camp of Troilus and Crcssidaz seems like a grotesque caricature of his Thcrsitcs Achiltes . but if the self is always elsewhere it can err and be misappropriated.

however. ransacking appearances in its desperate pursuit of some ultimate truth which refuses to be uncovered. and reveal it to be ridden with deception. Puck is the delusive space towards which the hunters in the forest are drawn.2 Bottom. like the dream which it generates in Bottom. which for Shakespeare is bound up with a feudalist ideology of mutual bonds. from a 'bad' version of the same belief. Oberon and Puck. does not really matter. This. what looks through the individual eye is nothing less than the unconscious itself. Like desire itself. The desire of the unconscious is bottomless. The Athenian lovers themselves . of the insatiable lust of the eye. whereas desire in this drama is at root involves an otherness which remains personal (the alterity deeply impersonal. is too bodily to go beyond himself. yet as the point where their false perceptions interlock he is necessarily quite unreal. but he is a grotesquely bad actor. to which however they do not add up'. since such individualism and commodity exchange go logically together. casually indiíferent to particular bodies. can be dislocated and reversed. And though such language. though mere figments themselves. a transformative. he becomes a vacant symbol within which desires congregate and collide. eternally elusive. unable to transcend the limits of his own stolid identity to perform anyone but himself. he is everywhere and nowhere. How is one to distinguish a 'good' reciprocity of selves. teasingly ambiguous language in which assured identities are decomposed. Playing Lysander to f)emetrius and Demetrius to Lysander. but one which can intervene in human aÍIairs as an alien force. The fairies inhabit an autonomous world. then. The circuit of exchange. a domestic tiffbetween two metaphysical illusions has the power to derange the aÍfairs of 'real' human beings. In the play''s fantasia of the unconscious. an ass or philanderer. The ass's head is thus appropriate: like an animal. breaking offtheir interlude to assure the wisecracking audience that this is not the real thing. nor whatl Demetrius is for himself (Hermia's suitor). is a dualism of body and language. (It is also possible to be in love with love. no Other to this constant otherness. is chimerical.) If the self lives only in social exchange. and so no Íixed criteria of truth. Bottom may want to play several parts at once. in fact. it has the power to shape reality to its own ends. for both good and ill. like the fairies themselves. Puck cannot be merely one thing. but there would seem no 'outside' to it. yet a centre which is absent. Marx comments in Capital on the strange paradox whereby the mutual traflic of commodities exerts a determining force on real social relations. just as one can be a miser. in one sense the controlling centre of the action. and so with the impersonal quality of unconscious desire. as symptomatic of the subjective naturo of sexual attraction. Twclfih Night 25 for herself (the rejected mistress of Demetrius). in which all bonds are sundered by the frantic circulation of persons and things? The society of A Midsummcr Night's Dream is not. once more. Puck is pure transgression. The mechanicals. Shakespeare suspects that there is an element of this in all erotic relationships. a mere groundless intersubjectivity. Bottom can be no more than one. who can assume auy shape or persona because he is nothing in himself. in this play. Puck mediates one character to the other. bodiless.24 Desire Midsumnur Night\ I)rcam. The play makes much of boking. love operating as the 'universal commodity' (Marx's terrn for money (or great equalizer of values. by contrast. what Theodor Adorno called in a diÍferent context the 'torn halves of an integral freedom. disclose a desire concealed by 'fictive' social forms. Bottom is unable to be either more or less than he is. then Shakespeare's defence ofthe feudal doctrine of mutuality against bourgeois individualism begins to look particularly ironic. He is thus the polar opposite of Puck. The self is a commodity which lives only in the act of barter. who has no existence outside his theatrical incarnations. and this unfathomable place of the Other is Íigured within the text as the inhuman Puck. even when they belicvc they are pursuing each other. but it would also seem to insinuate that what you look at. hold to a naively empiricist sense of the relations between appearance and reality. For intersubjectivity of one's lover).

The 'solution'. as we have already seen. a 'nothing' which cannot be mastered. I have them at my Íìngers' ends. an art form of the signifier alone. ils marriage. Sir Andrew. for the play to defuse the seriousness of its content by branding it as illusion. Sir Andrcw Are you full of them? Maria Ay. naturally enough. sir. Twclfth Night 27 with sexual Maria yearning unlike the phlegmatic Bottom yet. (rI. as Sir Andrew Aguecheek does to forestall Sir Toby Belch's pedantic patter: Approach. sir.just as it is 'natural' for that solid public institution the theare to generate fantasies. bring your hand to the butt'ry bar and let it drink. Parl2. In foregrounding its own Íictional character. It is diÍficult. 'A good wit'. because consrained by the body. I know not. sweetheart? What's your metaphor? Maria Sir lt's dry. and here's my hand. now I let go your hand. just as the commodity form does with material goods.iii. but you shall have. then. that in turn is framed by selÊconscious theatrical illusion. since dreams are in one sense just as real as anything else. the play wards off the disorderly desire it has itself unleashed. A counter-move to this verbal colonialism is to assert baldly that things simply are what they are. (r.60-75) n If desire tends to overwhelm any determinate signified or stable meaning with an excess of signiÍiers.26 Dcsire are a contradictory amalgam of the two. Fair lady. remarks Falstaffin Hmry IV. If the hallucinated mismatchings of the forest are framed by the sober contract of marriage. 'will make use of anything. sir. I think so. . a tangled chain of metaphor which nowhere seems to button down on reality: Sir Maria's speech is giddyingly free of fact ('thought is free'). is something of a Pyrrhic victory for the imperial word. but it cannot do this without suggesting that its concluding nuptials are fictitious too. restless Midsummn Night\ Dream. then it is appropriate that Orsino at the opening of Twclfth Night should link it to music. I pray you.iil). hostile to the selÊidentity of things. Mystifying language like Maria's dispenses with a word's use value and converts reality into one sealed circuit of abstract exchange. but I know to be up late is to be up late. Sir Toby A false conclusion! I hate it as an unÍill'd Sir can. . by my troth.iii. do you think you have hand? fools in Mcria Sir. Sir Andrcw Marry. But what's yourjest? Maria A dry jest. thought is free. since in assimilating all things to itself it leaves the world empt). an open space in which any bit of the world may combine kaleidoscopically with any other. Sir Andrcw Wherefore. Atdrcw Why. vulnerable to the havoc this wreaks as Puck is not. and before which it is struck impotent. and 'diluculo surgere' thou know'st Sir Andrcw Nay. Now sir.l-5) . But this. Reality secretes dreams as part of its very nature . I am barren. I have not you by th'hand. marry. To dismiss itself ncrvously as a dream is no defence. but no sooner has the play concluded on this note than it thrusts its own chimerical nature before our attention in Puck's epilogue. Not to be abed after midnight is to be up betimes. I will turn diseases to commodity' (I. since it has just spent five acts demonstrating that illusion is a very serious business indeed. I am not such an ass but I can keep my hand dry. and one of which he wishes to surfeit and die. Twclfth Night is fascinated by the idea of words being torn from their material contexts to become selÊgenerating. Toby Andrcu .

but no reason with it either.A. as the Duke complains in Mcasurc for Mcasarc. overreaches his social role under the transgressive power of language. TwclJth NW.a kind of nothingncss.'breeds'by its own promiscuous power. as Cordelia discovers. neither jealously commercial contracts .i. to speak or keep silent.O. as usual with Shakespeare.written Clown Would not a pair of thcse havc bred. 29 Agucchcek's flat literalness forces you back.i. ironically.ii. His bid for a higher freedom is ironically selÊurrdoing. (III. 2l-2\ Reason. Malvolio the servant. yet whose darkness permits his imagination impotently free rein. Just as Olivia's supposed missive to him presents her as ruled by dead letters ('M.have rendered signs valueless. sir. so this text itself rigorously governs Malvolio's sexual advances. doth sway my life'). the very form of ieality. . is akin to sexgal promiscuity: . reducing himself to a mere pander between them. Viola (rrr.28 Desire Midsumnur NW\ Drcon. thrusting him into a materially cramping dungeon which. To see this age! A sentence is but a chev'ril glove to a good wit. Malvolio's task is to èxpend and economize in good measure. pedantically obeying 'every point sf the letter' which his enemies concoct. into the dilemma you hoped to escape: a tautology is a worthless selÊidentity which convcys nothingn leaving speech just as selÊreferential as in Maria's quickÍìre metaphors. the breaking of bonds: 'But indeed words are very rascals since bonds disgrac'd them. In the process he lands up in a prison where there is hardly sPace to move. he then asks for another: . Cloun I would. Clown I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia. Bassanio ín Tlu Merchant of Vmicc piously denounces gold as 'thou pale and common drudge/'Tween rnan and man'. . dcspite Viola's reminder about use value. and words are grown so false I am loath to prove reason with them.thcy that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton. and yet is disfigured by them. Where language becomes most dramatically manipulative in the play is in the duping of Malvolio. who is manoeuvred into hìs hamÍisted courtship of Olivia by pure verbal illusion. because pitch-dark. the supposed servant of humanity. . sir? Viola Yes. 'Ihe play's most professional pedlar of paradoxes. Malvolio hopes hubristically to transcend all restriction and become his mistress's lover. with his laboured petty-bourgeois preciseness of speech. itself a Íservant' of humanity always apt to forget its place. man? Clown Why. can be articulaËd only in words. being kept together and put to use. What has discredited language in Feste's view is commerce. who actually calls himself a 'corrupter of words': .) To sport with language. Viola Why. is equally falsifying. As a steward. (III. sir. and to dally with that word might make my sister wanton.lO-12. Like Macbeth. is the Clown. is also. her name's a word. Malvolio is seduced by a false linguistic coinage to exceed his 'proper' position. sir. my sister had no name. Without language there can be no reason. . to bring a Cressida to thfu Troilus. but security enough to make fellowship accursed' (III.l3-r8) From thoughts of verbal fetishism and sexual desire. the Clown suggests. By confining himielf too exactly.I.i. money.47-50) Feste reifies the coins to living sexual partners. 'There is scarce truth enough alive to make societies secure.' Bonds . right down to the ridiculous cross-garters and yellow stockings. therefore. transient occasions for their mutual exchange. How quickly the wrong side may be turn'd outward! I can yield you [no reason] without words. Feste is led on logically to the topic of money. but the truth would seem to be the opposite: human beings are no more than the humble mediators between commodities. since too often they are not backed by the physical actions they promise. Having extracted one coin from Viola.

converting two negatives (each partner's reluctance to fight the other) into a spurious positive. In pressing Aguecheek to send a written challenge. sucking into itselí'the whole of experience and so leaving nothing beynnd its own boundaries which might be capable of negating it. Chwn What think'st thou of his opinion? Maloolio I. not just the dungeon. having colluded in the plot against Malvolio. word and thing. Feste can Ítick this to the boundary by exploiting the ambiguity of 'fool'. are you not mad indeed. Cloum Fare thee well. In fact. so Aguecheek.30 Dcsire Midsummer Night's l)rcam. if you be no better in your wits than a fool. Since'objcctive' norms have been suspended. thus stacking forrr levels of illusion on top of each other: he is a Fool (itself a sort of nothing) assuming a role notorious for its hypocrisy ('I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown') to visit a dungeon whose darkness renders his disguise superÍÌuous. Belch mischievously conÍlates texts and physical objects.' he retorts. Because he controls the rules of the language game. herself a fiction. and for speech to unhinge itself from the world is anõthei name for madness. and no way approve his opinion. is ensnared by Oberon into a further fantasy (her love for Bottom).ii. bringing 'rational' criteria to bear on it with a crazed exactitude not r far from Malvolio's own. now finds himself on the receiving end of another of Sir Toby Belch's deceptions. The Clown disguises himself as a curate for the occasion.think nobly of the soul. (Iv. Twelfth Night 3l hoarding nor too lavishly dispensing. the supposed go-between is the covert author of the event. truth becomes a matter of who can destroy the other linguistically. Having launched the fiction that Malvolio is mad. beyond its own closure. he lurches from an absurdly rigid adherence to his function to a wilcl exFavagance of dcsire. or do you but counrerfeit?'). No bit of 'real' evidence can falsify such verbal artefacts. Malvolio's social ambitiousness. fool. breeding something from nothing. since the artefact has always preprocessed the evidence and determined what counts as admissible. Illusion can neutralize or put out of play any norm.g it with l'este's ('I am as well in my wits. This is evident enough when Feste and Sir Toby visit Malvolio in his prison. a scene rcminiscent of Goldberg and MçCann's tormenting of the hapless Stanley in Harold Pinter's Tlu Birlhday Party. Just as Titania in A MidsummÍr Night\ Dream. Belch's verbal chicanery fashions a dangerously real situation. . suggesting that the larger the size of the paper the greater the insults will be: What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl? Malaolio That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird. By acting the role of slippery broker. . When individuals wander out of place. any of Malvolio's rcsponses can be turned against him as further proof of his lunacy: will be garbled and travestied by the rules of the game. as thou art'). Feste solemnly treats this speculation as real. just as in Act V. We shall sce a somewhat similar abrupt reversal in the Angelo of Mcasurc for Measure. 'Then you are mad indeed. When Malvolio tries to aífirm his own sanity by comparin. That this is so is obvious enough in the 'duel' between Viola and Aguecheek. madness and sanity.48-53) Malvolio cannot win: whatever actual utterance he produces Clown . in what could prove an iníiriite regress of victimage. the Clown scrupulously frames his questions to create doublcbinds for his victim (íBut tell me true. like Macbeth's. mediating false information about each other to Viola and Sir Andrew. Remain thou stitl in darkness: thou shalt hold th'opinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits. which appears as a prison-house. so does language. negating his own sanity and Malvolio's along with it. as both social function and personal quality. It is language. As with coins and signs. scene i he tricks Fabian into cancelling out his own request to see a letter. . threatens to eradicate the frontiers between illusion and reality.

Olivia and Orsino. Viola. no more than himself. the Fool is an accomplished actor who. precisely. Viola points out. Toby Confine! I'll confine myself no finer than I am. Elsewhere in Twclfth Night. but does so in the name of a liberty to be. because he appears to lack a body: the Clown. When Viola asks to view olivia's face. she is reduced to a passive mediation between two fetishized fictions. acting the part of one actor (Orsino) to another actor (Olivia) in a way at odds with her own true identity (her love for Orsino). however'genuine' their feelings may be. (rrr. however. and vice versa. go about it. it shall not be amiss. requires a kind of wit.n. is then drawn into this closed charade as pander or broker. and so is even less real than they arel but because he selÊconsciously pcrforms what others live out unwittingly.. (r. he can blend subversive liberty with a secure social identity. A similar paradox marks the Clown. She confronts Olivia as an actress who must confine herself strictly to her text. although the sheet were big enough for the bed of Ware in England. falling at once 'beyond' the symbolic order of society in his verbal anarchy. As Olivia comments. As lord of linguistic misrule. Unlike Macbeth and Malvolio. his verbal licence is licensed. are both actors who perform their aloof or love-sick states as theatrical scripts from which their actions must never deviate.3e-43) He also persuades Aguecheek. set 'em down. no matter. rr(:j:ul4l". full-bellied yet Íântastical. Belch remains largely unscathed by his own mystifications. tautologically. is what he is hired for: since his role is to be roleless. sir? I can say little more than I have studied.32 Desire Midsummer Night\ Drcam. and 'below' it in his carnivalesque refusal to submit his body to social control. rather like Puck. and so can never overstep himself because what he is is pure transgression. The Fool interrogates all symbolic codes with his teasing double-talk. . the Fool incarnates the pervasive falsity of social forms. Like Falstaff he rejects social constraints. if thou thou'st him some thrice.ousll assumes a dissembling mask and so remains admirably unmystiÍied. Yet this. Twelfth Night 3t Taunt him with the license of ink. disowning any personal identity beyond it: Olioia Viola Whence came you. having assumed the Íiction of disguise in the service of Orsino. As the Clown himself remarks. Each part feeds parasitically off the other. This is only possible. though thou write with a goose-pen.re) Like Falstaff too he is a rampant hedonist. is released from desire himself in irnaging the unconscious of others. an eloquent void at the heart of social order. he raises such negativity to the second power and becomes more real than those around him. Let there be gall enough in thy ink.essage or metaphor seeking to couple together two uncommunicating items. that language ('a terrible oath') will frighten offhis opponent as eÍfectively as action. Like the Clown with his coins.' As a corrupter of words.u. and as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of paper. and that question's out of my part. To play the fool. .). complacently anchored in his own body. an embodied verbal m. consci. 'Those wits that think they have [wit] do very oft prove fools. a man renowned for the pathetic discrepancy between his words and deeds. About it.ii.iii. and I that am sure I lack thee may pass for a wise'man' (I. social roles come like language to determine the behaviour of their bearers. He is thus at once more and less 'real' than those around him. like Viola and unlike Orsino and Olivia. 'There is no slander in an allow'd fool. Maria Sir you must confine yourself within the modest limits of order. in an interlocking of illusions: Orsino's identity as rejected suitor depends upon Olivia's cultivated haughtiness.

for example. in rejecting Viola as Orsino's apologist. Language is always this or that utterance in this or that situation. When Viola (a boy playing a woman playing a man) confronts Olivia with Orsino's suit. scene i is plagued by this comic tension between their'true' selves and their scripted performances. which is independent of any single specific use of it. Troilus and Crcssida which at once undercuts the artifice of her attitude to Orsino and in another sense is just as unreal: she does not know that Viola is a woman. On the other hand. is that actual speech or writing subverts the very generality of the structure which brings it into being. To be a word at all. however. and that 'language in general' does not actually exist. semantics. Any language can be viewed on the one hand as a system of relative regularities: we would not call a 'word' a mark which occurred only once. whether of speech. Measure Measure. it is clear that all language is . to suit the action to the word and the word to the action. This is perhaps . begins to loclk ludicrously utopian. inspiring in Olivia a love 3 Law: Tlu Merchant oí for Venice. It is doubtful that the institution of marriage will be enough to unravel these convolutions. There is. The signifier. The messenger becomes the master. I It is a paradoxical fact about all language that it is at once entirely general and irreducibly particular. but as with the Drcam the play can seize upon this troublesome fact to foreground its own fictive status. in this sense trangresses the very languc (or general linguistic structure) which produces it. I What structural linguistics termsy'a rolc. just as Olivia's countenance is presented in the brm of a written inventory or set of mechanically itemized features. as though it were part of its very nature to be and do more than the dictionary can formulate. The same goes for the rules of language . Throughout the play. The dialogue between the two women in Act III. some actual or possible place in the dictionary.syntax. as when Fabian remarks that he would condemn Malvolio's behaviour as 'an improbable fiction' were he to see it on stage. it must have some given or potential location within the structure of language. the switchings and reversals of social roles act as a kind of dramatized metaphor: the physical doubling of Viola and her brother. money or desire.34 Desire she is now 'out of [her] text'. Olivia must inevitably send packing the 'man' she loves. It is writing which controls human behaviour. and so on which can be reated as purely formal conventions. something about language which always 'goes beyond': all discourse reveals a kind of self-surpassing dynamic. Hamlet's advice to the Players.wholly particular. instead. Once entered into the closed cicuit of Orsino and Olivia. as both are forced into a'bind' between them: ifViola plays her part successfully she wins Olivia for Orsino and so loses him for herself. independent of any concrete content. just as surely as the real identities of things are confounded by the twists and tropes of language. is a kind of visual pun. in other words. whatever we are asked to believe in the íinal scene. language devours and incorporates reality until it stands in danger of collapsing under its own excess. an actor playing an actor playing an actor presents the case ofone actor playing an actor to another doing just the same. then. The 'true self is intertwined with its pre-scripted models. Viola does not remain a neutral presence. Ìhe particular concrete utterance. The paradox. creates and dominates the signified.

can be understood only by going beyond its letter. then. them generates an i Ìqcible specificity of force and mcaning. Portia's ingenious quibbling would be ruled out of order in a modcrn court. One law for one group and another law for another is commonly felt to be objectionable: it can lead to privilege. 'lives' only in speciÍic human contexts. ln this sense. and may well result in modifying or transforming them. the formal structure of the law generates certain events (verdicts. and Shylock (given that his bond were legal in the Íirst place) would win his case. Merclunt. For law to be law its decrees must be general a\$ impartial. Thus. Shylock's bond does not actually state in lft writing that he is allowed to take some of Antonio's blood \ll[ along with a pound of his Ílcsh.or sense constrained by the formal principles 9f'la*gu6 bu\ at any moment it can also put these principlbs into (quest . as any real court would recognize. but a tradition of continuous reinterpretation of it which bears in forcibly on any current act of legal judgement. As with language. which cannot simply be read off from the formal structures which generate it. it is also truç of law. Language is a specific euent. clubbis h ruli ng class. skating perilously close to promoting 'private law' by a reading which is aberrant because too faithful. legal judgements. takcn in isolation.alse to its meaning. which would deÍbat/the whole idea of law by violating its comparatdua nature. There is a ruthleJs precision about her sense of the text which exactly parallels-shylock's relentlcss insistence on having his bond. There is nothing 'false' about her reading in itself. ít ís Shylock who has respect for the spirit of the law and Portia who does not. by contrast. and the like) which may end up by undermining that structure. but this is a reasonable \i\ inference from the text. Shylock is triumphantly vindicated even though he loses the case: he has forced the Christians into outdoing his own '. its attempt to apply the same general principles to widely diíIerent conditions. referring it to the material contexts in which it is operative and the generally accepted meanings which infirrm and surround it. and so ironièally a Ílagrant distortion. will certainly bear out. like language. Yet the law. as a solitary.inhuman' legalism. not narrowly technical or pedantic. If this were not so we might end up qíth Ft many laws as there are situations. dcspised outsider confronting a powerfu l. all of which are unique. The paradox.failinS to I do this. but this. Such application involves the creative interprctatioa of those tenets. as with language. In interpreting the law creatively. is 'true to the text' but thcrefore lamentably f. A literary text is i\-. it is usually felt that one should have due regard to its 'spirit': judgements should be realistic and commonsensical. Indeed it is tempting to sp€culate that Shylock never really expected to win in the íirst place. suspended from the ceiling or dressed in fritly knickerbockers at the time of cutting. he is hardly wellplaced to do so. Troilus 37 which literally means 'private law'. fi\ No piece of writing can exhaustively enumerate all 'con. in Tlu Muclunt of Vmia. If this is rue of language. quite independent of and indifferent to any Çr\crete situation.36 Law most evident in a . Mcasurc. or specify whether Antonio should be sitting down. Any text. which deploys words usually to be t by combining and condensing found in the lexicon. Portia threatens to bring the law into disrepute. Legal case-history is not just a record of past'applications'of the law. that is to say. too crassly literal. One can imagine him waiting with a certain academic intcrest to sce what dodge the . which the text. Portia's reading of the bond. can never be a simple matter of reading off the rights and wrongs of a given action from the formal abstract tenets laid down in the statute book. it is just that her interpretation is too true. is that to PrescÍve the structure of the I law you must transgress what it actually says. By.'ì ceivable aspects of the situation to which it refcrs: one might just as well claim that Shylock's bond is deÍicient because it does not actually mention the use of a knife. one might claim. The gap between the general character of law and these unique individual contexts is bridged by the law's 'application'.

the immutability of print can be much exaggerated. the lovers'vows to safeguard their mistresses' rings are not made in writing. deploying exactly the kind of subjective paltering it exists to spurn.i. If the decrees of Venice were shown to be worthless. in order to uncover the genuine illusions at its heart. then. just as to lend out money gratis à /c Antonio is to aÍfect the general rate of exchange in the city. Shylock thus induces the Venetian law partly to undo itsel{. written letters would seem more real than airy speech because they are material. being a direct product of it. entering that alien system from the inside and operating its rules in a style which presses them towards selÊcontradiction. rules or cohabits is inescapably a question of script: there can be no appeal to some realm of purely 'human' values which lies quite beyond the letter. marriage. the oddly gratuitous quality of his vengeance. The difliculty. Perhaps he throws the audicnce a knowing wirrk when Portia produces her knockdown argument. In any case. Shylock's curious reluctance to specify his motive in pursuing his suit. agreements) is of the very essence of Venetian society. The'human' is that which escapes the tyrannical precision of writing. as Antonio learns to his discomfort. the living voice of Portia's eloquence rather than the steely fixity of print. That it should bc the Christians who deny the spirit of writing itself is a matter of flesh and blood. Íie upon your law! There is no force in the decrees of Venice. the Íinal consequence of which might be political anarchy. and I will have it. One of the problems the play faces. To catch the Christians out in a particular juridical shuÍIle is of course to discredit the law in general. but in order to avoid doing so it must risk deconstructing itsel{. as might one of his most crucially revealing declarations: The pound of Ílesh which I demand of him Is dearly bought. is that it will not. 'tis mine. In another sense it is 'breath' or living speech which is more aptly symbolic of the body. as we have seen already. goes beyond itself. written contracts may oppress one in the lethal immutability of their letter. He takes 'for real' the dramatic charade of a system in which he has little faith. Either way he will win: by killing Antonio. In one sense. of course. who buys. pcnalize one of its own wealthy adherents at the behest of an odious Jew? The answer. is how to distinguish this positive mutual involvement of language and the body from that tyranny of the letter which destroys the body's substance. What is at stake in the courtroom. unfixed in contrast with script. is passing and perishable. since they see themselves precisely as resisting Shylock's own hardhearted legalism in the name of the'human'. Merchanl. or language. then. however. Unlike Antonio's pledge. Troilus 39 the law is. state decrees. To protect itself. will it maintain its prop€r indiÍference to individuals. troubling political consequences might be in store for the state. then. The meaning or 'spirit' of such script then becomes analogous to the soul or consciousness. which can always be used in evidence against you. might be construed as evidence fibr this.38 Law Christians will devise to let one of their own kind off thc hook. In such a social order. or by unmasking Christian justice as a mockery. the law is forced into a hermeneutical errancy. and so rather like the physical body. but by the same token they can protect you more eíIiciently against others' infidelity. is less Shylock's personal desire to carve up Antonio than the law of Venice itsalf. would seem to be one of reconciling the warm yet perishable substance of breath with the necessary permanence and generality of a writing which constantly . The human is not that which goes beyond writing. But this is absurd. Speeòh. commercial contracts. eats. of course. but the way in which writing. (rv.ert02) It is almost as though Shylock is de$ing the court to deny him in order to expose its own hollowness. and this unfixedness can cause it to deceive more readily than writing. since writing (legal bonds. Measurc. and like consciousness can enter into conflict with its material medium. and so may the more easily be broken. If you deny me. deeply ironic.

It wearies me. and the more acute the condition. discarding the use values of objects in order to plunder them for substance with which to nourish itself. It is less easy or intelligent for outcasts like Shylock. but does so destructively. in marked contrast to the glum taciturnity of Antonio. because apparently causeless. feeding on its own indeterminacy.). in a lavishly gratrritous (grare-like) gcsture. and intent on rescuing her lover's best friend by a quibble. who is sensible to be rather wary. I know not why I am so sad.cclrpations. considerably less disinterested than she appean. Yet in doing scl it threatens to . The norm is deÍined by Nerissa.ii. Those who wield power can afford to dispense with exact justice from time to time. And such a want-wit sadness makes of me 'Ihat I have much ado to know myself. however. Troilus 4l less definable its grounds. the more intricately florid the diction of Shakespeare's characters tends to grow. an act which equally threatens to erode the essential impartiality of law. I wilt not hear thee speak'.40 Law Mcrclnnt. What stuff'tis made of. whose melancholy is (like unrequited love) the very image of an 'all' based on a negation. It is necessary if social cohesion is to be sustained. The problem would seem to be that the formal. reducing reality to empty husks to feed his gloomy narcissism.i. all very well for some. moreover. Shylock warns Antonio that '['ll have my bond. (r. threatens to stifle it. who believes that 'silence is only commendable/In a neat's tongue dried. This. I am to learn. has a hint of Pcirtia's perverse reading of the bond. If mercy is gratuitous. a blank. found it. whereof it is born. however hard-hearted that may seem. overrides measure. and it is thus not accidental that Antonio is not only melancholic but a merchant . r-7) Melancholy is much ado about nothing. Portia's courtroom speech in defence of Antonio is metaphorical excess in the service of crabbed literalness. precisely because they would be foolish to rely on the generosity of their oppressors. Portia. seems at the same time a pure void: In sooth. which disregards the precise exchanges of credit and debt. motiveless devaluation of the world. The more intense their emotions. then the dispossessed can never quite know when their superiors are likely to be seized with a spontaneous bout ofgeniality. The less its cause can be identiÍied the more acute the condition grows. For such gratuitousness is a deeply ambivalent quality: if it can creatively short-circuit the harsh equivalences ofjustice (an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth).of Venice. We have already seen such paradoxes of 'all' and 'nothing' associated in Shakespeare with money. and a maid not vendible'. and how to atBin an acceptable measure between these two extremes is one of the play's prec. it would seem. ihere is always an element of rhetorical artifice inseparable from it. Gratuitousness. is all passionate eloquence. pure authentic presence. who are even more hard-hearted than print. control the rules of the game. is mourning without an object: founded on some lack or loss. you say it wèaries you. abstract character of the law is both necessary and reifying. the Melancholy. Mcasurc. when she remarks to her mistress that 'they are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing' (I. of course. as Freud wrote.indeed úàa Merchant . Jaques in z{s You Like It can'suck melancholy out of a song. one might claim. by contrast. since they. is what Portia requests of Shylock. Eloquence is never. to conjure it away so cavalierly. since the law mediates diverse situations to each other by subsurning them under stable principles. Gratiano. The victimized need a Íixed conract. then. is thrown into question by the fact that Portia is in disguise. it pervades the whole of one's experience but. speaks 'an infinite deal of nothing'. The play's more creative metaphor of such surplus value is mercy. crime and punishment. after all. But how I caught it. as a weasel sucks eggs'. Any assumption that the latter is 'truer'than the former. it is also. whose sole protection lies in the law. Melancholia is an appropriate neurosis for a profit-based society. Melancholy. or came by it.

It is a matter of flesh and blood between the two men in every sense: the ritual carving up of Antonio. The impersonal absolutism of his pursuit of the bond parodieJ the absoluteness and impersonality of the bonds which tink us to a common humanity. the only form of it now available to him. for theà . To interpret is to activate a set of codesl but part of what those codes will sometimes tell you is when to throw them aside and go beyond them. To refuse Shylock his bond means denying him his Ílesh and blood. senses. do we not die? And if you wrong us. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands. it is. in one sense destructive of human relations. healed by the same means. Anarchy and authoritarianism are not. is setting aside his customary credit and debt calculations for an object which is literally worthless' not even as profitable as mutton. organs. an acknowledgement of common humanity with Shylock .r. passions. Troilus 43 vital diÍferences as an inflexibly levelling forõe. bitter inversion of the true comradeship Shylock desires.+2 [.his body. after all. which indeed. hurt with the same weapons. But this approach lands you in a kind of indiÍferentism ironically close to rhe one you were seeking to escape: by giving free rein to the signifier it would appear to license any interpretation you like.though this is no doubt one of his "J motives . do we not laugh? If you poison us. aÍfections.u. and which no mere subjective whim can set aside.but as a scandalous exposure of that which Antonio owes him .z Shylock's ferocious insistencã on having Antonio's flesh must be read in the light of his suÍferings at the hands of anti-semites. The alternative to this would seem to be purely ad hoc. Shylock makes out his deal with Antonio to be a friendly one ('this is kind I oÍfer'). an assessment not entirely tongue-in-cheek: the usurer' astonishingly. which demands both more and le$s than he would normally ask in such matters. dimensions.aw erase what is spccific about those situations. shall we not revenge? Ifwe are like you in the rest. do we not bleed? If you tickle us. the whole death-dealing conflict between the two men is a dark. bending general norms to fit particular instances. the binary opposites they seem: each returns a partial response to the problem of how to hold to consistent criteria while recognizing that they are likely to be transformed and transgressed.i. For the texts in which Shylock trusts . and so denying âas ílesh and blood. perversely. The hermeneutical dilemma posed by Tlu Mcrchant of Vcnicc could be seen as a conílict between licence and constraint. subject to the same diseases. (III. The bond. There is a bizarre gratuitousness about Shylock's bargain. A true reading is at once constrained by the text and transgressive of it. a principlè of unity with others. Shylock claims Antonio's Ílesh as his own. and the bond looms as large as it does bJcausJ it becomes syÍnbolic of this more fundamental aÍIìnity. fed with the same food. homogenizing Mcrclunt. is also.the Old Testament . . warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer. and no cultural or linguistic community which is not somehow founded upon this fact is likely to survive. Mcasurc.) What indivicluals share most vitally in common is the body: it is by virtue ofour bodies that we belong to eachbther. notjust r. neither flatly literal nor fancifully metaphorical. a sign of them. like ladders kicked away once mounted. we will resemble you in that. processsing and permutating the evidence to confirm a given theory.g. coolly appropriating part of his body. contextbound judgements of the Portia kind. is a kind of black mass or grotesque Palody àf eucharistic fellowship.and arrogantly denies. in a sense which cuts below mere legal rights. as a Christian is? If you prick us. his right to human recognition. Yet how does one discriminate between a productive 'going beyond' and a purely whimsical one? Where does one draw the dividingline between a surplus which is fruitful and one which is mere inflation? Some of the meaning of the play's curiously sharp focusing on the bond may be found in Shylock's magnificent protest against anti-semitism: I am a Jew.the body is not in the first place a physical object but a form of relationship.

Why he. with its sanctimonious talk of the inestimability of love. Mcasurc. constitutive of their shared Mcrchant. is also that which is most precious. which defies the abstract quantifications of both law and money. Are you answe. the pure subjectivism of 'taste' or prejudice. though Bassiano doesn't share his opinion. but there is nothing surprising in the way this selÊloving parasite then elevates love over riches in the very act of purchasing a woman. There is no reason of a calculative kind why human beings should respond to each other's needs: it is just part of their 'nature'. The bond is a 'merry sport'. a woollen bagpipe. risking a bad exchange. Such romanticism. it is performed in the name of an impersonal human It is thus both 'objectively! physical humanity. That which is nugatory. Shylock implicitly makes this point before the Venetian court when he stubbornly refuses to provide a ratibnale for his apparently inhuman behaviour: As there is no firm reason to be rend'red Why he cannot abide a gaping pig. so does Bassanio. is for Shakespeare the measure of all significant language and action. that I follow thus A losing suit against him.44 Law indeed Antonio himself thinks the deal a generous one. Why he. 'Human nature'. is just the other side of the comrnercial coin: the bourgeoisie havc always pretended that sex transcends utility. of course. as the ambiguous term 'invaluable' would suggest. so excessive of all customary measure as to mean nothing. Troilus 45 which cannot itself be grounded.3 Shylock's action cuts against bourgeois Venice in two opposed ways. and he is. Portia's. in the sense of the mutual needs and responsibilities which spring from our sharing in the same material life. ironically. IfShylock refuses gold.le-{?. Shylock values Antonio's worthless flesh immeasurably more than the sum Antonio has pledged. since Antonio may well go scot-free. determining and. Sìrylock breaks with his usual business code to give Antonio special treatment: he demonstrates favouritism and partiality. with its special regard for an individual anã its partiality in hatred. ãt the very moment they debase it to a commodity. that they should do so. Shylock thus hehaües in an apparently capricious way to reveal the absolutely binding nature of a common humanity: Portia acts with parallel whimsicality to ward off such a recognition. It is Antonio himself who is the quantifying bourgeois. The Romantic is in this - in . More than a lodg'd hate and a certain loathing I bear Antonio. and Shylock who stands up for a more traditional concePtion of bonds and values. On the one hãnd. a harmless necessary cat. For the worthless to become most precious is also the point of the casket scenes at Belmont. Having improvidently thrown his money around. a pointless jape or exuberant Íìction so monstrous in its implications that it is hard to take it seriously. Bassanio has come to Belmont to buy up the well-heeled Portia with the aid of Antonio's loan. where the relative values of lead and gold are inverted. _^ (rv. rashly jeopardizing his friend's life in the process. himself being oÍfended. But for Bassanio to obtain Portia is also of coúrse for him to grow rich. it manífests a 'gratuitousness'. nìr I will not. but the alternative to this 'alll is nothing. So can I give no reason. both prefer flesh and blood The closest analogy to the 'inexplicable' demands of our common physical humanity is. and refuses to be bribed by Portia. as resistant to rational enquiry as a merry sport or a fear of cats. someone by having him pledge his life to you. It may seem perverse ô 'favour. Like jesting.53-62) bonding which makes no whimsical dispensations for individuals. but of force Must yield to such inevitable shame As to oífend. On the other hand. beyond all measure.i. the bonds of human solidarity are beyond all reason. but itself escapes such measurel it is the 'ground' of our social life Bassanio's case. right to believe that human Ílesh and blood cannot be quantified. paradoxically.

represent the acceptably idealist face of mercantile society.7) Ílesh. Which. the thing will look bad in the eyes of foreign businessmen. however.gG.ii. to go free? Should one cease to Press for justice even though one's actions unavoidably injure one's oppressors? The impartiality of law. Portia thinks that mercy is free. which demands precise services. But the magic of capital investment can transÍigure such nothing into everything. and therefore the latter will accompany it as its legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end. but this is surely dubious: mercy irlust not. . is that the law would seem able to sustain its proper impartiality. You use in abject and in slavish parts' Because you bought them. Shylock does not share this false consciousness: for You have among you many a purchas'd slave. The taw of Venice. Turns to a wild of nothing. for example. marry them to your heirs Why sweat they under burdens? . then. as Antonio comments.it have been admirably merciful. save ofjoy Express'd and not express'd. Where every something. Adolf Eichmann. transmutability. Only my blood speaks to you in my veins. money is a question of measure. to have allowed a later anti-semite . and let their palates Be season'd with such viands'? (Iv. The casket scenes. in the selling of a daughter as much as in the maiming of Antonio. a negative value. must act as a symbolic embodiment of the impersonal claims of human justice and charity.'4 The irony of this is that the very qualities in which love is thought to transcend money its measurelessness.i. whereas love is'free'. is for Shakespeare akin to commercial dealings: respect him. Troilus 47 just the Ílipside of the Utilitarian. . you have bereft me of all words. Íhas never advanced beyond this antithesis between itsèlf and this romantic viewpoint. Ílesh and blood are inescapably bound up with proÍit and loss. Indeed Bassanio makes this point himself when he compares love to an inÍlated language. being blent together. Shakespeare rejects any simple counterpointing of the two. be allowed to make a mockery ofjustice . Measurc. after some oration fairly spoke By a belovcd prince. like your asses and your dogs and mules. only at the If the Duke is worried about refusing Shylock his pound of . Money is less the opposite of erotic desire than its very image. since all individuals have an equal claim on one's humanity iegardless of their race or other distinguishing features. At Belmont. a phenomenon which. then. Would. In this society. obligations and recognitions. does nothing of the kind. shaÌl I say to you 'Let them be free. is actually 'worse than nothing'. 'not strained' (constrained). has. there doth appear Among the buzzing pleased multitude. even before Shylock intervenes to deconstruct it: it is class law. as we have seen.' Marx comments. believing in what Lenin once called the'reality of appearances'. just as there is about the law.46 Law Muchant. it is because. It belongs to justice to rnake recompense for injuring another. or an obscene insult to the dead. and so buttr{:ss social order. with their naive contrasts of appearance and reality. . which mercy may temper but cannot cavalierly wish awal. like Bassanio. of course. fetishizing a realm (the love of a good woman) supposedly free of his own squalid transactions. (rrr. The problem. These properly impersonal constraints allow no'room Ítir'freedom': the racist Antonio is not in fact free to kick Shylock around like a dopç. as Shylock himself makes brutally clear: Madam. love is not the subjectivist whims of Eros but the ruthlessly impersonal requirements of agape (charity).l7H4) A man in debt. There is something necessarily absract about charity. 'The bourgeois viewpoint. inexplicable mystery are the very characteristics of money itself. And there is such confusion in my powers As.let their beds Be made as soft as yours. as it were.

law and desire share a similar quality of indiÍference: Angelo's lust fior Isabella's body is as ruthlessly impersonal as the levelling categories of law. In this sense Angelo enacts in his own person Lucio Why. in the most negative way. and the taboo perversely intensiÍies the yearning. True law is. but this fine tension. Angelo in Measure for Measure goes for the former option. Indeed logically speaking we would then not even bã able to speak of a 'condition'. ï. The law necessarily abstracts and equalizes. the play makes it clear that law actually brccds desire as well as blocks it. which tends to frustrate its own ends in the very act of trying to promote thern. fie! What dost thou. For another thing.what is strictly unthinkable .1 in the sun. for which bodies are also in a certain sense interchangeable. unresponsive to the claims and impulses of the body. seeking a balance of similarities and differences. Troilas 49 cases which estranges it from comrnon humanity and so paradoxically risks a collapse of social order. is the (Il.'t The law is not simply repressive. as with all metaphor.ii.a cult of pure diÍference. fie. becomes detached from desire. can always split apart in either direction. then each situation becomes autonomous (literally. liberty. including its own. But this aoltcface is not as mysteriously inexplicable as it may seem. so to speak. As surfeit is the father of much fast. or what art thou. And pitch our evils there? O. metaphorical. captivated by Isabella's sexual attractiveness. reducing unique situations to singular identity or fostering . íie. Arrgelo? Dost thou desire her foully for those things That make her good? II That anarchy and authoritarianism are not quite contraries they seem made dramatically obvious in Màasurc for Measurc by Angelo's sudden about-turn from repressive legalist to rampant lecher. it embodies the 'bonds' of that humanity. apparent opposites which are in truth secret conditions of one another: rhat. not as the flow'r. a 'law unto itselP) and so just as absolute in its own way as the law it sought to replace.:ì. Measurc. Shall we desire to raze the sanctuary.. But if this uniformity is thrown aside for purely ad hoc or ad homi:nem judgments. . There would appear in this sense to be sornething selÊdeconstructive about the law. Lucio for the latter. so that desire and prohibition become mutually ensnared. just as a glut of liberty leads to restraint: a purely abstract or formal law. Moreover. Corrupt with virtuous season. for one condition is identiÍiable oniy ii it can bc ruughly demarcated from another.l6tsz5) Excessive restraint breeds libertinism. at another level. my Lucio. which then become as tautological as the selÊreferring sign. lying by. whence comes this restraint? Claudio From too much liberty. Claudio. Can it be That modesty may more betray our sense Than woman's lightness? Having waste ground enough. how now. and such desire may consequently run unchecked. what is desired is precisely what is most strictly tabooed. cost of a frigid indiÍference to partiçular thc rift between law and desire in Vienna as a whole: frigidly unyielding to flesh and blood. and so tyrannizes over 'flesh and blood' in the sense of concrete human situations. a negative prohibition placed upon the will. It is Isabella's chaste untouchability which fuels Angelo's passion. Do as the carrion does.48 Law Muclnnl. the law he incarnates is unconstrained by sensuous needs and so a blank space open to being inscribed by the body. even as. For one thing. What is lost by this move is the comparative evaluation of diÍferent conditions.

Mcasurc. To reason in this way is to retreat to the autonomous individualism and selÊreferentiality of 'private law'. our common weakness become the ground of mercy rather than condemn your brother. Isabella would seem to elevate an absract loral absolute over the immediate claims of humanity. but that all individuals. in a useless tautology. If you compromise a principle in one pressing situation for the sake of Ílesh and bf"a. (rr. Let mine own judgement pattern out my death. not I.l t8-l24) There is another important sense in the play in which law and ílesh and blood are not simply tà be counterpointed. as we have seen. and when we drink we die. instances. Troilas 5l Ifhe had been as you. do so oÍfend. brother. (rr. are in some fundamental sense equal and interchangeable: because we all sin we should be ready to forgive sin in others. If Angelo is allowed to get away with his se*uai schemings in ìhis instance. Mcasurc for Mcasurc is much concerned with the question ofexchange values. Thè law múst lay aside speciÍic bonds of friendship or favouritism: Mcrclunt. or my son. W. Critics have accordingly complained about the prudishness with which she is prepáred tó exchange ClaudiL's head for an intact hymen. which is a contradiction in terms.50 Law So every scope by the immoderate use Turns to resffaint.i. two negatives make a positive. but rather.ii. is that if Angelo had been Claudio he would have behaved like him. A thirsty evil.7H) This is hardly a knockdown argument: all Isabella claims. he my kinsman. tracing within themselves the shadow of the 'normative' social term from which they deviate. that censure him. Would not have been so stern. The case Isabella is fumbling for is not the vacuously selÊevident point that if Angelo was Claudio he would be Claudio. Like rats that ravin down their proper bane. As its title suggests. epitomized in the strict interchangei of àn impúsonal justice which disregards particular qualities. but he. Even Elbow's crashing malapropisms ('respected' for 'suspected'.80-2) Isabella's response to the 'precise' Angelo's stern impartiality is to point out that aÍl human bãngs are sinful:' . what woman in Vienna is safe? Then iãdeed the ruling class may be permitted to treat all women's bodies as their private possessions. The law then becomes a kind of private language. and so on) gather a clear enough public meaning from their contextual consistency.ii. When I.27-31) What Angelo fails to see here is that this closed circuit of mutual recriminations could be made to cancel itself out: why not Ílip this vicious circle over at a stroke and transform it into a virtuous circle of mutual forgiveness? Why should not a negative reciprocity of values be inverted into an aÍfirmative one.which is no law at all. But this is to misunderstand the subtle relations between the essential generality of law and its particular. because of their shared moral frailty. Just as a particular commercial bargain may alter the general ratés of exchange which govern it. (rr. Our natures do pursue. and you as he. It is the law. You would have slipp'd like him.ii.Ll rgfuling to sacriÍice hei chastity for her brother's life. so more than one woman's virginity is aì stake in turning down Angelo's deal. and which. is just as absolute and selÊgrourrding in its own way as autocratic legalism.ry It should be thus with him. (r. like you. Angelo rejects this plea out of hand: You may not so extenuate his oÍIence For I have had such faults. then you ineluctably compromise the security of all the Ílesh and blood which takes shelter beneath that principle. And nothing come in partial.tell me.

'use every rnan after his desert.'and who shall scape whipping?' Christ. It is an individualist mistake. mercy woulcl seem rather too abstract in this respect. is just as remorselessly impersonal a claim on our humanity as is justice.ihe fact that I am in principle capable of the .ri-. Lucio is an ethical naturalist whose complacent appeal to the body cynically subverts all values. Isabella distinguishes'lawful mercy'from the'ignominy in ransomo or is more abstract than justice as it actually oucrlook . and so disenfranchised myselffromjudgement. it would seem. however. a Romantic fetishizing of 'private' Alas! alas! Why. just as the law does. In a similar way. to see things as they really are without the subjectivist squint of mercy. all the souls that were were forfeit once. then nobody would ever get off at all. Mcasura. whose appetites may be endorsed simply because they are there. Angelo. then this pointlessly selÊ supporting structure could be turned inside out. we would actually be compelled to forgive each other all the time. systematically refusing to judge us as we are.ii. believes that ifwe simply forgave each other all the time we would be allowing the 'inherent' meaning and value of particular actions to be smothered in a sentimental subjectivism which attended less to what was materially 'there' than to the quality of our response to it. however. this would make a mockery of justice. Lucio-like sense.. is that if we were really to attend to 'inherent' values and meanings. valucless because it does not have to pay for its tolerance. is the best card Isabella plays: am a hopeless football player does not prevent my appreciating Íine or foul play as a spechtór. There can be a worthless sort of mercy: as the f)uke comments. How would you be If He. Troil'us 53 everyone condemns everyone else because they may be arraigned themselves. of those I accuse does not mean to say that I have actually committed thcm. and everyone exculpate each other in just as groundlessly ritual a way. in one sense it experience. and so conveniently combining the law's abstract generality with a sympathetic understanding of particular flesh and blood. For Angelo. is how this global undercutting of exact exchanges is to be distinguished from indiÍference in its most negative. which is the top of judgement.l07{). acknowledges them as such rather than. is clement only by a calculated moral squint. nonchalantly turning a blind eye. meaning a solidarity with human infirmities which none the less. The harsh inãiÍ[erence of ihe law might be made to work against itself without lapsing into mere merciful whimsy. Thc fact that I am morally weak is no logical bai to my judging such weakness in othãrs. And this would just be a more subtle form of-abstraction than the relentlessly impersonal operations of justice.' Hamlet comments. like Lucio. just as the*fact that I censure? If If you do in fact estimate individuals as they truly are.52 Law Mcrclunt. Indeed. This. The problem. 'When vice makes mercy' mercy's so extended/That for the fault's love is th'oÍfender friended' (Iv. The ironic Ílaw in Angelo's position.ii. who is by no means a straw target as a moral theorist. to believe that we can only judgeãccuàtely of thàt ofwhich we have direct inward tcnoúled"ge. through the discriminations of justice.73-8) particularities. but in this case representative of the moral fragility of humankind in general. indeed. properly understood. for mercy. 'Flesh and blood' can mean the body as biological given. too inattentive to the faults which the judge actually has. Lucio's man-about-town cockiness is thus a caricature of the virtue. Or it can be a normative rather than a descriptive term. To trãat someone 'as they are' may be at the deepest level to treat them as representative. should Butjudge you as you are? (rr. Forgiveness is valuable precisely because it is diÍIicult: it means bearing with others daspitc a recognition of the injuries they have done you. pretends that they are not there. Besides. And He that might the vantage best have took Found out the remedy. In this way one might hope to avoid both legalistic and partial judgements at a stroke. however.

But there are also other senses in which Mcasurc for Measurc can never quite attain the ideal towards which it strives: a judicious balance ofjustice and mercy./I will encounter darkness as a bride/And hug it in my arms' (III. since Power only lives in exacting a response of obedience from its victims. general and particular. Justice and mercy must be blen ed together rather like precision and creativity in language: to be too precise like Angelo is to reify law and language to a Íixed transcendental sense.i. superimposed similitude on diÍference. living at that end-point where all odds are struck even. is to wound and constrain others. for then there would be no Íinely discriminated situations to be forgiving about. The law tends naturally towards reification. since no two things are exactly identical and so can never eÍfect a purely equitable exchange. Troilus 55 negativity for another. equivalence and unique identity. some residue of diÍference. There is no more eÍfective resistance to power thàn genuinely not caring about it. Unlcss Barnadine somehow'performs' his own death. of the kind Claudio Íinally comes to embrace: 'If I must die. who represents a general principle to Angelo in her own person. The state must defer his dying until hc has been persuaded to accept it willingly. Barnadine's for Claudio's. Mercy is not mere gratuitousness: to be too free. dislocation or disparity in any proper exchange which threatens to undo it. but this means punishing Claudio for a vice which 'all ages smack of'. the suicide simply substitutes one Mcrclunt. you must cling provisionally to those values while you live. which is Angelo's distortion of it. just as Angelo cannot entirely incarnate the absent Duke. Thc martyr becomes something by actively embracing nothing. yet since no human being is without sin it would seem inherently estranged from Ílesh and blood. the other surrenders his most valuable possession. it will not constitute an eveÍlt in his life and so will discredit the law that has inÍlicted it upon him. otherwise the punishment will have no point. in a familiar cliché. Isabella. in other words.54 Law 'foul redemption'. finds that . Mariana's Íìrr Isabella's. which can either falsify (as in the bed trick with Mariana) or involve a just and proper correspondence. The suicide and the martyr look alilie. There is always. But that surplus Ínust not be allowed to exceed the measure to the point where it undercuts it entirely. caught in a cleft stick between its absract edicts and its particular objects. ignoring the creative 'surplus' or surpassing of the norm which all actual speech and judgement involves. inherent and imputed values.). as with Lucio's abusive tongue. with which the play concludes. is the great leveller. Bodies are a kind of language. The play distinguishes this biological indifference from what it sees as an authentic living towards death. Isabella's (so Angelo hopes) for Claudio's. Though death finally erases all measure and distinction. and Barnadine gains a curiously enviable freedom by appropriating this future state into the present. If he is unperturhd by the thought of execution. Mcasure. If I is equivalent toy. Lucio's cynical indifference is paralleled in the play by the astonishing moral inertia of Barnadine. reducing all exact values and distinctions to nothing.r is not in fact2. Death. and something of the play's notoriously factitious conclusion may well spring from this fact. precision and superÍluity. as an image of liüng death. No one term can fully represent another. a Musil-like psychopath so careless of life that he objects to being executed only because it interrupts his sleep. just as mercy ultimately undercuts the tit for tat ofjustice but must not be permitted to undo those mutualities completely The chief form of tit for tat in the play is a ceaseless exchange and circulation of bodies: AngClo's for the Duke's. To uphold its generality you must treat particular cases as exemplary. The final distribution of bodies to their appropriate positions is the event of marriage. it is in a sense because he is dead already. but are in fact opposites: the one throws away his life because he judges it worthless. then we have proclaimed in the same breath that . Yet no unblemished justice can ever quite be achieved. since a total identity of both terms would spell the death of representation itself. The law must be above sin.

One individual may justiÍiably Penalize another if n" ii himself guiltless of that Particular oÍfence. and a prince who did not regard his own moral laxity. They must cling to the cenrality of measure and normativity. Íinally. or at its very edge . and thus fostering a mutability which helps to undermine political order. best guarantee for a troublefree Mnclmnt. It is all relatively sinless ruler who none the less exercised clemency. resulting in a reiÍìed autliority which is bad for social harmony. in other words.to sort out? How is mercy to break the vicious circle of prosecutions when it must somehow spring from inside that circle. but frusratingly diÍIìcult to àchieve precisely because mercifulness springs from an inward sympathy with sin. and the very abstractness of this structure tends to strip situations of their determinate qualities. but the mercy which is oíficially 'supplethreatens to erode it from the mentary' to that justice inside. from what vantagepoint . Instead.as any obstaCle to executing the law. and a virtuous exponent ofit thus begins to soúnd like a contradiction in terms.inside or beyond the circuit. and he was the last person who could judge. from a humble solidarity with vice? If that censorious circularity is indeed transformable into a community of mutual acceptance. even though marriage. Troilus 57 very well tospeak of a prudent balance ofjustice and mercy. to manic disorder. is that it grants you a title to pass judgement on othersl virtue in oneself would thus seem linked to vice in others. while recognizing in a diíIicult double optic that these things are ultimately groundless' Forgivenõss . Strakespeare's quãndary is p version of Bertolt Brecht's. something in the very fact of being'precise'which leads.56 Law she has seduced him by her persou rather than by the principle. we are told that people get married. ãs in Angelo's case. and it is within this irresolvable tension that humanity rnust live.is not to crumble. The most eÍIective rp. but taken as a whole the Ëuman race canàot pass judgement on itselÍì since this would be as pointlessly tautological as someone placing himself under arrest. but how is the necessarily transcendental principle of the law to avoid being corroded and contaminated by the specific perplexities it has. something in the very structures of stability themselves which oÍfers to subvert them. trn order to preserve political stability. they tend to breed an anarchic state of affairs in which everything blurs indiscriminately into everything else. to bà between this politically undesirable solution. the. is part of the very problem to which it is being proposed as a solution. language and desire: all of these systems involve exchange and equivalence. and the system appears to be engaging in transactions for its own sake. overarching structure (law). the gtuúitout rupture of the circuit .rtlo being sinless oneselÍl it might be cynically considered. but because they are necessarily indifferent as systems to particular objects or uses.the active forgoing of exact equivalences. A thoroughly vicious ruler who acknowledged his own class's criminal ctass's would appear to be the crlmlnal moral turpitude would seem would choice The life. rendering them arbitrarily interchangeable with each other. The rigorously impersonal iransaãtions ofjustice must be maintained. who once rlmarked wryly that only somebody inside a situation could judgc it. a possibiliiy is the ideal one. The latter solution divorces the general and particular too sharply.-second . NI Perhaps one of the central puzzles confronting Mcasurc for Mcasurc can be summarized in this way. which as we have seen already is an undecirlable merging of gratuitous aÍfection and inherent propriety. questions which the play can satisfactorily answer.can this be effected? These are not. yet to achieve this mutuality requires an abstract. Mcasurc. you need that Íine mutuality of values which is justice. !f sogial order. There is. which is in itself a stabilizingfactor. In this sense law operates rather like money.is the trace of this final death) [roundlessneõs (which is also the future levelling of úitt itt the regulated symmetries of the present. just as mercy would seem to flourish on sin (since one's oún immorality is the oífender's hope for forgiveness).

And turn'd crown'd kings to merchants. but simply its various uses in particular situations. Pearls. Mcasurc. in short. There seems little doubt that in Troilus and Crusida Shakespeare sides with Hector against Troilus in their heated exchange over the question of Helen's value: Mnclnnt. (It is the 'dependency o[ thing on thing' in Isabella's discourse which. must not Troilus be implicitly invoking certain 'objective' standards of value to decide that such strivings are admirable in the first place? The question of value. it is the activity she has given rise to which confers value upon her.58 Law seeking to oppose Angelo's absolutism. it is the consistency or selÊidentity of a term from context to context which determines its proper meaning. If this is a diÍficulty with appeals to merely 'conjunctural' value . say. For Shakespeare. Isabella. This. and nothing is actually resolved. defines meaning: the meaning of a'word is not some fixed. for good reasons of his own. . holds to an existentialist rather than essentialist theory of value. For these standards. Hccror Brother.iii. persuades him that she is not mad. is merely pushed one stage back.ii. Troilus means formallv that Helen has launch. Context. after all.that they would always seem implicitly to evoke more general norms even in the act of denying them there would seem anothcr kind of problem with the absolute standards of Hector and Ulysses.ii. she is not worth what The keeping.) This is not to say that Shakespeare ignores the plurality of contexts in which a word can be used. is what Ulysses does later in the play: Nature. the Duke says.o ". despite her belief that 'truth is truth to the end of reckoning'. t27-30) Troilus. pressed to a logical exreme. but there is an implication that she is a pearl becaase she has done so. by which particular situations can be judged. (rr. just as any speciÍic application of the law must balance a respect for general principles with sensitivity to a particular state of aÍfairs. But if Helen is precious because she is the focus of such admirable strivings. inherent property. privately legislating Humpty Dumpty-wise the meaning of our own words. what things there are Most abject in regard and dear in use! What things again most dear in the esteem And poor in worth! In (rrr. not because they have (like. at least. Shakespeare himself by no means entirely endorses Isabella's case. not her inherent value which justifies that activity.st-7) .l30-l). draws at one point on a linguistic analogy: 'That in the captain's but a choleric word/Which in the soldier is Ílat blasphemy' (II. however. as is clear from his hot retort when Helenns worth is questioned: Is she worth keeping? Why. she is a pearl Whose price hatË launch'á above a t'housand ships. just as it is consistency which is usually in his plays the most suggestive index of human sanity. in short. it is just that he believes that any actual use of it must be consistent with a more general context even if it goes beyond it.Jl"sl"o ships because she is a peari. Take Isabella's point a few steps further and we might all end up as Elbows. she doth cost Troilus What's aught but as 'tis valued? Hcctor But value dwells not in particular will: It holds his estimate and dignity As well wherein 'tis precious of itself As in the prizer. by contrast. . Troilus 59 Hector wants a fusion of intrinsic and assigned values. For his work makes it clear that such a'contextualism' of meaning. water) some intrinsic property beneficial to humanity. would result in just the kind of relativism he sees as inimical to political cohesion. so that he can use the 'given' qualities of things as a norm for assessing other people's valúe-judgements. are valuable because their rarity involves a good deal of labour in obtaining them.

What then becomes of the integrity of the very thing you seek to judge? If Agamemnon is Achilles'commander. But if this social emphasis guards against the tautology of possessive individualism. Mcasurc./Till he communicate his parts to others' (III. Any general principle can thus be deconstructed into an accumulated set of discrete particulars. Social relations are not simply the medium within which an individual may choose to express his already well. I say Troilus is Troilus. (r./He makes importantl (II.formed identity. All that can bc appealed to against the subjectivism of a Troilus is simply a Maclunt. has no choice between being fully. who disdains comparisons and holds romantically to the unique quality of things. which is a kind of nothing. and the danger is that there is in principle no end to such diÍferencing. publicly unwarranted value: 'He that is proud eats up himself'as Agamemnon remarks (II. Pandarus No. If this is so.i.iii. inscribed within a context of otherness./Though in and of himself there be much consisting. and being a shifting cypher . dwindling it to a mere eÍfect of the Other. a most untypical burst ofjudiciousness for this play: For every false drop in her bawdy veins A Grecian's life has sunk. 'Because not Once you begin weighing and comparing. simply to call something an apple is already to have assigned it to a general class ofobjects. A 'given' or 'inhcrent'value simply means what others . say. The paradigm of a fixed value would seem to be a thing's absolute identity with itself. Achillesr privatized.iii. for every scruple Of her contaminated carrion weight A Troyan hath been slain. nor Hector is not Troilus in some degree. Achilles'stiíÊnecked pride is a refusal to define himself in any terms beyond his own being. the futile circularity of selÊconferred.60 Law always turn out to be no more than the distilled experience of previous situations.ll6-17). 'fo state what something 'really' means is just to report on the ways other people have happened to use the word. then where does the metaphorical chain of mutually definitive itcms stop? Ulysses warns the languidly dágagá Achilles that 'no man is the lord of anything. autonomously itsel{.6H) This is hardly Shakespeare's most richly exploratory piece of dialogue.).7r4) wider intersubjectivity. for request's sake only. Trailus 6l there' (I. It would appear that the self.)) may be contrasted with Diomed's shrewdly measured estimation of Helen. To claim that the use of a word in a specific context must be governed by its 'inherent' meaning is just to say that this particular context must be related to others. the signifiers which produce the signified of oneself. however.lrse which constitutes that self. so to speak. like signs and values. which cannot be anchored in anything beyond itself. it does so only at the cost of dividing and destabilizing identity. 'Wherefore not afield?' with the profoundly informative. Crcssida 'Tis just to each of them: he is himself. but the very discor.have held to be precious.i. Achilles Thersites' lord. all meaning is in this sense dialogic or 'intertextual'.ii.perhaps in the past . as in this bantering exchange between Pandarus and Cressida: Pandarus Well. (IV.).iii. To dcscribe what something 'really' is inevitably involves you in contextualizing comparisons. which are what they are because they are not. then the well-ordered norms which Shakespeare would seem to desire merely push the problem of relativism back a stage. Troilus. the object whose value you sought to determine is no longer identical with itselÍ: it is 'diÍfered' by your speech. Thersites Patroclus's knower and so on. Others are. grossly inflated scale of values ('Things small as nothing. replies to Aeneas's enquiry. for I am sure he is not Hector. bananas. and thus risks losing its transcendental authority. Cressida Thcn you say as I say.

in a familiar Romantic paradox. Perseverance. which is always ambiguously yours and not yours. my lord. and that such desire breeds 'monstruosity': 'something'. it also tends to dissolve on closer inspection into no more than a cumulative series of such fleeting instants. For once you have acted. joy's soul lies in the doing' (I. what are you persevering dr. which reduces history to so much dead weight to be shucked off at each new moment: Mcrchant. and only desire. Time hath. private property and an eÍfect of the Other. To have done is to hang Quite out of fashion. Mcasurc. This bamen history is the narrative Troilus and Crcssida has to deliver.62 Law wholy dependent on context. Wherein he puts alms for oblivion. Troilus 63 any particular action. which is another kind of nothing. forgot as soon As done. Troilus knows that'the desire is boundless. and who is doing the persevering? The ideal way to live.27H0).pursuing a consistent project over time . the war drags on.ii. reinscribed in their perceverance own contexts and so struck worthless. is ironically something. This:is also a dilemma in respect of the self's history. and as. Keeps honour bright. like a rusty nail In monumental mock'ry. as both sides struggle to remembçr what it is they are fighting about. . beyond the dramatic conclusion. (III. If the past is oblivion. your act may be conÍiscated by others. drawn into the past as soon as performed. is nothing. and the act a slave to limit' (III. which are devour'd As fast as they are made. A great-siz'd monster of ingratitudes. Thóse scraps are good deeds past. as easily as Cressida is translated to the Greek camp. and is not. dear my lord.ii.iii. What the shattered Troilus Íinds to say of his unfaithful mistress ('this is.in the very act of deconstructing such continuities into an eternal present.) The logical strain of this is apparent: Ulysses urggs . a wallet at his back.). deed or value. would be constantly to teeter on the brink of achievement without actually doing anything: 'Things won are done. which is lack. Cressid') could in fact be said of any word. If history furnishes you with a norm or standard beyond the existential moment. This is the point of Ulysses' great speech on time.

a yawning abyss within which man can a sinister everything? Paranoid jealousy like Othello's is convinced that a simple norhing . 'and when I love thee not/Chaos is come again' (III. but there is in fact no simple absence.indeed in Olhcllo no mystery at all . which is as alarming for men as it is reassuring. Systematically mistrusring appearances. that though for patriarchy she is'in one sense mere deficiency or negation . Othello.4 'Nothing' . with the woman idealized as fetish: if woman has nothing between her legs then she is a desexualized Madonna. a nameless depth beneath the smooth surface of her outward appearance. obtaining the 'ocular proof ' of his wifens supposed adultery.92-3). that the world just is the way it is with no secret essence. since all absence is dependent for its perceptibility upon presence. How does. it would pose no problem. is philosophy. the paranoiac cannot 'accept that everything lies open to view. that what he is seeing are not appearances but. Freud commented dryly. And since interpretation is both partial and interminable. but the irony of this naive trust in brute fact is that perception is itself a text. a pathological obsession with hunting down hidden knowledge. which he can plug. Sexual jealousy. the real thing. 'over-reading' the world as Othello over-reads the stolen handkerchief. whose purity of being can protect him totemically against the chaos which the female nothing threatens. his comment is ironically exact.the mistress's lack oíinÍidelity . an abysmal one. defective man . and indeed this is the riddle of woman.' he says of her. . it stirs in him unconscious thoughts of his own possible castration. This modest nothing begins to look like some sublimely terrifying all. On the one hand. Othello insists voyeuristically on seeing. When lago cunningly replies 'Nothing' to Othello's request to know what ails him. is fundamentally a crisis of interpretation.ii. which discerns an oppressively systematic significance in every contingent detail. in fact.she also has the power to incite the tumultuous 'everything'of desire in rnân himselfi. Desdemona oscillates for Othello between these two impossible roles: 'But I do love thee. but he speculates rightly that Othello will promptly read some dreadful something into this temptingly blank text. It is. The sight of an external lack may stimulate a sense of vacancy within himself.is. as readers of Proust will be aware. Hamlet. a void which cannot help being powerfully suggestive. on the other hand. paradoxically. and both are characterized by what he named 'epistemophilia'. amazingly. Since there is in fact no heart to the mystery . this apparent lack in the female confirms the male's power over her.it come about that this sweet nothing can become lose his I There is some evidence that the word 'nothing' in Elizabethan English could mean the female genitals. observing. If the female nothing were simple absence.r From a phallocentric viewpoint a woman appears to have nothing between her legs. requiring interpretation before it rneans anything at all.non-man. a nothing less in the sense of ricn than of náant. The closest thing to paranoia. reminding him that his own being may not be as ílawlessly complete as he had imagined. plucking out the heart of a mystery so as to master and possess it. The woman's nothing is nf a peculiarly convoluted kind. Coriolanus virile identity. and so to destroy him. then.this drive for power and knowledge must be endlessly frusrated. This indeed is the classic condition of paranoia.

he would see reality as it is. fabricating a whole imaginary sub-text at work beneath routine appearances. as with l4go's insinuating Íictions.ffi ít . To possession The whole world becomes the female genitals. reading volumes into a simple handkerchief. . Othello thinks at first that this chain of empty signifiers can be arrested by concrete evidence: I'. join signiÍìer and signified together appropriately.. as a signifier without a referent. Hamlet. the man who knows he knows little betrays a pathetic capacity to believe anything. . is no more than a grossly caricatured version of a problem inherent in ordinary perception.'aoúLt" denotation of generosity of spirit and sexual promiscuity. beyond' Iago's duplicitous text rather than fall helpless prisoner to its letter then. in this *. he conforms himself obediently to lago's empty signiÍiers. on the proof. is that language itself can be a sort of nothing. Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip?. female sexuality is either in one place . however. since what is there is rxr more than a pre-linguistic nothing. there is a 'nothing' at the very core of the a pervasive absence iníiltrating the whole of experience. needing to be signiÍied before it becomes anything deterrninate.28+{. This.the torment being that to know only something (and who knows more?) is to know that this implies something else óf which you are ignorant. 'I swear 'tis better to be much abus'd/Than but to know't a little' (III.or it is everywhere.iii. as it is for Leontes in Tlu Wintcr's Talc: world. is (r. paradoxically. and sexual jealousy merely intensifies this common state of affairs. 'Too little' inverts itself into 'too much'. And.not escape . is thus a kind of blank. Only a certain çreative excess of interpretation could restore him to the norm.lt see before r a""ufi'.ii. My wife is nothing.32ô-7). each present piece of evidence suggesting another which is necessarily absent. implicitly crediting lago's lying words. . punching a gaping hole in reality and inducing you to believe in what is not in fact there. 293_6) . there is no more but this Away at once with love or jealousyt 1rrr. Coriolanus 67 'seeing the facts' is more likely to complicate the issue than to resolve it. For the sexually jealous.rrr. this claim turns out to be purely circular. a key term in the play. If Othello could 'go see u-Ëiguou. Bohemia nothing.66 'Nothing' Othcllo. then the world and all that's in't is nothing. Reality itselÍl things as they are. Othello is on the one hand too literal and gullible a reader. Anything definite is thus also unavoidably ambiguous.iii. The covering sky is nothing.r1ï*i'o"ro. and at the same time too wildly fanciful. an absolutist law which bends the evidence in its own interests: 'TriÍles light as airlAre to the jealous confirmation strong/As proofs of holy writ' (III. but.reaches them too far it keels over like Othello into an âlternative kind of nothing.if it over. filling them with the imaginary signifieds of Desdemona's infidelity. prove. a monstrous hermeneutical inflation ('exsuÍIlicate and blown surmises'. Knowledge stretches out to infinity. nor nothing have these nothings If this be nothing. as Othello calls it in his customary jargon) which feeds off itself without the frailest rooting in reality. As it is. however."r. All interpretation goes beyond its objects.340-l). Othello cries later .l93_6) But since the hypothesis ofjealousy rigs the very evidence against which it tests itself. Why. the entire world seems struck sickeningly empty of meaning. It is in the nature of paranoid jealousy to overwhelm its object'in this way. invoking nameless somethings beneath the surface of life.the male's private anything correctly you need to see more than is actually 'there'. Jealousy is a tyrannical language which manipulates the world to suit its own ends. '[rçgç!sgt'.'fhe problem. which can be abolished only by the supplementary benefit of language.

not some hollow container to be discarded at will. The unpalatable implication of all this is thgt jealousy is not a form of sexual desire: sexual desirerzis a form of jealousy. But bothr Othello's histrionic 'bombast' and Iago's brisk materialism miss the measure. Iago is one of a long line of possessive individualists in Shakespeare who locate reality only in bodily appetite. then. For the woman. l{hat we desire. It is in the nature of such Eros to override the measure. that which eludes his mastery and so breeds in him a feverish activity of 'overinterpretation'. but about the deviancy ofsex. but this possibiliiy is structural to Nature itself. . Othello starts off with a wholly'imaginary' relation to rcality: his rotund. To suspect that she is:adulterous is to credit her with an identity autonomous of his own. Whereas Othello lives straight out of an imaginary self-image. Othello contemplates the glossibility of 'nature erring from itself'. As with Cordelia. one cannot speak of desiring that which one possesses.l76-8).'Otlullo is not a playì about sexual deviancy. 'I am not what I am' signals not a crisis of identity but a smug self-aÍfirmation: Iago is the exact opposite of whatever he appears to be. and rich enough'. This is obvious in the fact that Othello only really comes to desire his wife intensely once he begins to suspect that she is unfaithful to him. rvithogt practice'. and I think she is not') would seem to go 'naturally' with erotic love.iii.i. as thç female nothing.68 'Nothing' Otlulla. since what she does may always be interpreted to conhrm it. mouthfilling rhetoric signifies a delusory completencss of bting. generate delusion. If a woman is capable of being faittrful then she is ãlso eternally capable of being unfaithfu|. besgl4es a sinisterly independent something. which snaps the narcissistic circuit and begins to undermine his own identity. unable to be proper without promiscuity. socially dutiful love to Cassio is to risk transgressing the norm. 'Poor and content is rich. His previous'love' for her is the isheerest narcissism: he wins Desdemona by military lioasting. Appearances foi lago are just empty rituals to be pragrnatically manipulated: 'I must show out a flag and sign of love. and the possibility of losing the desired object entirely is thus built into the passion itself. the green girl who gasped at his tall tales. Iago scorns such burnishedldiscourse as 'mere prattle. then all desire is a kind of monstrosity or penrersion. Woman is that which man can never possess. can never by deÍìnition bc fully possessed. which is a consistent enough way of possessing oneself. squint at its object. in is no more than this . Iago remarks. This is not. to render an exact. just as a word which can be used to speak truth cap dlways be used to deceive. she is a stumbling-block in the path of lucid interpretation. perpetually oPen to misreading. Iago has severed them too rigorously all along. The woman is a constantly traveitied tãxt. his very being indissociable frpm rhetoric and theatricality. believing that they can exploit signs and forms from the outside while remaining themselves unscathed by the consequent mystiíication. however. To desire someone is to see them as an 'other' which one lacks. there is nothing she can do to forestall such misprision. that his ovvn magniÍicently replete selÍhood is collapsing from the inside. there is no way in which Desdemona can behave 'properly' towards Cassio without being continually o en to the suspicion of behaving Íimproperly'. slanderous misreadings. tojustify the cynicism of an Iago. however. But if such lack and autonomy are logical to all desire. Íro firm borderline between courtesy and lechery.157-8). 'But riches fineless is as poor as winter/To him that ever fears he shall be poor' (ItrI. If Othello in the end is unable to distinguish between delusion and reality. InÍlated signiÍiers. frigid when judicious. and is agreeably flattered by her admiration for his slcitl as a professional butcher./Which is indeed but sign' (I. If to have is to be able to lose. infinite webs of text and tortuous apoias '('I think my wife be honest. But nothing for Shakespeare ís but sign: the signifier is always active in respect of its meaning. never warm without being too hot. then all possession becomes a source of anxiety. to be free is always to be too free. Coriolanw 69 Within the double bind of patriarchy. Hamlct. Much of his jealougy selÊregardi4g fear.

as he coldly informs Gerrude. while closely related to female sexuality. Hamlet loiters hesitantly on the brink of the 'symbolic order' (the system of allotted sexual and social roles in society). switching masks and sliding the signifier to protect his inner privacy of being against the power and knowledge of the court.that all experience. but it also suggests. Hamlet riddles and bamboozles his way out of being definitively known. melancholy involves a diminution of the ego not far from Othello's steady collapse of sclf: the ego identifies itself with a lost object of love. Iago fails to see that all bodily appetite is caught up in discourse and symbolism. All experiences become exactly equivalent in their triviality. and makes all bits of the world banally interchangeable. a scandalous thing in a woman. Hamlct reverses the perspective and tells the story from the standpoint of that nothing itself. and unproÍìtable. Once the imaginary relation between Hamlet and Gertrude has been ruptured by the entry of Claudius.ii. Even Desdemona hecomes his ifair warrior'. flat. What Hamlet has importantly lost appears to be less his father than his mother. II lf Otlullo porrays a man in hot pursuit of nothing. stale. evades the mark of the signiÍier: .. Seem to me alì the uses of this world! (r. whose enigmatic being is legendary in world literature. drains the world ofvalue and dissolves it into nauseating nothingness: Hamlet experiences O.70 'Nothing' which the whole world becomes a signified obediently reílecting back the imperious signifier of the self.2 ln Hamlct ihat opacity. Otlullo suggests. as we have seen in The Merchant of Venicc. renders the odds even. because driven by desire. The problem. but for another man. is a psychopathological condition. and that desire is not for Hamlet himselÍ. It is as though the experiment here is to put 'nothing' at the structural centre of the text. Othctlo. that this too too solid Ílesh would melt. This inner being. which. Coriolanus 7l is melancholia. As Íluid as his father's ghost and as fast-talking as any Shakespearian clown. The particular form of negativity which . that signs and illusions are structural to reality'. r 2s-34) Mclancholy. unlike the cynically naturalistic lago. and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd His canon 'gainst selÊJlaughter! O God! God! How weary. that this psychopathologT may be intrinsic to everyday life. the central recalcitrance which baíIles and resists interpretation. How does one distinguish between taking aPPearances for reality. Othello is then pitched violently into the'symbolic order'of desire. Othello knows this too well. is none other than woman and desire. and this pervasive lack gradually overwhelms it. whether as chivalric lover. is how to recognize. 'Ihaw. and acknowledging the reality of appearancesf. is quite evidently the protagonist himsel{. then. more alarmingly.and comes to mistake the sign for the reality. unable and unwilling to take up a determinate position within it. has an inescapable dimension of fantasy and mystification ì without falling prey to the tragic lunacy of an Othello. as though he can 'grasp nothing which he has not Íirst translated into his own military idiom. For Freud. where signifier and signified never quite coincide. Failing to make such a distinction. Indeed he spends most of his time eluding whatever social and sexual positions society oÍfers him..levels all values. Hamlet. for whom appearance and realitgçqgk-ggn0grge into a seamless whole. obedient revenger or future king. making it the subject rather than the object of the action. The mysterious opacity of Otlullo. let alone in a mother. rather like paranoid jealousy. which are not'superstructural' pieties but part of its inward form. who has committed at least two grievous errors: she has revealed herself capable of desire. From this deceptively secure standpoint.

as for lago. titleless. or does the fact that the question refuses all articulation suggest that it is an hallucination. blindly persistent process of selÊdeÍìnition. But does Prufrock really have such an insight. Hamlet's jealous sense of unique selfhood is no more than the negation of anything in particular. which sets him sharply apart from his socially conformist acquain- tânces. is that there is no heart of the mystery to be plucked out.iii. Why should he be ceremonially exhibited to the people. and who shall scape whipping?' It is clear from all this that the 'character' of Hamlet would not be the most secure foundation on which to construct a political order. Nor customary suits of solemn black. Ruthlessly selÊconsistent and self-identical. J.77-86) Othcllo. shapes of grief. Coriolanus is as superbly assured in his inward being as Hamlet is shattered in his. His 'self' consists sirnply in the range of gestures with which he resists available definitions. is sheer empty excess over the given. he is a particularly blatant disproval of Polonius's pious belief that being rue to oneself entails fidelity to others./Till he had . He cannot irnagine what it would be like not to be himself. Hamlet. those'new men' (for the most part villains in Shakespeare) who live 'As if a man were author of himself/And knew no other kin' (V. No. the signifier of public forms is to be scorned. (Polonius's advice in any case assumes that 'truth to self is a coherent notion. slow-witted lackeys of the state' should presume to penetrate his inward essence. indeed. a circular. moods. (r. when he is perfectly well aware of who he is? Like the possessive individualist Achilles. a being radically incommensurate with any other. point casts doubt upon that entire logic: 'use every man after his desert. Alfred Prufrock. Coriolanus because he is exactly what he is. and at one Later. not in a radical alternative beyond their reach.) Whereas Hamlet falls apart in the space between himself and his actions. pluck out the heart of his mystery. when he rejects the signifiers by which alone the selfi as signified' comes into its determinacy? That latter-day Hamlet. and so the ruin of àll metaphor and exchange. he spends almost the whole play refusing to practise such an exchange (take Clauclius's life in revenge for his father's). nor the fruitful river in the eye.72 'Nothing' 'Tis not alone my inky cloak. Nor windy suspiration of forc'd breath.Hamlet because he is never identical with himself. as Hamlet cannot imagine what it would be like to be anybody in particular. Nor the dejected haviour of the visage. seem.36-7). though literally a patrician. Coriolanus. the problem being one of adequately articulating it. good mother. crave their assent to his name and title./He was a kind of nothing. perhaps the key to the riddle of the universe. is perhaps Shakespeare's most developed study of a bourgeois individualist. acting as signifier and signified together. as in Otlullo. Coriolanus confers value and meaning on himself in Íine disregard for social opinion. believes himself in possession of an 'overwhelming question'. How could it be otherwise. For they are actions that a man might play. Together with all forms. a hollow void which oÍfers nothing determinate to be known. The political future lies not with him but with Coriolanus. the mere ghost of a question' a portentous nothing or signified without a signiÍier? Hamlet. That can denote me truly. It is thus wholly parasitic on the positions it refuses: like lago he is not what he is. But the irony of this.ii. but whereas for lago this means preserving a secret identity apart from public show. Coriolanus 73 the supcrfluous man. Hamlet has no 'essence' of being whatsoever' no inner sanctum to be safeguarded: he is Pure deferral and diffusion. For him. These. which the play certainly does not. Coriolanus is nothing áaÍ his actions. he will be scandalized that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. and so a sort of blank tautology. Neithcr will engage in reciprocal exchange or submit to the signifier: Coriolanus 'forbad all names. But I have that within which passes show These but the trappings and the suits of woe. Indeed. Both men are thus a kind of nothing .

in short.not that he is a twentieth-century existentialist intellectual in Jacobean clothing. Hamlct. it is for the opposite reason .i. His attachment to his mother fragments his being into an unfulfillable desire which. is in some sense historically necessary: it would be highly embarrassing to have a man like this hanging around Fortinbras's court. The reciprocity ofcommodity exchange stands in. strung out between a traditional social order to which he is marginal. it does at least lay the basis for a kind of social 'order'. The tragedy of Hamlet. Hamlet is even more proleptic than Coriolanus. unable to name himself aÍfirmatively in any other way. Coriolanus 75 traditional order but still oppressed by it. This is why many commentators have discerned something peculiarly'modernist' in Hamlet . as Hamlet clearly does not. and though Shakespeare's work is far from admiring this condition. so to speak.13l5). paradoxically. by contrast. is a political problem for Hamlet.3 But because of this we can glimpse in him a negative critique of the forms of subjectivity typical of both these regimes. unlike Hamlet. filial duty. political power) cannot be represented other than as a lack. however. for the relational bonds between persons. be drawing to a close. who is as yet. private entrePreneurs of their bodies and sole proprietors of a labour force. Coriolanus may oome to grief in his play. it has not yet been disciplined and 'naturalized' into the oppressive unity which will later convert consciousness itself into a kind of prison.when a whole society will fall prey to the ideology of selÊauthorship. autonomous and non-exchangeable. Hamlet signifies the beginnings of the dissolution of the old Íbudalist subject. the resultant 'decentring' of his identity satirically questions the violent closure of bourgeois individualism as much as that of Claudius's court. a kind of social progressiveness. and a future epoch_ of achieved bourgeois individualism which will surpass it. since it swerves round all determinate objects (Ophelia. which become 'social' at the point where their owners are made private. as it has once more become a political problem for us.that we. But the paradox of such private enterprise of the self is that although it regards personal identity as private. and experiences that subjectivity as a crippling burden. when all individuals will be only begetters of themselves.7+ 'Nothing' forg'd himself a name i'th'fire/Of burning Romg' (V. On the conrary. Whatever the diÍference. What gets exchanged in this form of society are material goods. but considered as a bourgeois prototyPe rather than Roman patrician there is nothing historically necessary about his death. looking forward to a time (our own?) when that individualist concePtion of the self will itself enter into crisis. unable to transgress its definitive limits into a fully alternative style of being. and his revulsion from the sexuality which reproduces it. In this sense. . Although he is a deeply 'subjective' figure. but because he stands at the tentative beginnings of a history which may now. If we too are as yet unable to give a name to a diíferent form of subjectivity. this may be one reason why the (non-)character of Hamlet seems to speak to us more urgently than any other of Shakespeare's tragic protagonists. But this psychological regression is also. he prefigures the time not far off from Shakespeare's England . What it is to be a subject. It is his regressiveness which makes him so modern: eccentric to ' Othcllo. are in one sense regressive states of being. it is historically bound up with the futl-blown exchange economy of _commodity pioduction. Hamlet's reluctance or inability to enter the symbolic order. at least in some of its aspects. Hamlet is a radically transitional Íigure. are the end-products of a history of bourgeois individualism beyond which we can only gropinsú feel our way.

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