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Literature Compass 10/2 (2013): 162174, 10.1111/lic3.

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Shakespeare and Popular Politics


Jeffrey S. Doty*
West Texas A&M University

Abstract

This article denes popular politics as the tactics ranging from grumbling to rioting used by common people to articulate and redress economic and social injustice. Early modern popular politics were not, however, exclusively radical and were rarely antimonarchical. A study of popular politics thus pressures the conservative versus progressive binary through which most critics discuss Shakespeares politics. Furthermore, this article contests the widely held assumption that Shakespeare was hostile in his representations of the people and toward his audience. An understanding of popular politics equips one to read Shakespeares crowds not as irrational lovers of violence but rather as stewards of the commonwealth or conscious agents of their own material interests. This article poses the theater itself as a space of popular politics, insofar as it was a space where popular politics were depicted onstage and where common people were invited to think through political issues.

Introduction The almost-complete absence of Shakespeare and Popular Politics-type essays in our Shakespeare Companions, Handbooks, Guides, and Introductions to attest that a Populist Shakespeare view has yet to dent the mainstream.1 Critics now usually view Shakespeare as politically even-handed or ambiguous, but since critics began debating Shakespeares political position two centuries ago, the more widely-held view has been that he is a conservative playwright, insofar as conservative means committed to a monarchical state and the existing social hierarchy. Annabel Patterson writes that this interpretation originated with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and subsequently developed into a consensus (5). Arguments for the Conservative Shakespeare include how his plays: dramatize the misery of civil war, tidily restore political order in their nal moments, dene England in aristocratic rather than commonwealth terms, and evoke feelings of sympathy for princes. But the rock-solid evidence of Shakespeares conservatism, the one seemingly irrefutable point that few critics will deny, is his horror of the demos (Worden 28). Richard Wilson writes that Shakespeare dened himself publicly through his scorn of popular culture and an animus toward the people that extended to most playgoers (169, 168). When the commons in Shakespeare act as a separate political entity, Richard Levin argues, they are presented as a rabble who are mindless, ckle, easily swayed and murderous (289). Shakespeare has stood, as he still stands today, for Royal Britain because he afrmed monarchical authority at the direct expense of popular politics, which he gures as illegitimate and destructive (Helgerson, Forms 244). This essay instead argues that within what was permissible to stage in early modern England, Shakespeare was sympathetic to popular politics, even of the radical variety. His plays also acknowledge poverty, popular anger, and elite abuses of authority in ways that are intractable rather than contained. Shakespeares popular politics, however, were not necessarily antimonarchical; in fact, popular political movements almost always aligned
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themselves with the monarchy against oppressive landlords or local magistrates. My argument has two parts. First, against the commonplace of Shakespeares alleged antipopulism, I rehabilitate the people in Shakespeare by showing how their tactics and riots give expression to legitimate popular grievances and peasant ideology. That the people are sometimes frightening in Shakespeare heightens rather than diminishes their political importance. Secondly, I argue that his theater was a space of popular politics because it gave public expression to issues of common interest and habituated playgoers into thinking analytically about the origins of political authority, the techniques used to produce that authority, and the position of the people in the commonwealth. What are Popular Politics? Popular politics refers to the way common people articulate and redress economic and social injustice. They centered on issues of subsistence and land use, especially the destruction of enclosures the walls and hedges that enclosed for sole use land that had been by custom common to everyone, and on which many families subsistence depended. Enclosures brought wealth to lords and yeoman (primarily on the wool market), but caused poverty as well as rural depopulation and subsequent urban overcrowding. Other ash points of popular protest included grain prices and the retention of grain in market towns. Popular politics also intersected with reformation politics in the demand by parishioners to choose their own clergy in local churches, an act which was condemned as popularity (Lake, Anglicans 55, 6264). But who were the commons and the people? Most basically, these terms signify those who worked, which also means those who lacked rank. Early moderns often spoke about their society in the broad language of sorts though it was, as Keith Wrightson notes, a language pregnant with conict, aligning the richer over against the poorer, the better over against the meaner, vulgar, common, ruder, or inferior sorts (Estates 21).The middling sort, to which Shakespeare belonged, complicated these binaries (and was itself extremely complicated) (Leinwald 28991). In the 1560s Sir Thomas Smith described England as composed of four sorts: (i) the nobility; (ii) prosperous citizens; (iii) ofce-holding yeoman farmers, and (iv) the fourth sort day labourers, poore husbandmen, yea marchantes or retailers which have no free lande, copiholders, all articers, as Taylers, Shoomakers, Carpenters, Brickemakers, Bricklayers, Masons, &c. who are onelie to be ruled, not to rule other[s] (46). Smiths list gives a sense of the composition of the middle sort, who by the end of the sixteenth century were sometimes wielders of popular politics and sometimes the targets of them. In most Tudor-Stuart political discourse, the fourth sort is most strongly associated with the commonwealth, though depending on the rhetorical context, so too are citizens and yeomen especially when disparaged from above as the multitude or the people. In this essay, I use the imprecise categories of the commons and the people to designate those who worked, were poor, or aligned themselves with collective, commonwealth interests. (Likewise, when I discuss audiences at the public amphitheaters below, I opt for broad categories like the commons or the playgoing public, since most audiences were composed primarily of lower and middling sorts and because the act of playgoing turns individuals into collectives [cf. Lopez 1622]). The people and the commons were the terms early modern people used about themselves in political discourse, and their demographic imprecision served a tactical advantage: they were inclusive, they evoked a collectivist ethos important for petitioning and complaint, and they hinted at the proverb vox populi, vox Dei (cf. Howard and Strohm).2 At the same time,
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the corollary pejoratives for the people and the commons the rude multitude, the hydra, and the many-headed monster served to discredit a collective political voice and the political agency of commoners. Traditional English historiography presents the commons as an inarticulate, prepolitical mass, visible only when rioting or rebelling. But in the last 25 years, the new social history has provided a deeper understanding of peasant and egalitarian ideologies and how the people exercised and expressed political agency. In writing history from below, Keith Wrightson, David Underdown, John Walter, Tim Harris, Andy Wood, David Cressy, and Ethan Shagan rescue impoverished, criminalized, rebellious, deant, and desperate voices from the court documents and regime-sponsored printed accounts that usually were used to prosecute, demonize, or ridicule popular political action. Social historians treat rumor not as ignorance and misinformation but as a deliberate pressure strategy, and libels signed by the trewe commons not as cowardly squibs but as a shrewd use of a collective voice to shame particular lords publicly, and rebellion (from the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1525 to the camping time of 1549) not as violent, apolitical outliers of national history but rather as highly ideological events that remained current and citable within popular memory for generations. Rebellion was the most extreme form of popular political action. Wood nds an unbroken line of radical plebeian politics, one capable of mounting fundamental attacks on social inequality, from the major medieval rebellions to the rebellion of 1549 in numerous counties (1549 Rebellions 4). Dissidents legitimated their complaints by citing their care of the commonwealth; its enemies, in Robert Crowleys words from 1550, were men that would have all in their owne hande; men that would leave nothyng for others; men that woulde be alone on the earth; men that bee never satised . . . yea, men that would eate up menne, women, & chyldren (qtd. in Wood, 1549 Rebellions 102). Commonwealth ideology, from the emblematic peasant uprisings of 1381 to the political writings of the Commonwealthmen and reformers such as Crowley and Hugh Latimer, proposed a redistribution of wealth, largely founded upon populist Christian ideals (Fitter, Radical 1314; Rollison 25283). As late as 1601 a multitude of people gathered to protest monopolies at the door of the House of Commons and [said] they were commonwealths men (Archer 29). Rebels frequently dened themselves as trewe comons and cast themselves as defenders of the realm against greedy gentlemen who raised rents, enclosed commons, and hoarded grain. Convinced of the legality of their protection of customary rights and their loyalty to the monarch, commotioners cast the gentry as traitors (Wood, 1549 Rebellions 156). Wood sees Ketts Rebellion in 1549 as the last of the ideologically robust peasant rebellions. Over 16,000 rebels gathered on Mousehold Heath in an effort to freez[e] the long-term processes of social and economic changes that were ssuring village communities, namely, the rise of the new agrarian aristocracy that impoverished peasants and dominated village governance (Wood, 1549 Rebellions 1635; Holstun, Riot 194). The rebellion was put down by German mercenaries led by the Duke of Northumberland. After 1549, popular political culture was broken because wealthy yeoman (like Kett) were no longer willing to ally themselves with laborers (150). Rather, with increasing social mobility, the middling sort began to identify instead with the gentility rather than commons. Relations of production and exploitation, Wood writes, became the site of a messy, three-way struggle between an aggressive lordly class, an entrepreneurial group of wealthy yeoman farmers, and a body of semiproletarialized laborers (1549 Rebellions 16). While this did not stop Tudor-Stuart rebellion entirely notable revolts include the Hackett Rebellion of 1591, Oxfordshire of 1596, and the Midlands Rising of 1607, along with intermittent Shrove Tuesday rioting
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and food riots in London through the 1590s it devastated the kind of concerted action that could deliver a radical reconstruction of society from the bottom-up (Wood, 1549 Rebellions 4). Nonetheless, even failed risings drew from the crown actions that beneted the greater good. When in 1596 the Oxfordshire rebels threatened to assassinate enclosers and grain hoarders, the Crown executed the rebels but also cracked down on enclosers and hoarders, and issued proclamations demanding the rich to increase charitable efforts (Walter, Crowds 98). An emphasis on rebellion and riot alone, however, creates an incomplete picture of popular politics. Most popular political action took the form of everyday means of resistance that was aimed not at a radical reconstruction of England but at the redress of local oppressions, especially food prices and enclosures. Popular politics originate as smallscale expression of grievance, like grumbling and cursing, and which could grow to riot and rebellion. Anthropologist James C. Scotts theories of the weapons of the weak and the hidden transcript have helped counter traditional historiography that treated the commons as dupes of the order who happily accepted their subordination. Against Antonio Gramsci, who writes that the people themselves naturalize the hegemony of the existing order by coming to believe the innate superiority of those in power, Scott argues that peasants recognize the injustice and arbitrariness of power relations and seize moments of resistance and freedom within the hidden transcript, the critique of power spoken behind the back of the dominant (Domination 70104, xii; cf. de Certeau xviixx). People who deployed everyday tactics usually drew on the engrained ethoi of peasant egalitarianism, commonwealth thought, and Christian charity. The weapons of the weak favored by early modern Englishpersons, writes John Walter, were grumbling, cursing, the ritual curse (witchcraft), the shaming of elites through libel, formal petitions, and threats of violence, especially on property (Public Transcripts 128146). These tactics tended to be short of criminal conduct and were often done under the cloak of anonymity. They were usually specic and local in their ends: the destruction of particular enclosures, more fairness in grain prices and distribution, and the shaming of avaricious landlords. Those engaging in popular politics usually legitimated themselves through the existing moral economy of Christian charity and mutual obligation rather than aiming at the overthrow of the state. For instance, in 1607 a letter was sent to the Warwickshire encloser Sir John Newdegate accusing him of depopulating & decaying the farmers at Griffe, not only to satisfy his greed but because of the malice & ill will you beare to the Comonwealth of your country & neighbors (qtd. in Walter, Public 136). The author(s), writing in ye name of ye cuntrie and comonwealth, shamed Newdegate publicly by making copies and distributing this letter. Walter notes that the letters accusation of unneighborliness and possessive individualism contested, on moral grounds, his status as landlord and gentleman (136). Newdegates critics won a minor victory when, in the wake of the Midlands Rising, he was forced to appear before the Star Chamber to answer for his enclosing activities (137). Other libels and threats employed the threat of violence inherent in the the manyheaded monster [trope] in order to intimidate those whom the people opposed and to prompt good lords, godly magistrates and a just prince to intervene on behalf of the people (Walter, Poormans 64). Petitions were more formal modes of redress; they often reminded gentry and yeomen of their obligations of paternalistic care for the less fortunate and brought the attention of the courts to particular abuses. Social historians disagree about how laboring people felt about their betters and the mask[s] of compliance they were forced to wear (Wood, 1549 Rebellions 140; Wood, Fear 808812). Walter and Wrightson lean toward a sunnier view of mostly
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harmonious social relations. Wood, Rollison, and Buchanan Sharp insist on intense hatred between rich and poor. Wood argues that plebeian anger interlocked with popular claims of powerlessness and that class antagonism formed the mirror image of deference (Fear 817); Sharp writes that the opinions of common folk reveal a deep hatred of the people possessed of the power, social standing, and landed wealth denied to them and that the rich reciprocally hated the poor (36). Ubiquitous popular sayings like the ritche men have gotten all into their hands and will starve the poor, necessity hath no law, and the pleasures of the mighty are the tears of the poor speak to class consciousness and class antagonism (qtd. in Carroll 33; Walter, Crowds 78; Wood Hidden 817). The everyday tactics that worked within existing structures were ideologically underpinned by peasant rebellions of 1381 and 1450. Parson John Balls populist critique of rank When Adam delvd and Eve span Who was then gentleman resonated in plebeian memory through the sixteenth century (Cartelli 63). One Oxfordshire rouser hoped that before yt were long to see some of the ditches throwne down, and that yt wold never be merye till some of the gentlemen were knocked down (Sharp 389). For early modern commons, anonymously circulated libels and formal petitions were typically directed against the rich and cited the monarch as the natural defender of the poor (Walter, Public 123). Petitioners and rebels cast themselves as loyal servants of the Queen or King in order to pit the crown and its courts against manorial lords. Monarcho-populism, James Holstun writes, was mutually benecial: monarchists legitimated themselves through paternalistic resistance to capitalist encroachments on small producers, while small producers legitimated themselves by invoking loyalty to a reigning monarch or Protector against some menacing middleman or interloper (Spider 57). For literary critics, who tend to link popular politics with radical antimonarchism, this point may be surprising. It was possible for Shakespeares plays to support popular politics and the monarchy. Before discussing Shakespeares depiction of the people, I want to note that his most basic commitment to popular politics is in repeatedly staging the weapons of the weak as used in everyday plebeian life: grumbles, curses, petitions, litigation, public shaming, and rioting. The examples below are representative rather than comprehensive. When the shermen in Pericles say that the sea is like land, where the great ones eat up the little ones, they grumble about social inequality (2.1.289).3 Discontent in service nds expression in The Tempest, where Ariel, who promised to serve without grudge or grumblings, reminds Prospero of their contract (1.2.249); Calibans anger at his enforced servitude escalates quickly from grumbling to cursing to revolt (321365; 3.2.86103). Elites stripped of their status often draw on the peasant repertoire of resistance. Queen Margaret in Richard III and King Lear issue ritual curses on the House of York and Goneril, respectively (1.3.195213; 1.4.274289). A poor petitioner of our whole township in 2 Henry VI brings to court a petition against the Duke of Suffolk, for enclosing the commons of Melford (1.3.201). This scene captures the humility of petitioning as well as its dangers, as the petitioner accidentally presents it to Suffolk himself. This petition fails, but the scene deftly uses the politics of enclosure to cast Suffolk as an enemy of the people. The limits of petitioning are explored in Measure for Measure when Isabellas initial plea for Angelo to spare Claudios life turns into obscene blackmail and when, in her formal petition denouncing Angelo in the street, the duke arrests her for slander (2.2.26161; 5.1.1214). Although Lucio weakly defends his slander of Vincentio as obedience to new fashions (speech according to the trick [5.1.504]), the rumors he spreads about the dukes lechery and Angelos impotence express, if unconsciously, anger at Viennas unjust distribution of justice. A conscious and explicit example of public libeling
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to shame magistrates occurs in Titus Andronicus. Titus writes to heaven for his redress and afxes the messages onto arrows that his nephews shoot into the court (4.4.13). Saturninus asks, Whats this but libelling against the Senate And blazoning our unjustice every where? (1718). The publics sympathy with the Andronici, however, prevent the emperor from open retaliation. The shaming of the nobles from those below them in rank is frequent in Shakespeare: Leonato and Antonios pathos-laden attempts to shame Don Pedro and Claudio in Much Ado about Nothing are but one example (5.1.45109). When all other tactics of redress failed, the commons rioted. Coriolanus opens with such a riot but far from an irrational mob, these citizens pause to debate strategy, hear out Menenius embassy, and avoid violence by successfully negotiating for corn gratis and political enfranchisement. Shakespeare drew on recent food riots in the Midlands that won from the crown directives that grain be distributed, food prices lowered, and specic enclosures destroyed (though at the sacrice of life from the revolts leaders) (Hindle 30 2). By integrating these weapons of the weak into his plays, Shakespeare shows his knowledge of and I would argue sympathy with popular political culture. Rethinking Shakespeares Crowds The Shakespeare establishment nonetheless has for the past two centuries regarded him as basically a conservative and even antipopulist playwright though critics now rarely make arguments about Shakespeares politics in such partisan terms. The more common view is that Shakespeares penchant for even-handedness leaves central issues in doubt (Bevington 68). Chris Fitter criticizes the application of Liberal Humanisms traditional celebration of benign plurality because he says the image of a disinterested, Janus-faced Shakespeare obscures his radical politics (Mock 421). Shakespeares ambiguity, Fitter claims, is better explained by his attempts to evade censorship than by his aristocratic political thinking.4 Michael Hattaway, James Holstun, Thomas Cartelli, and Annabel Patterson agree. They argue that Shakespeare expresses sympathy for the commons and applies the resources of Tudor oppositional thought peasant egalitarianism, the writings of the Commonwealthmen, radical humanism, republicanism, and resistance theory to sociopolitical questions. Shakespeares populism comes not from heroic depictions of rebels but more modestly by acknowledging poverty and elite oppression of the commons, and by doing so in the partisan language of popular politics. Patterson shows how 1549 resonated in popular memory, and how Shakespeares plays deploy the language of plebeian political culture. Fitter describes Shakespeare as a radical populist who skewers the inequality and tainted glory of the Black Nineties, a decade in which soldiers and sailors went hungry and unpaid, thousands of commoners starved and went homeless, and uprisings were put down in London (1591 and 1596) and Oxfordshire (1596). These scholars agree with David Scott Kastan that staging monarchy inevitably, if unconsciously, weakened the structure of authority by inherently desacralizing its authority and self-justications (111). Or as David Rollison puts it, plays spurred on popular debunking (399). My brief contribution is to challenge the argument that Shakespeare cannot be populist because he depicts the people as murderous and terrifying. I argue that they are more politically conscious and less terrible than assumed but that terror they do produce is, from a popular politics perspective, productive. I conclude by arguing that Shakespeares largest investment in popular politics is apparent not in the content of particular scenes but rather in the accumulative practice of interrogating political orthodoxies in a public space for over 20 years.

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It is odd to base ones reading of Shakespeares politics on his negative portrayal of crowds when, as Richard Helgerson notes, no early modern play presented riot sympathetically and when our one remnant of Master Edmund Tilneys censorious quill was his command, in the margins of the manuscript to Sir Thomas More, to Leave out the insurrection wholly and the cause thereof (Shakespeare 334). Nonetheless, Shakespeares two most violent mob scenes in 2 Henry VI and Julius Caesar operate with greater theatrical and political logic than most critics realize. Before Jack Cades rst entrance, Shakespeare had already staged two exemplary and thoroughly populist scenes of riot (Holstun, Damned 205). The rst is by townspeople from Bury St. Edmunds who revenge the Good Duke Humphreys murder by rioting (3.2), and the second by the pirates who seize and murder the conniving Duke of Suffolk (4.1). In both cases the people act as an illegal but highly moral collective. Far from instantiating Shakespeares horror of the demos, these crowds, who legitimate their actions in the name of the king and care of [his] most royal person, are justice-loving monarcho-populist stewards of the commonwealth (3.2.254). These two riots in which the commons police corrupt nobles should prevent Cades rebellion as being mistaken for Shakespeares singular, emblematic representation of popular politics. By contrast, Cades rebellion originates as a ruse by the Duke of York rather than the people themselves. But his followers do not believe or care about his monarchical aspirations (rather, they mock them). What is signicant is that his army is the lth and scum of Kent, Englands seedbed of perpetual popular discontent (4.2.122). Before joining Cades band, Bevis and Holland justify the rising through the language of peasant egalitarianism and class antagonism: [the commonwealth] is threadbare (4.2.7); it was never a merry world in England since the gentlemen came up (ln. 8); The nobility think scorn to go in leather aprons (ln. 12); and let the magistrates be laboring me; and therefore should we be magistrates (ll. 178). Cade promises them a world without two things seen as oppressive to the commons: enclosures and money (ll. 689, 734). His followers demand that they kill all the lawyers (ln. 76), and an unfortunate clerk becomes the risings rst victim for the crime of literacy. Unlike the historical rebellion, Londons citizens join rather than ght Cade, who leads all those who love the commons (4.4.504, 4.2.182). Cades rebellion is revenge against the privileged for earlier scenes in the play that dramatize petitioning and begging, both of which establish economic hardship and judicial indifference. This popular rage, Thomas Cartelli argues, should be read in context of the predatory behavior of Englands ruling establishment depicted throughout the tetralogy (54). Cartelli sees a politically astute reckoning with a long list of social grievances whose inarticulate and violent expression does not invalidate their demand for resolution (58). Neither does the dispersal of his followers nor Cades humiliating death at the arm of Alexander Iden, an encloser of the commons, contain or invalidate the origins and causes of popular grievance (Carroll 138, 156). It is commonly assumed that because Shakespeare dramatizes the rebels atrocities (the executions of innocent men and the vile treatment of Lord Says and Cromers heads) and because Cade dies a humiliated death, Shakespeare loathed the people, feared rebellion, and urged submission to authority. But the rebellion gives public voice to classbased anger about poverty and the belief that rank and literacy tip the balance of justice in the favor of the rich (Carroll 152). Moreover, the audiences response to the rebellion is tempered by the fact that these scenes are fundamentally comic and that Cade was played by Will Kemp. York calls Cade a wild Morisco, and Cade frequently addresses the audience directly which indicates that Cade inhabited the downstage platea position that encouraged affective bonding with those in the yard (3.1.365; Fitter, Radical 514).
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But underneath its dark, carnivalesque laughter, Cades Rebellion, alluding as it does to tense contemporary issues of enclosure, vagrancy, and poverty, might well have stoked fears of popular revolt in more prosperous audience members while simultaneously amusing the groundlings with its clowning. In other words, if Cades rebels frightened the original audience, such fear was likely class-coded, directed toward the better sort in the playhouse. As Wood and Walter note, elites were socialized to fear the manyheaded monster and its noise, and laboring people sometimes evoked the trope themselves in order to frighten and intimidate landlords (Wood, 1549 Rebellions 114; Walter, Poormans 164). The plebeian riot in Julius Caesar is likewise taken as proof of Shakespeares horror of the demos. For most critics, their violence is terrifying precisely because it seems so dislodged from political motivation: they switch allegiances between Pompey, Caesar, and Brutus easily, and then burn Rome only because Antony has enamed their emotions. Indeed, one impediment for proponents of a republican Shakespeare like Andrew Hadeld is that the ckle, ignorant people do not appear worthy of the place in the commonwealth that Brutus offers them (3.2.43). But Richard Halpern argues that the plebeians do act politically and are not ckle but rather unswervingly loyal to themselves, which is their only reasonable motivation (88). The plebiscites revolt is an expression of radical popular politics that casts the constitutional debates about whether Rome should be a republic or dictatorship as ethical abstractions relevant only to already super-rich patricians whose primary political motivations are to preserve their current class interests (87). Republicanism and popular politics are often linked in Shakespeare studies, since they are both regarded as antimonarchical and progressive. But this link depends on a very generous view of 1590s English republicanism, which was deployed less to promote the common good than as a spur for the restoration of baronial rights against an increasingly centralized Tudor monarchy that had steadily weakened Englands powerful ancient families. In what Halpern calls the plebiscites materialism of the present, republicanism is no more benecial to them than dictatorship (87). In his persuasive interpretation of the play, Oliver Arnold argues that republicanism is actually less benecial to the people than dictatorship. When Caesar offers to cut his own throat at the peoples behest, he presents himself as the peoples communal property (175). The scene with the coronet is not mere political theater but politics itself, one of total presence in which the peoples unmediated voices instruct Caesar (160). Caesars submission to the popular voice and we must remember this is Shakespeares rather than historys Caesar is substantiated by his will, which makes the plebs his heirs. Thus Arnold reads the riot not as Antonys manipulation of a feeble-minded, violent populace but instead as the peoples conscious revenge against the murder of their political instrument, Caesar, supposedly done on their behalf by the patricians, whose claims to represent the people are made in bad faith (175). Because the plays popular riot responds to plebeian economic conditions and revenges the death of a populist leader, it is neither irrational nor apolitical. The rst charge against the people by those who see Shakespeare as antipopulist is that he represents the people, especially when they act as crowds, as violent often for the sake of violence alone. One does well to remember though that almost all of the violence in Shakespeares plays is committed by proxy or personally by elites. As for the people, I have argued that because their violence originates from materialist political analyses, especially from inequality and class hatred, their violence is both rational and part of what makes Shakespeare a populist rather than antipopulist playwright. Shakespeares commons need not be saintly to be sympathetic; he does not sentimentalize the common man.
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Instead, he depicts how uprising blooms into chaotic violence, and in doing so, he underlines the consequences of ignoring the popular anger. Popular violence is horrible, but does not arise ex nihilo and does not signify Shakespeares hatred of the people. If a classs capacity for violence alone were the index of his views, then he hated the nobility most of all. Finally, even when Shakespeare stages in Sir Thomas More reprehensible aspects of popular politics Londons xenophobia and periodic violence toward immigrants he depicts the people as open to persuasion and capable of empathy, even as he condemns their scapegoating. The second charge against the common people in Shakespeare is that they are ckle. In 3 Henry VI, Henry compares simple men to a feather commanded always by the greater gust Such is the lightness of you common men (3 Henry VI 3.1.82, 889). But he ignores that few common men willingly fought in the family squabbles that were the Wars of the Roses. Like Falstaffs gentle prisoner Sir Coleville of the Dale, who was forced into rebellion by his betters, men were pressed into soldiery by their regional lords despite their indifference to dynastic battles (2 Henry IV 4.3.65). More broadly, Shakespeares commons ckle reactions to politics seem (like his portrayal of popular rebellion) more a matter of fact than evidence of the playwrights social prejudice. Academic study of crowd psychology has afrmed Francis Bacons observation that the minds of men in company are more open to affections and impression than when alone (Gurr and Szatek 162). That is, emotions, impulses, and ideas do react differently in crowds than in individuals, so it is appropriate that Shakespeares common people, so often represented in groups and collective interests, would exhibit inconstancy. Indeed, a citizen in Coriolanus, showing off his own political mind, explicates the many-headed multitude trope by acknowledging that groups are composed of people with differing wits and ideas: our wits are so diversely colord; and truly I think if all our wits were to issue out of one skull, they would y east, west, north, south, and their consent of one direct way should be at once to all the points a th compass (2.3.2024). The Theater as a Space of Popular Politics That a citizen in Coriolanus should so expertly disarm a trope used to humiliate the people is tting, since Shakespeares theater was a place where common people practiced political thinking. While Shakespeares representation of popular resistance and ideology, from everyday tactics to riot, are important, the stronger argument for his populism is found in the accumulative effect of staging the eras most vexing political questions: When was it permissible to dethrone a king? Did princes draw their authority from God, the law, the people or from force? Did republicanism better serve the commonwealth? What inuence should the church have over war? The consequences of the ethical, political, and cognitive challenges of Shakespeares plays are usually side-stepped because critics who see Shakespeare as hostile to the people also suspect him of hostility toward his audience or as Ian Munro puts it, fundamental ambivalence about [his] service to the many-headed monster (135). Absent detailed records about playgoers, most Shakespeare criticism, like Munro, composes an image of the audience inferred from antitheatrical writings, aristocratic derogations of the people, and bitter comments from playwrights whose plays failed. Alternatively, I infer my image of the audience from the intellectual, linguistic, and emotional complexity of Shakespeares scripts: he would hardly have written plays his own audience could not follow, nor would they have paid to see them. I want to suggest, then, that Shakespeares theater contributed to a popular political culture less from taking particular positions on issues than by publicly
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exploring political controversies with a rationality unusual to the periods more typical political discourse. If the claim that Shakespeares theater was political because it provided occasion and means for common people to think politically sounds insubstantial, we do well to remember that, as James Siemon puts it, Political thinking per se is understood throughout the period to be threatening in and of itself and there was no Elizabethan language for political analysis that could not be construed as ambition and denounced as merely reproducing irresponsible general opinion or as the product of willfull subjectivity, or as a combination of both (300, 1901). By political analysis, Siemon does not mean that early moderns lacked categories and labels to taxonomize politics, or that they did not understand local and national constitutional arrangements. Rather, he means how people responded to recent political events, and implicit in the phrase political analysis is not just the report of news but a sense of why events have unfolded as they have and what one might anticipate in the future. Furthermore, Debora Shuger argues that almost all political discourse in early modern England took the form not of rational argument but rather of personal, usually vicious attacks on ones opponents or their surrogates (68). In other words, argument took the form of defamation and political analysis was directed toward assessing how well ones character held up against rumor and slander. Although Shakespeares plays comment on controversies in purposefully oblique ways, they subject political problems (and the moral economies that surround them) to institutional, materialist, and historical analyses. His theater posits ways of reading politics that, if indirect and oblique, provided nonetheless a more rational alternative to the irrational public sphere of defamation and misinformation that dominated the ofcial political culture (Shuger 2730, 423). Shakespeares construction of political scenarios and problems are not limited to orthodox expressions: instead, he regularly admits radical ideas, from the peasant egalitarianism of Cades rebels to Falstaffs iconoclastic materialism to Lears epiphany about the suffering of the poor and the Christian duty owed to them. David Scott Kastan argues that Shakespeares histories show that the pageantry and props of rule are strategic rather than sacramental and that the plays expose the idealizations of political power by presenting rule as role (121). Of course, Stephen Greenblatts early work argued that such subversion and opposition was contained that is, the rehearsal of radical ideas merely afrmed with all the more strength the Elizabethan regime (30). But Greenblatt totalizes not only power but also theatrical experience, as if the audience all felt the same way and as if they experienced the plays in terms of a wholeness with particular weight to act ve. But as Stephen Purcell says, conventional audience response is intensely classcoded, particularly in the Shakespearean theater (165). And playgoer response, from Simon Formans diary to play snippets in commonplace books, suggest that audiences took what they wanted from plays in fragments without respect to the whole. The argument that Shakespeares populist and radical ideas are discredited because they are put to rest by plays end permits the articially clean conclusions of most plays to sand down the jagged edges of ideological conict that energized their plots, and it also ignores the likelihood of (self-censoring) limitations on what could be said as well as how audiences understood those limitations. Playgoers frequently plucked wise, commonplace quotations out of their literary or dramatic contexts for future use or reection. Expressions of popular and rebel politics in plays are like their subversive twins: their exclusions from the formal resolutions of the plots force them into positions of fragmentation and discontinuity, but this forced marginalization make them no less useful for playgoer reection.
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Conclusion Shakespeares representations of popular politics tend to focus on negotiations between the powerful and powerless, the rich and the poor. How the middling sort align them`-vis peasant ideologies of egalitarianism and resistance is unclear. This is partly selves vis-a due to the fact that one of Shakespeares central themes was power and the ruled appear less in individuated groups than as the commons or the people. But it is also likely that Shakespeare ush with wealth and property had conicted feelings about the status of the middle sort that pushed him to emphasize richer and poorer sorts frequently but middling sorts rarely. His plays suggest little about the messy, threeway struggle between an aggressive lordly class, an entrepreneurial group of wealthy yeoman farmers, and a body of semi-proletarialized laborers (Wood, 1549 Rebellions 16). On this issue, I follow James Holstun: Shakespeare was a despairing late-Tudor Commonwealthman who found himself torn between a profound sympathy for exploited English commoners and an upwardly mobile anxiety about what their revolutionary liberation might entail for him (Damned 198). Whatever Shakespeares personal views, from the perspective of popular politics, the assertion of his antipopulism looks absurd. Most assessments of Shakespeares populism have been marred by the assumption that popular politics were by denition radical, antimonarchical politics. In portraying everyday tactics of resistance and in linking popular revolts to economic and political issues, Shakespeares plays often take up the cause, if in fragmented ways, of popular politics. Shakespeares politics are usually assessed on the basis of how he depicts the people, and since most readers gravitate to the riot scenes and nd the mobs frightening, they conclude that Shakespeare was conservative. But social history equips one to read Shakespeares crowds not as irrational lovers of violence but rather as stewards of the commonwealth (in the two riots that precede Cades in 2 Henry VI) and conscious agents of their own material interests (in Julius Caesar). The antipopulism argument also jars against the fact that he spent his career writing plays for the very people he allegedly detested. For these socially diverse playgoers, his plays fostered rather than suppressed political thinking especially about the techniques used to produce authority, the popular resources for resisting power, and the peoples place in the commonwealth. Short Biography Jeffrey S. Doty is the Wendy and Stanley Marsh 3 Assistant Professor of Shakespeare at West Texas A&M University. His degrees are from Tarleton State University (BA), the University of North Texas (MA), and the University of Iowa (PhD); he is also an alumni of the Making Publics Project. He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled The Love of the People: Shakespeare, Popularity, and Politics, excerpts of which can be found in Shakespeare Quarterly and English Literary Renaissance. Notes
* Correspondence: Department of English, Philosophy and Modern Languages, West Texas A&M University, WTAMU Box 60908, Canyon, TX 79016, United States. Email: jdoty@wtamu.edu
1 2

James Holstuns essay in Blackwells Companion Series is the exception. On the rhetorical utility of commonwealth, see also Rollison (236252), David Norbrook (13033), and Anne McLaren (5). 3 All citations of Shakespeares plays are from the Riverside Shakespeare.

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It is impossible to know how much Shakespeare was hedged in by censorship. In Censorship and Cultural Sensibility, Debora Shuger argues early modern censorship followed a defamation model which protected individuals from injurious representation rather than an ideological model in which dangerous ideas were suppressed. So while there was not strict ideological censorship, it is obvious that some things like a successful peasant rebellion were unstageable. That the Privy Council was so furious at the content of The Isle of Dogs (1598) that they decided to tear down all the public theaters before nally relenting reminds us of the fragility of the entire Tudor-Stuart theatrical enterprise, and suggests why Shakespeare may have been careful in his depictions of popular riot.

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