Julia Reinhard Lupton, Thinking with Shakespeare reviewed

Julia Reinhard Lupton’s Thinking with Shakespeare was a book I read before the Anachronic Shakespeare conference – I wanted to be in some way prepared, and in any case it looked, and was, very interesting.

There is a review in the latest issue of Political Theory (requires subscription). It is a good review and puts the finger on what’s the real issue at stake here:

Lupton is at the forefront of contemporary Shakespeare scholars who read his plays not primarily through an historical lens (contextualizing their meaning in early modern England, seeking prior influences in Ovid, Plutarch, and Elizabethean theater) nor from a cultural-aesthetic perspective (pursuing how the plays function as dramatic works), but as open-ended texts waiting to be given contemporary valence… [Lupton incorporates] an equally variegated cadre of thinkers, including Aristotle, biblical sources, Gervase Markham, John Locke, Carl Schmitt, Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, and above all Hannah Arendt. Lupton’s effort to link Shakespeare’s dramatization of politics with its theorization in such authors is no easy task. But her book is a feat of interdisciplinarity, reflecting an erudition of Shakespeare scholarship, literary theory, and political theory that is profound and deeply impressive, and written with artful prose that is playful and smart…

It should not be forgotten, of course, that it is Shakespeare who continually propels Lupton’s thinking about politics and life. Lupton persuasively claims that it is precisely in the plays’ potent, trans-generational ability to elicit thought that any claim to Shakespeare’s universality as an artist must rest: “The universality of Shakespeare’s plays . . . [consists] not as a thesaurus of eternal messages but in their capacity to establish real connections with successive worlds shared and sustained by actors and audiences over time” (18). If Lupton is right about this universality, and I would wager she is, then her book must be read not only as a leading scholar’s expert interpretation of Shakespeare but an invitation to political theorists of all types to find sustenance in the Bard.

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