Over the past several years I have been working on a project which uses a number of Shakespeare’s plays to think through various aspects of the question of territory.
In my previous books on territory – Terror and Territory and The Birth of Territory – I argued that as well as obviously being a geographical and political issue, territory should be understood through an interrogation of economic, strategic, legal and technical concerns. The aim of this approach was not to provide a better single definition of territory, but rather to identify the aspects which would need to be interrogated to understand how territory has been understood, contested and practiced in different times and places.
Shakespeare seems to me to be an interesting figure to use to explore these, and other questions in relation to territory. While he only uses the words ‘territory’ and ‘territories’ rarely in his plays, the concept and practice is not at all marginal to his work. A number of his plays are structured around questions of exile, banishment, land politics, spatial division, contestation, conquest and succession. Shakespeare was writing at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century: a time when the modern conception of sovereign territory was emerging. He therefore helps us understand its variant aspects, tensions, ambiguities and limits.
In this planned book, the plays to examine are chosen because they help to exemplify different aspects of the question of territory – conceptually, historically, and politically. I began with King Lear, a play I discuss briefly in The Birth of Territory, but have expanded the discussion of what Lear means when he relinquishes ‘interests of territory, cares of state’ and divides the kingdom between his daughters and their husbands. In working on that play, and presenting a reading of it, I was led to examine other plays, and this was the genesis of the current project. In the second chapter I provide what might be called ‘geopolitical’ readings of Hamlet and Macbeth to discuss the vulnerabilities of territory, the strategic, struggles and conquest. I use Richard II to explore economic issues, and the opening scenes of Henry V, supplemented by Edward III, to examine legal ones. I also explore the technological aspects of some of the plays, of which the key example so far is the map scene in Henry IV, Part One.
Yet Shakespeare cannot be read entirely instrumentally, and his plays do not neatly fit into a pre-existing schema, even one as intentionally expansive as mine. The map scene in Henry IV, Part One requires us to examine the physical landscape as much as representations of it, and in Coriolanus there is a stress on bodies which forces an examination of the organic, the corporeal. In examining King John, and the near-contemporary anonymous play The Troublesome Reign of King John, I focus on the linguistic uses of the term ‘territories’, and in particular the shift from a possessive to a definite article. The colonial aspects of territory are crucial in The Tempest, of course, but I supplement a reading of that play with Shakespeare’s ‘Eastern Mediterranean’ plays – Othello, Pericles and Anthony and Cleopatra. Finally, I explore what might lie outside of territory, through a reading of Titus Andronicus and As You Like It.
In using these plays the plan is to illustrate the multi-faceted nature of territory as word, concept and practice, and to shed light on the way we understand territory and, in turn, territorial disputes today.
Two early versions of the material from this book have been published – in Law and Literature on King Lear (open access); and a chapter in Jenny Edkins and Adrian Kear, International Politics and Performance on Coriolanus.
Some parts of this work have also been presented as lectures:
- Divided Territories: The Geo-politics of King Lear – audio recording of lecture in New York (February 2012)
- Corporeal Territories: The Political Bodies of Coriolanus – audio recording of lecture at Aberystwyth (February 2013); previously given at Edinburgh (July 2012).
- Economic Territories: Farming the Realm in Richard II – audio recording of lecture at Purchase College, SUNY (April 2015), earlier version of lecture also given in Newfoundland (March 2013) and Nottingham (May 2012)
- Contested Territories: Placing the Histories – audio recording of lecture on Henry V at Oxford (November 2012)
- Colonial Territories: Antony and Cleopatra, Othello, Pericles and The Tempest – audio recording at York (January 2013)
- Vulnerable Territories: External Powers in Hamlet and Macbeth – audio recording of lecture discussing Hamlet at Warwick (October 2012); and of a substantially revised version at the Huntington Library (October 2016)
The opening parts of these lectures are generally similar, it’s just that I use different examples. There are also recordings of overviews of the project at Durham (November 2012) and Warwick (October 2013) – the latter was for school children and has examples from King Lear and Hamlet at the beginning. I also gave a talk entitled “Why Should People Interested in Territory Read Shakespeare?” as the St John’s Public Lecture in Philosophy, in the Peter Easton Pub, St John’s, Newfoundland (March 2013); a brief overview at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (October 2013); and a public lecture at the University of New South Wales entitled “Territory from Shakespeare to Geo-politics”, which discussed King Lear, Hamlet, Henry V and Henry IV Part I (March 2015) .