Arendt and Shakespeare: Rethinking Four Fundamental Political Concepts
Kaouk, Theodore Frederic
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Scholars have long noted the role Greek tragedy plays in the articulation of Arendt's claims about what she calls the "anti-political" tradition in Western thought, but no one has explored the ways Shakespeare bears on her political philosophy. This is especially noticeable, given that Arendt recurs to Shakespeare in numerous books and essays, and in her personal correspondence. Nevertheless, political scientists have overlooked Shakespeare in Arendt studies and equally absent from Shakespeare criticism have been Arendtian theories of the political that have much to tell us about Shakespeare's work. This dissertation makes visible the palimpsest-like quality of those Shakespearean texts whose anachronisms are conceptual rather than material. Their "rich and strange" pearls invite us to consider the history and transformation of some of the most fundamental concepts in Western political thought. By layering Christian and classical notions of freedom in The Rape of Lucrece, a poem whose subject concerns the foundation of Roman political freedom, or by constellating in Coriolanus classical and early modern notions of what it means to be a citizen, Shakespeare allows us to see, as if for the first time, the fate of the modern political world and the anti-political impulses that often drive its metamorphoses. My twin goals are to discover why Shakespeare and performance play such an important role in Arendt's political philosophy, and to explore the saving power that the Shakespearean corpus might still have for our capacity to think politically today.