Political Aesthetics in the Era of Shakespeare

Political Aesthetics in the Era of Shakespeare

Edited by Christopher Pye

This book examines the relationship between art and politics in the work of William Shakespeare and others in the early modern era, with a focus on the relation between aesthetics and sensory experience. From the 1980s, the turn to political concerns in Renaissance studies was dictated by forms of cultural materialism that staked their claims against the aesthetic dimension of the work. Recently, however, the more robustly political conception of the aesthetic formulated by theorists such as Theodor Adorno and Jacques Rancière has revitalized political aesthetics generally and early modern studies in particular. For these theorists, aesthetics forms the crucial link between politics and the most fundamental phenomenological organization of the world, what Rancière terms the “distribution of the sensible.”
Taking up this expansive conception of aesthetics, Political Aesthetics in the Era of Shakespeare suggests that the political stakes of the literary work—and Shakespeare’s work in particular—extend from the most intimate dimensions of affective response to the problem of the grounds of political society as such. The approaches to aesthetic thought included in this volume explore the intersections between the literary work and the full range of concerns animating the field today: political philosophy, affect theory, and ecocritical analysis of environs and habitus. At the same time, political aesthetics holds its own distinctive promise for reopening the question of the relation between art and the political domain. This collection will be an important resource for students of Shakespeare and the Renaissance, and for those interested in the promise of current political and aesthetic theory.

About the Author

CHRISTOPHER PYE is the Class of 1924 Professor of English at Williams College.

“This is an excellent collection of essays by some of the most interesting scholars working early modern studies today. The essays collected here demonstrate why the aesthetic remains a fundamental topic of critical inquiry for early modern studies. Extending well beyond formalist analysis with which it is most often associated, this volume helps us understand how the aesthetic is foundational to any understanding of social being, political community, and the environment.” —Graham Hammill, author of The Mosaic Constitution: Political Theology and Imagination from Machiavelli to Milton

Political Aesthetics in the Era of Shakespeare inaugurates a much-needed reconsideration of aesthetics in early modern literature. Rejecting an assumption that has prevailed in the study of Shakespeare for nearly four decades—that the aesthetic has to be rejected or overcome to arrive at the political and historical—this collection promises a refreshing new critical direction for the study of Renaissance literature.”—Christopher Warley, author of Reading Class Through Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton

“This terrific collection puts into dialogue two categories—aesthetics and politics—that are often treated as opposites in literary studies. In probing the 'intricate complicity' of these categories in the early modern period, this book provides a conversation of the best kind: provocative, rigorous, punctuated by independent perspectives, and characterized throughout by a sense of social ethics that illuminates from within literary questions so that they matter afresh.”—Rachel Eisendrath, author of Poetry in a World of Things: Aesthetics and Empiricism in Renaissance Ekphrasis.

“We will be a long time yet working out the relationship between the terms “politics” and “aesthetics,” and the areas of experience, allied or inimical, that they have come to name. This collection offers us a longer history of the problem than is sometimes recognized, and a series of new, surprising perspectives: those of a distinguished group of scholars, and of many-minded William Shakespeare, across his career, his sources, and his afterlife.”—Jeff Dolven, author of Senses of Style

“The significance of aesthetic experience for social formation and political possibility is one of the central questions of our time. Whereas most accounts of this take their orientation from Kant or post-Enlightenment developments, or from 'perennial' questions about the relation of art to politics, Early Modern Political Aesthetics gives us a valuable window onto an early modernity in which 'political aesthetics' in our modern sense starts to take recognizable form.”—Paul Kottman, author of Love as Human Freedom.