Citizen-Saints: Shakespeare and Political Theology

Citizen-Saints: Shakespeare and Political Theology

by Julia Reinhard Lupton


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Turning to the potent idea of political theology to recover the strange mix of political and religious thinking during the Renaissance, this bracing study reveals in the works of Shakespeare and his sources the figure of the citizen-saint, who represents at once divine messenger and civil servant, both norm and exception. Embodied by such diverse personages as Antigone, Paul, Barabbas, Shylock, Othello, Caliban, Isabella, and Samson, the citizen-saint is a sacrificial figure: a model of moral and aesthetic extremity who inspires new regimes of citizenship with his or her death and martyrdom.

Among the many questions Julia Reinhard Lupton attempts to answer under the rubric of the citizen-saint are: how did states of emergency, acts of sovereign exception, and Messianic anticipations lead to new forms of religious and political law? What styles of universality were implied by the abject state of the pure creature, at sea in a creation abandoned by its creator? And how did circumcision operate as both a marker of ethnicity and a means of conversion and civic naturalization?

Written with clarity and grace, Citizen-Saints will be of enormous interest to students of English literature, religion, and early modern culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226143521
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 02/22/2014
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Julia Reinhard Lupton is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Afterlives of the Saints: Hagiography, Typology, and Renaissance Literature and coauthor of After Oedipus: Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis.

Read an Excerpt

Shakespeare and Political Theology

By julia reinhard LUPTON
The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2005 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-49669-6

Chapter One
Citizen Paul

* * *

Why should a study of Paul stand in the forecourt of a book on Shakespeare and citizenship? I argue here that Paul's assertion of Roman citizenship rights, first at Philippi and later in Jerusalem, binds Western citizenship to the Pauline corpus in ways that resonate in and beyond Shakespearean drama, linking monotheism and its discontents to a classical juridical frame. Paul's acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah would have monumental consequences for the future of his religion(s), Judaism and/as Christianity, each in a volatile state of redefinition before, during, and because of Paul's life and work. Paul's archetypal conversion from Judaism to a Christianity constituted in part by that conversion makes him a critical figure for thinking through the troubled legacy of Judaism to the imaginative world created by Shakespeare. And the Shakespearean reference point is crucial here, even when it is invisible: I write not as a theologian or a scholar of the New Testament, but rather as a reader of Shakespeare concerned to map a particular conceptual convergence-that between the saint and the citizen, or more broadly, between a theology of exceptionalism and a politics of the norm-as it manifests in Shakespeare's plays. Such tragic and tragicomic characters as Shylock, Othello, Caliban, and Isabella undergo a passage, real or imagined, voluntary or forced, from a situation before or under a particular legal order to a point beyond it, a passage that can take the form of conversion, naturalization, manumission, marriage, or some mix of these modes of radical status change. In each case, moreover, this point beyond is not otherworldly but this-worldly, associated with the social, sexual, economic, and political functioning of a politea-a constitution, a commonweal, a citizenry. Each of these characters must in effect die into citizenship, into an equalizing form of civic membership and social interchange that requires the renunciation of claims to distinction that had imbued their previous lives with an intensity of purpose verging on the charismatic.

Paul, in his life and work, offers a paradigmatic, even foundational, moment of this death into citizenship. Such a sacrificial passage is part of the classical mythos of citizenship, as developed, for example, in the genre of the public funeral oration, which in collectively burying the citizen-soldiers of the democratic polis also symbolically put to rest epic arête founded on the distinctiveness of the great aristocratic families and their master-leaders. The otherwise quite different stories of Antigone and Hercules dramatize a similar itinerary; both of them become icons for political orders they can join only in death. Paul's death into citizenship differs from the classical paradigm because he sets off on the road to Rome-to the imperial trial guaranteed to him as a Roman citizen-as a consequence of his conversion on the road to Damascus. When he crosses from the jurisdiction of the Jewish to that of the Roman court, Paul in effect completes his definitive mapping of Jewish law as a local affair whose peculiar practices must be subsumed and refigured by the universal order promised by the Messiah to all nations. In transferring his case from Jerusalem to Rome, Paul's epic legal journey symbolically legislates a translation and transvaluation of Jewish law that marks it as particular in relation to the universal, reserving for Judaism a quotient of historical significance as a point of original covenant but restricting the continued authority and validity of its codes.

This chapter draws on recent scholarship concerning Paul's relationship to Judaism. Running counter to both patristic and Lutheran insistences on the deep differences between Paul's early life as a Jew under the law and his later life as a Christian through faith, a strand of largely postwar Pauline studies has striven to recover the Jewish grounds and halakhic precedents for Paul's thinking about the law. These studies lie behind my Shakespearean appropriations of Paul, whose ongoing debts and loyalties to Judaism drew into Christendom a significant burden of Jewish tropes, ideas, and commitments, even when functioning under the sign of disavowal. However, in narrowing the gap between Paul and Judaism-in showing just how Jewish Paul remained (and, conversely, just how "Christian" Judaism could be)-the revolutionary and epochal, as well as destructive, character of Paul's work threatens to slip out of sight. One must always confront the bedrock truth that Christianity is not Judaism, that Paul represents a crucial moment in their break, and that laws associated with the creation and preservation of a covenantal community-especially circumcision and the dietary laws-are the frequent focus, if not indeed object of attack, of Paul's discourse on Jewish-Gentile relations. Daniel Boyarin, a leader in the field of Jewish cultural studies, has devoted a book to the cultural politics of Paul's letters and their reception and concludes that, although Paul's project "is not anti-Semitic (or even anti-Judaic) in intent, it nevertheless has the effect of depriving continued Jewish existence of any reality or significance in the Christian economies of history."

This chapter uses the category of citizenship, in dialogue with recent work on Paul, to mount an assessment of Paul's legacy that both links Shakespeare to Judaism via Paul and accounts for the tropes of obdurance and legalism that confine the spirit of Judaism to the prison-house of the particular in the Gentile imagination. In this analysis, "citizenship" ultimately provides a more fruitful category than "culture" because it acknowledges local practice (Aristotle points out that there are as many definitions of citizen as there are cities [Politics 1275a]), while outlining a template of universal equivalences and civic participation for those who are entered into its set. Moreover, precisely because of its mediation of universal and particular categories, citizenship is not a concept that belongs to any one group as its rightful inheritance, even if (and as) it passes through many hands in the course of its articulation and expansion. Saul/Paul of Tarsus, as we shall see, shared in at least three distinct citizenship traditions: the Hellenistic city-state, the nation of Israel, and the Roman Empire. These multiple memberships, as they play out in his life and work, offer one explanatory ground for Paul's e=orts at community-building in different cities and among different citizen-groups in the ancient world.

Paul's real and epistolary journeys to Rome effect a symbolic translatio westward of Jewish civic themes, linking the destiny of the Jews to that of the classical and European political tradition. Yet Paul does so by evacuating the central mark of membership in Israel, namely the covenant of circumcision, of its continued validity. Once circumcision has been raised to the level of a symbol, the rite itself suffers degradation into the material reminder of a legal primitivism. In Shakespeare's era, the ranks of the circumcised would include not only the Jews of Paul's Epistles but also the Muslims, who in their Arab and Ottoman waves represented the greatest imperial threat to Western territory and values in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance. The knowledge of the law epitomized by the Jewish and Muslim adherence to circumcision meant that these groups had both more affinity with and more resistance to Christianity than the Gentile barbarians encountered in New World travels. As we will see in subsequent chapters, the difficult dialectic among those before, under, and beyond the law will demarcate the several civil spaces of Shakespeare's plays, giving them a local habitation and a name in relation to ever-expanding and resituating universal frames. My goal is not to relocalize or delegitimate those frames in the name of individual cultures (be they Hebrew, Moorish, Irish, or Caribbean) but rather to recall the integral dream of universalism to its dialogue with diverse citizenship rites and routines, and the calculus of sacrifice they regulate. The following reading of Paul, neither an apology nor a critique, aims instead to provide a founding instance of such a civic recollection, isolating in order to gather in the particular strands of legal, social, and religious thought that feed into the norms and dreams of citizenship.

Paul on the Road to Rome

In his General Economic History, Max Weber derived the conditions of Western citizenship from a three-act drama of Judeo-Christian innovation that culminated in Paul's Gentile mission:

For the later period in the West three great facts were crucial. The first was prophecy among the Jews, which destroyed magic within the confines of Judaism; magical procedure remained real but was devilish instead of divine. The second was the Pentecostal miracle, the ceremonial adoption into the spirit of Christ that was a decisive factor in the extraordinary spread of the early Christian enthusiasm. The final factor was the day in Antioch when Paul, in opposition to Peter, espoused fellowship with the uncircumcised. The magical barriers between clans, tribes, and peoples, which were still known in the ancient polis to a considerable degree, were thus set aside and the establishment of the Western city was made possible.

Weber associates Pauline universalism with the possibility of modern citizenship as a measure of formal equality before the law. At stake in Paul's decision to pursue "fellowship with the uncircumcised"-that is, to break bread with Gentile Christians-were dietary laws and circumcision, two bulwarks of Jewish law (halakhah) concerning the formation and maintenance of a distinct and distinctive community in covenant with God. Paul's letter to the Galatians records his conflict with Peter at Antioch and applies it to Judaizing counter-forces in Galatia (Gal 2). Chapter 3 of Galatians ends with Paul's famous suspension of the law in favor of unrestricted membership in Christ: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). In annulling ethnic, caste, and gender differences around the table laid by the Church, Paul sketched a blueprint for radical equality that runs through the subsequent history of the Christian West as a model of political fellowship, an excuse for coercive conversion, and a continued call for social change.

Linking Paul's universalism to the foundation of postclassical citizenship, Weber does not note that Roman citizenship played a key role in Paul's life. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul twice evokes his rights as a Roman citizen when he is arrested for subversive activities, rejecting the authority of local laws in order to claim a broader set of immunities. These legal acts of the apostle in turn have implications for Paul's theological and missionary articulations of Jewish- Gentile relations in his letters. Citizenship as a category is mobilized in Paul's life when he crosses from a local to a general jurisdiction or inhabits several jurisdictions at once. For Paul, citizenship is always multiple, indicating a split among allegiances and laws. J. G. A. Pocock, one of the great theorists of the republican tradition in the last century, takes the case of Paul as an example of the transformations that citizenship had undergone since the Athenian ideal of the citizen as a political animal:

A famous narrative case is that of Saint Paul announcing himself as a Roman citizen.... An Aristotelian citizen, ruling and being ruled, took part in the making or determining of the laws by which he was governed. There had been a time when civis Romanus had similarly denoted one who participated in the self-governing assemblies of republican Rome. But Paul-who is not a Roman, has never seen Rome, and will find no assembly of the citizens if he ever gets there-means something quite different. By claiming to be a Roman citizen, he means that of the various patterns of legally defined rights and immunities available to subjects of a complex empire made up of many communities, he enjoys access to the most uniform and highly privileged there is.

Citizenship under the Empire was largely passive, a collection of specific rights and protections rather than a mode of civic engagement. Citizenship was by no means a universal category, but rather "a precise expression of one particular set of rights and duties" in a world of multiple municipalities and complex status relations. Built on the Greek model of city-states, yet awkwardly applied to an increasingly larger territory, Roman citizenship remained attached to the city of Rome-cives, like polites before it and burgher after it, means city-dweller, and always retains an urban referent. Neighboring Latin communities enjoyed an intermediary status between full Roman citizenship and peregrini, or free foreigners, who were usually citizens of their own municipalities but not of Rome. Foreign soldiers became citizens upon discharge (a model relevant to my reading of Othello's death into citizenship), and the emperor could also grant citizenship to whole communities of foreigners (peregrini) or to outstanding individuals. Manumitted slaves, however, were automatically granted citizenship; they lept over the category of peregrine directly into that of citizen, and this condition was then passed on to their children.

Paul was either the son of manumitted slaves, according to traditions that date from Jerome, or the son or grandson of a solider awarded citizenship on the basis of outstanding service to Rome. When Paul claims immunities as a Roman in Acts 22:29, the Geneva commentary of 1599 notes that this designation is "Not by nation, but by the law of his city of birth [Tarsus]," acknowledging the provincial mediations and naturalization processes which preceded Paul's inheritance of Roman citizenship. In Paul's peregrinations through various Roman provinces and municipalities (Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus), he is subject to local law, but as a citizen of Rome, he is also entitled to certain privileges and legal protections, including "provocatio (the right to appeal after trial) ... and the right of an accused citizen to choose either a local or a Roman trial"-rights that Paul will call upon in Jerusalem, sending him on the road to Rome. In the provinces, moreover, citizens were usually exempt from flogging, an immunity that Paul would assert in Philippi, though only after undergoing this punishment (Acts 16:22-23).

Although Roman citizenship was an exclusive category, its coexistence with the citizenship laws of the provinces was key to the Empire's relative stability. The imperial law of Rome maintained its wide reach by recognizing and tolerating local practices that were indifferent to or did not touch upon matters of essential order. Judaism was recognized as a religio licta or legal religion. In times of relative peace, two jurisdictions could coexist simultaneously, above all in religious affairs: while early on Rome had tried to suppress the bewildering diversity of foreign cults, it soon learned that the best means of control was toleration. Boaz Cohen summarizes the jurisdictional situation in Roman Judea: "[A]fter the subjugation of Palestine, Jewish and Pagan tribunals had concurrent jurisdiction in civil matters. The rabbis censured those Jews who carried their disputes before pagan judges for settlement. However, if one of the litigants was a Roman citizen, it was necessary to have the issue referred to a Roman judiciary." Records show that diasporic Jewish communities in Alexandria and Sardis were recognized as politeuma, that is, organized bodies of citizens within a Hellenistic city; the synagogue was the site where political matters concerning these communities were conducted, and to which issues deemed of internal significance were referred. Yet Roman civil courts were operative in the same civic sphere as Jewish ones, as evidenced in the words of one rabbi, "'In all places where you find agoriot-non-Jewish courts in the marketplace-even if they have the same laws as Jewish law, you are not permitted to use them.'" Moreover, unlike the Greeks and the Jews, the Romans distinguished the authority and origins of civil law from those of divine law; the principle "Fas lex divina ius lex humana est" (Religious prescriptions [fas] are divine, while civil law is human) aided the acceptance of Roman law by European groups in the Middle Ages.


Excerpted from citizen-SAINTS by julia reinhard LUPTON Copyright © 2005 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

A Note on Texts
1. Citizen Paul
2. Deformations of Fellowship in Marlowe's Jew of Malta
3. Merchants of Venice, Circles of Citizenship
4. Othello Circumcised
5. Antigone in Vienna
6. Creature Caliban
7. Samson Dagonistes
Epilogue: The Literature of Citizenship: A Humanifesto

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