Shakespearean Territories

Shakespearean Territories

by Stuart Elden

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Shakespeare was an astute observer of contemporary life, culture, and politics. The emerging practice of territory as a political concept and technology did not elude his attention. In Shakespearean Territories, Stuart Elden reveals just how much Shakespeare’s unique historical position and political understanding can teach us about territory. Shakespeare dramatized a world of technological advances in measuring, navigation, cartography, and surveying, and his plays open up important ways of thinking about strategy, economy, the law, and colonialism, providing critical insight into a significant juncture in history. Shakespeare’s plays explore many territorial themes: from the division of the kingdom in King Lear, to the relations among Denmark, Norway, and Poland in Hamlet,  to questions of disputed land and the politics of banishment in Richard II. Elden traces how Shakespeare developed a nuanced understanding of the complicated concept and practice of territory and, more broadly, the political-geographical relations between people, power, and place. A meticulously researched study of over a dozen classic plays, Shakespearean Territories will provide new insights for geographers, political theorists, and Shakespearean scholars alike.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226559193
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 12/17/2018
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Stuart Elden is professor of political theory and geography at the University of Warwick. He is the author of several books, including The Birth of Territory, published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Divided Territory: The Geo-politics of King Lear

"Divided in their dire division"

As subsequent chapters will show in more detail, many of Shakespeare's fairly rare uses of the word "territories" have a sense close to "lands." People are banished from territories, welcomed into them, or ownership is asserted or disputed. Some of the instances come in the early Henry VI plays. Together with Richard III these plays are now known as Shakespeare's first tetralogy, though they are unlikely to have been conceived as that while being written. Division of territories is a key theme through these four texts. The plays are episodic, covering a large part of the reign and overthrow of the king, but some key themes can be identified. In particular, the division of territories becomes ever more tightly focused throughout their dramatic action. Part 1 — possibly written after the other two parts — concerns the wars with France, and part 2 the wars internal to England, while part 3 focuses even more tightly on the splits between the rival families of York and Lancaster. In Richard III the eponymous character murders many of his own family members to claim and maintain the throne, before being overthrown by Henry Tudor, who becomes King Henry VII and unites the families of York and Lancaster through marriage.

In Henry VI, Part 1, the gains made by Henry V are shown to be very fragile, and the Earl of Suffolk promises the territories of Anjou and Maine to France in order to secure Margaret of Anjou's wedding to the young king. He is greeted by the Reignier, the Duke of Anjou, with "Welcome, brave earl, into our territories," and concedes, "That is her ransom. I deliver her, / And those two counties I will undertake / Your grace shall well and quietly enjoy." Richard, Duke of York, bemoans the loss of these lands, gained by bloodshed and now given away in "effeminate peace," and anticipates "the utter loss of all the realm of France." Charles the Dauphin anticipates this weakness, arguing that he is already "possessed / With more than half the Gallian territories," and intends to become "viceroy of the whole." In other words, he already holds more than half as "lawful king," and is unwilling to exchange the reverence he gets for this status with the control of the whole in a less senior role.

This story continues into Henry VI, Part 2, where the "articles of contracted peace" are read in the opening scene. Among them is the clause that says, "the duchy of Anjou and the county of Maine shall be released and delivered to the King her father." The Duke of Gloucester admits he cannot bear to see the territories gained by his brother's wars given away so easily. He fears the loss of all France, something that comes to pass later in the play when the Duke of Somerset says, "That all your interest in those territories / Is utterly bereft you; all is lost." Gloucester is accused of treason, and blamed for the loss, and later murdered. But the King eventually agrees that the Duke of Suffolk is "banished fair England's territories." Salisbury says that this needs to be done to appease the people.

In Henry VI, Part 3, the struggle is over who should be king of England. Henry declares:

I am the son of Henry the Fifth,
Who made the Dauphin and the French to stoop And seized upon their towns and provinces.

Warwick replies that he should "Talk not of France, sith thou has lost it all," which Henry blames on others in his childhood: "The Lord Protector lost it and not I. / When I was crowned I was but nine months old." While most of the focus in these plays is on elite struggles, Henry VI, Part 2 also has a class struggle, led by Jack Cade. Cade leads a revolt of working men to London, though he is defeated by the aristocracy. Cade flees to the country, and through hunger seeks food in a private garden. There he is confronted by the owner and killed. As Stephen Greenblatt has noted, in this scene, "status relations ... are being transformed before our eyes into property relations."

At the very end of Richard III, Henry Tudor surveys the battlefield, and seeks to create a new state of affairs in England. He remarks:

We will unite the white rose and the red. ...

England hath long been mad, and scarred herself:
The brother blindly shed the brother's blood;
The father rashly slaughtered his own son;
The son, compelled, been butcher to the sire.
All this divided York and Lancaster,
Divided in their dire division....

Abate the edge of traitors, gracious Lord,
That would reduce these bloody days again And make poor England weep in streams of blood.
Let them not live to taste this land's increase That would with treason wound this fair land's peace Now civil wounds are stopped; peace lives again.
That she may long live here, God say amen.

This is an interesting and powerful passage, seeking to mend the broken land of which he has become king. The two roses of York and Lancaster symbolized the division of the Plantagenet family. One couplet has caused editors and commentators some pause, because it seems like the Folio's "Divided, in their dire division" may be corrupted. York and Lancaster are "united" in their division, the one thing that they share; and indeed some editions of the text emend in this way (Norton and Oxford). The Norton edition glosses the emended line as "joined by hatred, having nothing in common but mutual antagonism." Jacques Lezra has provided a particularly interesting reading of these lines. This speech is, for Lezra, "perhaps the least equivocal assertion of the so-called Tudor myth of history to be found in Shakespeare's work and surely his most obscure treatment of political 'division.'"

It is important to recognize that the earlier Quarto text is not quite the same, reading "Deuided in their dire deuision," which Lezra suggests provides "a nice play on device. How important this technology might be is unclear. The division is not just between York and Lancaster, but within them, as Richard III has especially shown. For Lezra, "surely this would suggest, not that 'dire division' divided the two camps, but rather that York and Lancaster shared at least this: that both camps were divided, each within each, each against the other." In joining together the two roses, the two families, through his marriage to Elizabeth, Richmond is clearly trying to unite something that has been divided. Lezra argues that "the 'dire' political division between York and Lancaster and within each camp has now been replaced by 'union' between two distinct orders of submission: the 'submission' of the subjects to the sovereign, and the 'submission' of his (or her) speech to the 'fair ordinance' and the 'will' of God." In addition, Richard's brief reign was a division between legitimate kings, "the division that Richard provoked in the fabric of British history, which Richmond now heals," a lineage that Richmond seeks to rejoin in his accession to the throne. "We who listen to Richmond are in consequence divided from Richard's division and from the divisions shared by York and Lancaster, apart from them and united as a result of this division from 'division.'" But all this is division within the kingdom, not division of the kingdom.

In contrast, King Lear is divided within, and divided between. It is a remarkable play about space and in particular the politics of space. The focus of this chapter is what might be called the "geo-politics" of King Lear, its politics of earth, of land, of the geo. This focus has three parts: the opening scene with its division of territory, the wider politics of land in the play, and the more figurative use of the term "earth."

"Interest of territory, cares of state"

The most intriguing of the passages from the Henry VI plays concerning "territories" is the report from Lord Somerset: "That all your interest in those territories / Is utterly bereft you; all is lost." "Interest" here clearly shows that there is a political issue beyond a more economic one, control over and legal title to, rather than simple possession. It also has a sense of the terrain over which, and for which, a struggle of competing forces may take place. This passage is strikingly similar to the way the word "territory" is used in King Lear. In the play's opening scene, Lear is conducting a ceremonial division of his kingdom between his three daughters and their husbands. Along with As You Like It, this is one of only two plays in which the singular "territory" is used by Shakespeare, though here notably only in the Folio text. The first thing that Lear says is that Gloucester should "attend the Lords of France and Burgundy," suitors for his youngest daughter's hand. He then begins:

Meantime, we shall express our darker purpose.
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided In three our kingdom; and 'tis our fast intent To shake all cares and business from our age,
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we Unburdened crawl toward death. Our son of Cornwall,
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
We have this hour a constant will to publish Our daughters' several dowers, that future strife May be prevented now.
The two great princes, France and Burgundy,
Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love,
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters —
Since now we shall divest us both of Rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state —
Which of you shall we say doth love us most,
That we our largest bounty may extend Where nature doth with merit challenge.

At least, that is how it is in the composite text that is usually used of King Lear, which builds on the later Folio The Tragedy of King Lear (1623), but usually incorporates material that was originally in the earlier Quarto The History of King Lea r (1608) that does not appear in the Folio. There were also several, though fewer, lines found in the Folio but not in the Quarto, including in this passage the remark concerning territory. The differences between the texts have given rise to the contention that there are actually two King Lears, with the 1623 text representing Shakespeare's revisions. The couplet specifically invoking "territory" only appears in the Folio edition. Look at the text of each of these editions for this speech.

The Folio certainly appears a more polished text, with several differences in the first few lines: the diffuse "darker purposes" becomes the particular and comparative "darker purpose"; there is the telling replacement of "of our state" with "from our age," presumably because of amplifications to come; and that of "years," already implied by "younger," with "strengths," indicating force and political power. It is difficult to see how the Quarto could simply be a corrupted version of some lost original. In both texts Lear proclaims that the division has already been made, and that the map he asks for presumably shows this. The Folio has lines that include the indication of Lear's wish to live out his remaining time free of concerns; ones that more clearly indicate the relations to Cornwall and Albany, the establishment of the plural dowers, and the attempt to head off future conflict. He wants to hand over the burdens — "cares and business" — to a younger generation, to his sons-in-law and the daughters married to them, and his third as-yet unmarried daughter. Goneril is married to the Duke of Albany, and Regan to the Duke of Cornwall, and in the Folio at least it appears in large part that Lear is aiming this redistribution at them more directly than the daughters themselves. A few lines later there is the explicit, parenthetical noting of what exactly is at stake: rule, territory, state. Finally, in the last line of this passage, the meaning is subtly different: instead of this being simply to do with merit, there is now a reference to the conflict between merit and nature, worth and familial ties.

For Goneril and Regan, the request is straightforward. They are both able to praise their father and state their love for him in hyperbolic terms. Goneril says that her love for him is "Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty / Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare." Regan begins by saying, "I am made of the self-same mettle that my sister is, / And prize me at her worth." She then quickly adds, "Only she comes too short ... the most precious square of sense possesses." The language of both sisters is striking — not just professions of love, but spatial, calculative, and economic. These, of course, are also the characteristics of the lands they seek and are quickly rewarded with. It would appear that the two elder daughters are, only now, receiving their dowries. Lear tells Goneril of her portion of the kingdom:

Of all these bounds, even from this line to this,
With shadowy forests and with champains riched,
With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads,
We make thee lady. To thine and Albany's issues Be this perpetual.

While the characteristics of the lands are outlined, the most important aspect is their boundary, the division being marked on the map. Lear also, continuing the importance of his lineage, seeks to cement a hereditary principle for Goneril and Albany's descendants. He rewards Regan with "To thee and thine hereditary ever / Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom / No less in space, validity, and pleasure, / Than that conferred on Goneril." The division is clearly predetermined, a division into thirds, even before Cordelia has spoken.

The hereditary aspect is clearly in his mind when he turns to Cordelia too, noting that it is to her "young love / The vines of France and milk of Burgundy / Strive to be interessed." He asks her what she can say "to draw / A third more opulent than your sisters." Given that the previous two parts have already been distributed, this may appear to be a false question. Alternatively Lear may be stressing the malleability of these territorial divisions, with the parts given to the first two sisters provisional rather than fixed, subject to amendment by his sovereign decision. Yet Cordelia refuses to act like her sisters. Instead she responds by saying, "Nothing, my lord." Lear believes this to be a mistake, replying, "nothing will come of nothing," and urging her to "speak again." "Nothing" is a rich term in the play, being both a slang term for the vagina (no thing) and the spatial category of the void, both important in understanding the play's situation in the early seventeenth century. Cordelia clarifies: she loves her father "according to my bond; no more nor less." Cordelia was put in an impossible position: she was required to love her father entirely while at the same time taking a husband. She highlights this concern: "Why have my sisters husbands, if they say / They love you all?" Her future husband, she suggests, "shall carry / Half my love with him, half my care and duty," and she will "never marry like my sisters." Of course, Lear entirely misses that Cordelia probably loves him more than either of her sisters, and simply is unwilling to join their obsequious display. Yet this honesty, and her true love, yield no reward: Lear tells her, "Thy truth, then, be thy dower." The remainder of the play develops from this point onward, leading to the madness of Lear and his late reconciliation with Cordelia, before their deaths. King Lear is a play that is fundamentally structured by this division of land.

Lear's initial plans were already known before his entry onto the stage. This is clear because in the opening lines of the play the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester are discussing this. Kent tells Gloucester that he had thought that the King had preferred or "affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall." Gloucester agrees this was the case in the past:

It did always seem so to us; but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the Dukes he values most; for equalities are so weighed that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.

"Moiety" means a share or portion, and Kent and Gloucester seem to think there could be no complaint from either for their allotment. Lear's entry is a ceremony, with each daughter expected to play a particular role. Kent and Gloucester's awareness further seems to indicate that the future relations between Cornwall and Albany is the key issue, with lands given to them, rather than to the daughters they have married. Albany was the old name for Scotland, probably including parts of modern-day northern England; Cornwall was much larger than the modern county of that name, and included large parts of the southwest and some of Wales. It too was formerly a separate kingdom. (James Shapiro suggests that this was a topical reference to King James and his two sons.) When Shakespeare wrote the play, the eldest son of King James, Henry Frederick, was Duke of Cornwall and later Prince of Wales. Given their status as dukes in the northern and southwestern extremities of the British Isles, Lear is either giving Albany and Cornwall additional lands contiguous to their existing claims, or stressing their status as first-order rulers rather than just landowners. The plan, clearly, is to reserve the central part of the island for Cordelia, with a view to his own retirement in this region. As such, given this is already so predetermined, the key motive behind his love test may be to decide whom Cordelia marries, presumably following her father's wishes if her love for him is true and absolute.


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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsIntroduction: Shakespearean Territories
Chapter 1: Divided Territory: The Geo-politics of King Lear
Chapter 2: Vulnerable Territories: Regional Geopolitics in Hamlet and Macbeth
Chapter 3: The Territories: Majesty and Possession in King John
Chapter 4: Economic Territories: Laws, Economies, Agriculture, and Banishment in Richard II
Chapter 5: Legal Territories: Conquest and Contest in Henry V and Edward III
Chapter 6: Colonial Territories: From The Tempest to the Eastern Mediterranean
Chapter 7: Measuring Territories: The Techniques of Rule
Chapter 8: Corporeal Territories: The Political Bodies of Coriolanus
Chapter 9: Outside Territory: The Forest in Titus Andronicus and As You Like It
Coda: Beyond Pale Territories
References to Shakespeare’s Plays

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