Foundations of Sovereign Authority: The Example of Shakespearean Political Drama
Forthcoming book chapter in: Shakespeare and Authority (K. Halsey & A. Vine, eds., Palgrave, 2016-17)
25 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2016
Date Written: March 24, 2016
As post-Renaissance Europe creates modern concepts of statehood and sovereignty, figures like Bodin, Grotius, and Hobbes undertake ‘constructive’, system-building theories of sovereign authority. Dramatists, in the meantime, are de-constructing sovereignty by unsettling the divergent bases of authority and legitimacy claimed for it. Concepts like ‘rule of law’, ‘popular consent’, or ‘natural law’ often serve to characterise rival legitimacy claims, but such concepts’ scope and interrelationships can be vague. This essay proposes a vocabulary and topology of legal and political authority within early modern drama. Two core categories — ‘right’ and ‘duty’ — are introduced to analyse legitimacy claims more precisely. Those, in turn, attach to twin normative claims, identified as legal ‘transcendence’ and legal ‘positivity’. Hence four basic types of legitimacy claims, each constantly defining itself in contrast to the others: ‘transcendent right’, ‘transcendent duty’, ‘positive right’, and ‘positive duty’. As those exercising or seeking power manoeuvre through their various legitimacy claims, they enact the scope and limits of the claims themselves, pointing us towards ‘deconstructive’ theories of sovereign authority.
Keywords: Absolutism, Divine Right, Early Modern Law, Legal History, Legal Theory, Law & Literature, Machiavellianism, Natural Law, Sovereignty
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