- The Tears of Sovereignty: Perspectives of Power in Renaissance Drama by Philip Lorenz
The central concept of this book hinges around a play on words in the title: specifically, a double entendre for the word “tears,” which can mean the product either of weeping or shredding of fabric. What is conveyed by this word play is at once a destruction and a nostalgia for what has been destroyed. So what we have here is a narrative—trendily postmodern, with an “After-Image” instead of a conclusion—but nonetheless a fairly teleological narrative of disintegration and reconstruction/restoration of the sovereign ruler. The pattern here is cyclical, as may be seen in the (mostly) alliterative titles for the chapters: “Breakdown,” “Reanimation,” “Resistance,” “Transformation,” and “Return.” The author offers a unique take on Ernst Kantorowicz’s famous formulation of the king’s two bodies with the introduction of such complicating metaphors as organ transplant. The spice he adds to this updating of an old and familiar, but yummy, recipe consists of apparently farfetched but relevant cinematic allusions, such as to Pedro Almodóvar’s 1999 film All About My Mother. Combine this with a very au courant theoretical framework of a hodgepodge of European political philosophers, most notably Giorgio Agamben, and you have what is in the end a substantial, well-nuanced, and sophisticated comparative study of representations of sovereignty in early modern Spanish and English drama.
The authors offered for consideration here are the familiar ones: William Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, and Calderón de la Barca. And one potentially regrettable fact is that the plays discussed in each case are the same old worn-out canonical fare: Richard II, Measure for Measure, and The Winter’s Tale for Shakespeare; Fuenteovejuna for Lope deVega; and Life is a Dream for Calderón. But this is the rare book that actually manages to say something relatively new about each play. This is no small accomplishment, and the author is to be congratulated both for his incisive analysis of each of the works in question and for the creative ways in which he combines disparate elements from two distinct national dramatic traditions. Seldom has this reviewer seen so genuinely comparative a study as this one.
The phantom haunting the entire text of this book is the Jesuit theologian Francisco Suárez. I say “phantom” not because he is not there explicitly, but because he got burned—literally, or at least his work did, in a spectacular bonfire scene that opens this book. On December 1, 1613, almost exactly 400 years ago, King James I of England ordered a ritual burning of Suárez’s work Defensio fidei in front of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. As Lorenz so eloquently states, “Suárez’s book landed in England like a bomb, not only challenging Royalist claims that James’s [End Page 569] power was directly derived from God but also threatening to undermine the king’s authority over the bodies and souls of his subjects” (1–2). In essence, Defensio fidei was a casuistical defense of revolution and civil disobedience; it authorized the use of violent force, under certain circumstances, to resist and even overthrow a king. Basically, it justified regicide. For those erudite readers such as James who could understand enough Latin to grasp fully the implications of his argument, this was heady stuff indeed.
One possible weakness of Lorenz’s presentation is that by the time of King James’s reign, Latin had already ceased to be so pervasive as it was in former eras. (Clear evidence of this appears in George Ruggle’s contemporaneous play Ignoramus , in which Latin is literally demonized by association with demonic possession.) There is probably a limit to how pervasive his ideas could really be if fewer and fewer people were able to read and comprehend them. But nonetheless, Lorenz is right to identify Suárez as the most important anti-sovereignty thinker of his era; and as such, he hovers over the text of this book like...