- The Accommodated Animal: Cosmopolity in Shakespearean Locales by Laurie Shannon
Who is the accommodated animal of Laurie Shannon’s title? It is not man; as all Shakespeareans know, he is the unaccommodated one: “poor, bare, forked.” So what has happened to man’s vaunted superiority over all other creatures, his unique possession of reason, language, soul? In Shannon’s bracing account, the most perfect of creatures turns out to be distinctly defective. If our fantasies about Renaissance man have had us imagining otherwise, it is because our modern biases have blinded us to an earlier dispensation. The Accommodated Animal puts animals back into the early modern picture, by pointing to their sheer ubiquity and diversity (in texts, in everyday life), but primarily by arguing that animals then had a special claim to belonging, and not just in their own right, as animal rights advocates now argue, but by a god-given right, a primary and universal entitlement. With striking fluency and originality, Shannon sets out to retrieve from the long sixteenth century an all-inclusive model, lost to modernity, by which the world was consigned to all living creatures. She names the model cosmopolity.
Like cosmopolitanism, cosmopolity is a way of living in the world that is open to diversity, not to the races and nations of the world but to all its species of animal life. It is a blanket enfranchisement of living creatures, human and nonhuman, entitling them—unevenly but comprehensively—to the world they occupy. Surprisingly, this expansive cross-species dispensation derives not from biology, ethics, faith, or sentiment, but from politics. And it finds articulation not in political philosophy (for example, Aristotle’s discussion of constitutional forms in the Politics) but, also surprisingly, in the first book of the Bible: “Genesis establishes a sequence of fundamentally political relations between human and animals” (56). In Shannon’s reading of the first six days of creation, God frames not only a universe but a constitution that incorporates all living beings. Created within days of each other, all creatures are “endowed by their creator” (18), hold as birthright an interest in their cosmic habitat, “an earthly tenure” (49), possessing “legitimate, subjective investments in the world as fellow creatures” (248). When on the last day of creation, Adam is given sovereignty over all creatures, it in no way compromises that all-encompassing commonality.
Shannon’s interpretation, to be sure, deviates from the hexameral exegetical tradition, from Saint Basil through Luther and Calvin, in which creation is for the benefit of the sole creature created in God’s own image. If she is indeed the first to identify a cosmopolity or zootopia in Genesis, it may be because she is the first to read scripture’s most commented-upon book “as a constitutional lawyer would read it” (19), examining the opening verses as a “charter” (35) or “founding document” (36), prescribing laws for the coexistence of all the world’s inhabitants. And even after Eden, cosmopolity’s founding principles are binding. Despite the postlapsarian curse and sentence, despite the requirement of animal sacrifice, despite the [End Page 93] postdiluvial mandate that animals dread man and that man eat animals, the dispensation still holds, however less happily. Relations have deteriorated, to be sure, but the founding cross-species dispensation remains political, sanctioned by the supreme law of the land.
As Shannon demonstrates, the zootopian model is repeatedly indexed by references to animals as fellows, citizens, burghers, and denizens. But more frequently, it is invoked by its violation: humans abuse their hexameral advantage, depriving animals of their liberty, coercing their service, injuring them for use or for fun. Human rule turns from custodial to predatory; animal obedience once voluntary is enforced or refused. Sovereignty lapses into its classic Aristotelian opposite—tyranny, the bane of early modern political state formation—and animals suffer the consequence. As if to redress the balance, Shannon’s zootopian authors (Sidney, Gascoigne, and Nashe among them) defend the oppressed and indict the oppressor. The natural...