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  • Loving Justice, Living Shakespeare by Regina Mara Schwartz
  • Philip Goldfarb Styrt (bio)
Loving Justice, Living Shakespeare. By Regina Mara Schwartz. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xii + 142. $29.95 cloth.

Ultimately, Regina Mara Schwartz’s Loving Justice, Living Shakespeare is not about Shakespeare. The other three words in the title—“loving,” “justice,” and [End Page 131] “living”—are her focus; Shakespeare supplies the main texts that Schwartz uses to explore the connections among them. For Schwartz, the plays reflect a vision of justice rooted in love—a vision that emanated from the Hebrew Bible, was reinforced in the Christian Bible, and then disappeared during the transition into modernity. Schwartz wrote Loving Justice to correct this change and to critique modern philosophical and political conceptions of justice that miss the religious aspect of how “justice flows readily from love” (14). She wants “to put love back on the map of human justice,” as she notes in the brief afterword to the book (121).

The book is grounded in Schwartz’s experience of her mother’s end-of-life care, and the inadequacies she sees in a system in which the value of her mother’s love was considered secondary to economic or utilitarian concerns. She builds to a history of various theories of justice, arguing how over time love “has been marginalized or even exiled . . . from political, economic, legal thought, and largely, even from philosophy” (4) in modern Western culture. She asserts that we should look instead to “religious understandings of justice” (7), in particular the biblical idea that we should love the stranger. She recommends discarding “theories of justice as fairness” (13) in favor of “living under the regime of love” (14). The first chapter ends with a brief historicizing discussion of Shakespeare, suggesting that in his time “the preoccupation with justice was expressed as the oft-repeated biblical command to love the neighbor” (14) and that as a result Shakespeare wrote “a drama that often depicts justice as love” (16).

Schwartz next focuses on the Hebrew and Christian Bibles’ versions of love and justice, demonstrating the difficulty modern thinkers have had in integrating biblical accounts of love into their own models of justice. She is particularly interested here in the (apparent) exceptions to the biblical rule of love for all: the anathematization of idolaters and the sheer violence of the biblical narrative. In her reading, “the biblical name for injustice is Idolatry” (32), and thus “loving justice does not command one to love the moral monster” (35). Instead, there are “enemies of justice” who must be opposed, although true justice requires differentiating them from mere “political enem[ies]” (35).

The third chapter turns to Shakespeare. Using examples from King Lear, Sir Thomas More, and Romeo and Juliet, Schwartz posits that modern conceptions of love do not account for love’s power to connect with and influence people. She argues that, as with the rioters in Sir Thomas More, as a result of Lear’s initial injustice, he “must learn to love the stranger or he will never be ethical and never be Lear” (46), even though that love is itself painful or even destructive. The Romeo and Juliet section is the most interesting, as Schwartz suggests that “the public narrative of their love” (61) retold by Friar Laurence ends the feud, not the lovers’ deaths alone. This chapter is very strong on love, but sometimes loses sight of justice, especially when discussing Romeo and Juliet.

In chapter 4, Schwartz dives into “The Economics of Love” and The Merchant of Venice, positing that the play warns against “the economic model of social relations,” which she believes has consumed modern conceptions of justice (81). She argues in particular against the work of Richard Posner, although it is odd in this context that she cites his Economics of Law and Economics of Justice and not his actual writing on the play in question (most notably in Law and Literature). Perhaps Schwartz finds [End Page 132] Posner’s approach to the play itself just as lacking as she finds his general theory. But the choice to cite only his earlier work on economic justice...


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