- Shakespeare’s Testament
Loving Justice, Living Shakespeare is a short book animated by a magnanimous idea: namely, that love and justice are not competing virtues requiring adjudication and compromise but rather fully compatible and complementary calls to action. Love is “the quality that gives value to all of life’s activities, as the final ideal of justice” (84). If impartiality and fairness remain the mainstays of justice, they are supplemented by an acknowledgment that the commitment to fairness is itself grounded in care for others and a desire for human connectivity (10). A loving justice is an abounding, world-sustaining virtue that renews the communities that administer it: in the words of the prophet Amos, “Let justice flow like water, and righteousness like an unfailing stream” (5:24; quoted in Schwartz, 14). Such a claim requires rich and thoughtful definitions of both love and justice. Justice will need to be positive, not negative, actively promoting human flourishing, not just protecting rights by preventing encroachments. And love cannot remain a private affect belonging to family life but must stretch beyond erotic attachment to encompass charity, communal feeling, and care for creation in its widening embrace.
To make this argument, which is essentially a religious one, Schwartz draws on a deep canon of writings about love and justice, especially the Bible and the intricate edifice [End Page 409] of Christian and rabbinic commentary that extends it in time and space but also the philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, Alain Badiou, and Jacques Derrida. She also turns in every chapter to the plays of Shakespeare, which she reads as experimental renditions of the difficult justice of neighbor love, a kind of third testament that moves beyond epochal divisions and confessional debate to articulate “biblical teachings” common to Jews and Christians, Catholics and Protestants, and available to theatergoers regardless of their beliefs (117).
Schwartz unabashedly processes this rich material through her own personal vocation as a lover of justice: the story of her mother’s illness and long decline and Schwartz’s battle with hospital counselors to prolong her mother’s life frame the book, and she returns frequently to her family history and personal commitments throughout its pages. There is a riskiness to such revelations (yes, they can sound preachy or self-righteous), but they are also courageous, as is the book as a whole. Schwartz leaves the comfort zone of academic historicism in order to invite Shakespeare’s plays to contribute to substantive conversations about the nature of human judgment and amity in our world today. Schwartz worked out the ideas for her book in seminars held in law schools, philosophy departments, humanities institutes, and religious studies programs, venues that indicate the scope of her interests and intended audiences. This is not a book for Shakespeareans (the reference to prior critical work on the plays in question being noticeably light), but precisely in avoiding the annotated archives of Shakespeare studies, Schwartz calls on Shakespeare scholars to take seriously the ethical potential of the works entrusted to our care.
The resulting book is both deep and readable, with insightful accounts of major works by Shakespeare that easily flow from text to world under Schwartz’s deft hand, and with an invigoratingly ecumenical and problem-based approach to scripture as a living resource for political thought. Whereas many readers of both Shakespeare and religion tend to map “justice” onto the Old Testament and “love” onto the New Testament, Schwartz insists on the unity of love and justice in the Hebrew Bible and the resulting confluence of a richly human-ist political thought shared across Jewish and Christian as well as Catholic and Protestant teachings. The commandment to love the neighbor originates in Leviticus 19:18, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” (quoted as an epigraph in Schwartz, 85), and Schwartz helpfully reads the passage as a guide to the virtues of forgiveness and the role of [End Page 410] rebuke in a practice of justice that emphasizes healing and rehabilitation...