The Tears of Sovereignty: Perspectives of Power in Renaissance Drama

The Tears of Sovereignty: Perspectives of Power in Renaissance Drama

The Tears of Sovereignty: Perspectives of Power in Renaissance Drama

The Tears of Sovereignty: Perspectives of Power in Renaissance Drama


A comparative study of the representation of sovereignty in paradigmatic plays of early modernity, The Tears of Sovereignty argues that the great playwrights of the period - William Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, and Calderon de la Barca - reconstitute the metaphors through which contemporary theorists continue to conceive the problems of sovereignty. The book focuses in particular on the ways the logics of these metaphors inform sovereignty's conceptualization as a "body of power." Eachchapter is organized around a key tropological operation performed on that "body," from the analogical relations invoked in Richard II, through the metaphorical transfers staged in Measure for Measure to the autoimmune resistances they produce in Lope's Fuenteovejuna, and, finally, the allegorical returns of Calderon's Life is a Dream and Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. The "tears" of sovereignty are the exegetical tropes produced and performed on the English stages and Spanish corrales ofthe seventeenth century through which we continue to view sovereignty today.


… as though literature, theater, deceit, infidelity, hypocrisy, infelicity,
parasitism, and the simulation of real life were not part of real life!

—Jacques Derrida, Limited Inc., 90

Sovereignty Is Burning

On December 1,1613, England’s King James I ordered that a book, A Defense of the Catholic Faith against the Errors of the Anglican Sect (Defensio fidei), by the Jesuit theologian and philosopher Francisco Suárez, be burned in front of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. The Spanish Ambassador to England, Diego Sarmiento de Acuña (Count of Gondomar), described the scene to Spain’s King, Philip III, in the following letter:

[T]oday at noon, by order of the Archbishop of Canterbury who has
jurisdiction over London, a minister preached in the cemetery of St.
Paul’s Church and in the midst of his sermon produced the book of
Father Suarez together with one of Becan [the Jesuit Van de Beeck]
and one of Scioppius. After he had informed the people of the
contents, he pitched the books down from the height of his pulpit
and ordered them to be burned. Immediately on the spot two sacks
of books were thrown into the flames.

Prior to this event, a series of diplomatic exchanges between the English and Spanish courts had led up to James’s order to burn Suárez’s Defense. As Suárez’s biographer, Joseph Fichter, recounts,

For almost two years the English ambassador at the court of Philip
III in Madrid knew of the impending attack, and like a reliable
military scout kept his monarch informed. If the element of surprise
was thus eliminated from Suarez’ assault, that of anxiety was steadily
increased, and when it was finally accomplished it spread like the
shrapnel of a high explosive in the camp of the enemy.

Suárez’s book landed in England like a bomb, not only challenging Royalist claims that James’s power was directly derived from God but . . .

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