Academic journal article Parergon

Cosmopolitanism and 'Strange Flesh' in Antony and Cleopatra

Academic journal article Parergon

Cosmopolitanism and 'Strange Flesh' in Antony and Cleopatra

Article excerpt

Shakespeare's Rome is a dark, conflicted place, a walled city frozen at moments of crisis. Embattled and bloody, besieged from within by a barbarian queen as in Titus Andronicus, or threatened from without by the lure of foreign bodies as in Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare's ancient Romans often experience the negative cultural consequences of travel. My examination of Antony and Cleopatra's engagement with travel and identity begins with Caesar's speech (I. 4. 56-71) about Antony's intemperance in Egypt. (1) Caesar contrasts Antony's present activities with praises of his endurance when famine struck as he crossed the Alps, and Antony survived by eating 'strange flesh' (I. 4. 67). I will argue that 'strange flesh' works as a metaphor, in this speech and in subsequent key points in the text, to articulate two different models of cosmopolitanism, oppositional strategies for negotiating with strangers and others. In Antony's case, 'strange flesh' signals self-annihilation. His obligations to strangers sever him from his Roman 'brother' Caesar, and align him, instead, with Rome's greatest enemy, the Carthaginian general, Hannibal, who crossed the Alps into Italy. In the second model of cosmopolitanism, Caesar and Rome swallow the world's 'strange flesh' to remake it in their image. Whereas Antony is devoured by the 'strange flesh' of the world, Caesar consumes the world's 'strange flesh' through a form of imperial metonymy. Turning from guest to host, he incorporates the other into the body of Rome.

I. On Cosmopolitanism

Western cosmopolitanism often rests on the oppositional energies of persons simultaneously bound to local and to global loyalties. Attachment to a particular polis suggests ensuing obligations to a home, a community to whom citizens owe allegiance, while the contradictory pull of the cosmos demands commitment to the rights of strangers outside the community. Ideally, cosmopolitans regard voyaging as facilitating 'conversation in its older meaning, of living together, association'. (2) Ancient Stoics, followed by Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, influenced Christian intellectuals to value cosmopolitanism's connection between humans. However, cosmopolitanism's moral and political legacy for contemporary thought is more precisely located in the early seventeenth-century writings of Hugo Grotius and Enlightenment writers such as Immanuel Kant. (3)

Post-Kantian cosmopolitanisms in literary and cultural theory, philosophy, politics, and the social sciences often examine cultural transitions in the 'interstices of the old and the new'. (4) Competing cosmopolitanisms examine schisms in global citizenship, human rights, refugee camps, diasporaic identities forged through deracination and exile, the rights of guests, and obligations for the rights of others. Collectively they also mark shifts in centres and peripheries. (5) Without an identifable 'central current of thinking and theorizing', writes David Harvey, contemporary cosmopolitanisms often disagree 'apart from a generalized opposition to the supposed parochialisms that derive from extreme allegiances to nation, race, ethnicity, and religious identity'. (6) Despite significant differences, convergences emerge. Seyla Benhabib points to the general recognition that cosmopolitans' dual allegiances to polis and cosmos compel them to 'live caught in the permanent tug of war between the vision of the universal' and attachments to 'particularistic cultural and national identities'. (7)

In early modern England, cosmopolitan sensibilities were enmeshed in this 'tug of war'. Shifting assessments of England's position in the globe shaped attitudes towards global or cosmopolitan exchanges. (8) Visual and textual representations of the globe put England in conversation with the larger world. Visually, terrestrial globes and maps, and their images in depictions such as the Armada portrait (1588) where Queen Elizabeth rests her hand on the globe, spurred English nationalism but also urged 'an awareness of an expanding world'. …

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