Richard Wilson – This Hideous Rashness: Shakespeare and the decision


A one-day seminar hosted by the Department of English Royal Holloway, University of London

Event Date: Friday 28 May 2010

The aim of the seminar is to provide a forum in which to debate the validity and value of treating Shakespeare as a philosopher or his plays as forms of philosophical thought, and of bringing philosophical perspectives, past or present, to bear on his plays and poetry.

Professor Richard WilsonThe Hideous Rashness: Shakespeare and the decision

Shakespeare’s plots turn on the tension between justice and positive law that became a focus for postmodern philosophy thanks to Derrida’s readings of Weimar thinkers Carl Schmitt and Walter Benjamin. For in play after play he stages the same perception as Montaigne, that ‘Laws are now maintained not because they are just, but because they are laws. It is the mystical foundation of their authority’. This lecture will therefore reflect on Shakespeare’s representation of the question confronted by these theorists of the state of emergency: “How to distinguish between the force of law of a legitimate power and the originary violence that must have established this authority and that could not have authorized itself by any anterior legitimacy?‟ (Derrida, ‘The Force of Law’). The presentation will finally consider how this ‘ordeal of undecidability’ squares with the current impatience with deferral and with the ‘rashness’ of recent Shakespeare criticism.

Richard Wilson is Professor of English Literature in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University, and is the author of Shakespeare in French Theory (2007); Secret Shakespeare: Studies in Theatre, Religion and Resistance (2004); and Will Power: Essays on Shakespearean Authority (1993).


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