This dissertation is positioned at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and critical theory in order to explore the way early modern literature may be enlisted as a vehicle for a return to an ethically informed humanism, specifically with regard to…
This dissertation is positioned at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and critical theory in order to explore the way early modern literature may be enlisted as a vehicle for a return to an ethically informed humanism, specifically with regard to how Western culture currently understands the contingent categories of "life" and "the human." While a great deal of critical work is currently being marshaled in the field of biopolitics, scholarly focus continues to be placed on the materiality of the physical body, or what I term "biopolitical materialism."
What remains underexplored, however, is the reality that "life" and "the human" are deeply relational categories that should not be reduced to such material instances alone. Historically, and especially in the early modern period, "life" and "the human" are understood as interconnected and widely networked. Although such materialism indeed becomes solidified in the seventeenth-century, I seek to recuperate an ethical challenge to contemporary biopolitical materialism through an extended dialogue with early modern thinkers. By turning to works "in the Age of Shakespeare" I return attention to the originary epoch of what has been described as our "modern event horizon." I argue that within the very historical period that gives rise to the practice of biopolitical materialism exists a rich textual archive of resistance to this troubling phenomenon in the form of neighborly concern and the acknowledgement of shared creaturely estate.
Chapter One inaugurates my argument by turning to Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, reading as its central theme the tragic effect inherent to dissociating the individual from the community. The remaining three chapters attend to neighborly forms given expression in three of Shakespeare's late plays: Chapter Two considers the potential political orientation of grace in Measure for Measure; Chapter Three positions neighborliness as a series of posthuman encounters in The Winter's Tale; and Chapter Four explores an early modern understanding of hospitality as stewardship at work in Timon of Athens. I conclude by turning to philosophy and political theology in order to suggest a way to think "life" as an ethical relation with, in, and through "the Age of Shakespeare."