Philip Lorenz. The Tears of Sovereignty: Perspectives of Power in Renaissance Drama.
Philip Lorenz begins and ends his first book, Tears of Sovereignty, with an image: James I burning Francisco Suarez's A Defense of the Catholic Faith against the Errors of the Anglican Sect. This image stands as a metaphor for what he sees as the tension between competing views of sovereignty, and Lorenz uses Suarez's text to set his work apart from previous studies. Tears of Sovereignty, for better or worse, is not a historicist work. Lorenz states explicitly that this study is "not a historicist one. Instead, it focuses on a different sense, in which the specific representational capacities of theater as a medium participate in the historical formation of the concept of sovereignty" (19). Instead of viewing the theater's relationship to sovereignty through a historicist lens, new or otherwise, he understands the history of sovereignty through the lens of theatre. Some readers may view this push against historicism as a welcome beginning to an insightful study of the theatre's effect on sovereignty, while others might view this as a means to an arguably anachronistic interpretation of whose links to one another feel forced and tenuous at best.
Lorenz accomplishes his non-historicist study by exploring the movement by which sovereignty is first being represented by the body of the king to subsequently being understood as an abstract space. This he does by examining Suarez's treatise alongside Shakespeare's Richard II, Measure for Measure, and The Winter's Tale, Lope de Vega's Fuenteovejuna, and Calderon de la Barca's Life is a Dream. By placing these texts in conversation with one another, Lorenz suggests that we can see the development of ideas about sovereignty as shaped and determined largely by the tropes of the theatre. Sovereignty must be understood through its tropes, for "without these terms, there is no sovereignty. Sovereignty is troped or not at all" (25). Lorenz devotes the rest of the book to demonstrating how the theater's depiction of the tropes of sovereignty "captures and complicates" our understanding of the tropes of sovereignty "captures and complicates" our understanding of early modern concepts of sovereignty.
Lorenz uses Richard II and Measure for Measure to illustrate how understandings of sovereignty change. In Richard II, sovereignty is initially understood as embodied in Richard himself. By the end of the play, according to Lorenz, sovereignty can only be understood through analogy and when viewed through "fragmentation and distortion" (50). Lorenz then complicates and further explores this idea by using Measure for Measure to argue that sovereignty functions through substitutions and transfers of power--what he calls "organ transplants." The play demonstrates "sovereignty's continuing need for metaphorical substitution" (92). The body of the king both represents and substitutes for the power of the sovereign, allowing "the power of sovereignty" to be seen as tangible (87). Lorenz argues that "Shakespeare's staging of sovereignty as substitution presents a glimpse of the imminent replacement of one representational mode, centered on the symbolic body of the ruler, by another, in which power is already beginning to break off from the king's physical body and assume another form" (95).
Then, in a move some readers may find compelling and others may question, Lorenz suggests that Lope de Vega's text is in conversation with Measure for Measure, arguing that "Fuenteovejuna troubles the transplant solution, presenting in its place a complex staging of resistance, at both the representational and conceptual levels" (140). In so doing, Fuenteovejuna creates a story of public resistance to tyrannical rule. Because of this resistance to rule, the play "interrupts the representational transfer of bodies," leaving the power of sovereignty somewhere between the monarchs and the villagers. Lorenz locates Lope's view of sovereignty's power in the power to keep people waiting, as evinced by the villager's eternal waiting for the next Commander.
Calderon de la Barca presents another view of sovereignty in Life is a Dream, in which sovereignty is depicted less as being represented in the body of a king and more in the conceptual space about kingship. Consequently, Life as a Dream presents a view of sovereignty that moves away from representation as a single body to a more fragmented representation through multiple characters. As in Richard II, sovereignty in this play is represented as fragmented and distorted, and the power of sovereignty has shifted from the king's body to the "reader able to decipher the signs of the times" (174). All power, even the king's power, is "loaned power," transferred from the political community to the king (190). Allegory and language become increasingly important to our understanding of sovereignty as it moves from a physical embodiment in the king to a more abstract space.
Lorenz uses The Winter's Tale to connect his previous chapters to one another and to bring his sprawling argument about conceptions of sovereignty back to his opening point: that it is understood primarily through the theatre. Lorenz argues that The Winter's Tale complicates Life as a Dream's tidy narrative in which sovereignty moves "'from body-to-space,' frequently recounted in political histories" (205), by locating the power of sovereignty not in allegory or language but in the stage and "its machinery of wonder, without which no sovereignty effects would be possible in the first place" (233). Lorenz returns to Suarez to explore the difference in metaphor and representation, as understood through the differences in Catholic and Protestant interpretations of real presence in the Eucharist. Representation, according to Suarez, is to make present, and consequently "the Text itself is the 'body/ and commentary is the spirit that reanimates it--and us along with it" (235). What The Winter's Tale does, ultimately, is unveil a "structure of theatricality ... upon which modern sovereignty increasingly comes to rest" (237).
Tears of Sovereignty presents a view of the development of modern conceptions of sovereignty, locating this development, and our conceptions of sovereignty, in the theatre and its depictions of the tropes of honor, sovereignty, and the state of exception. Lorenz's book spans nations and centuries, and while the links between the two may be tenuous, Tears of Sovereignty ultimately presents an insightful view of the development of sovereignty during the early modern period.
Elizabeth Reinwald, University of Alabama
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2014|
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