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Shakespearean Cosmopolitanism: Hospitality, Cynicism, Indifference

A session for RSA 2016 in Boston.

Session Organizer: Kevin Curran (University of Lausanne)

Session Chair: Ayesha Ramachandran (Yale University)

Cosmopolitan Hospitality in The Merchant of Venice

Kevin Curran (University of Lausanne)

Abstract: The Merchant of Venice is Shakespeare’s most determinedly cosmopolitan play, presenting an array of border crossings and visitations among a religiously, nationally, and ethnically diverse community of friends and enemies. This paper explores the role of hospitality in cosmopolitan political life—the way greeting, feasting, and accommodation are used to manage encounters between insiders and outsiders in the play. Particular attention is given to the idea of “cosmopolitan hospitality,” which Immanuel Kant defined in Perpetual Peace (1789) as “the right of a foreigner not to be treated with hostility.” In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare takes up some of the same questions about curating political space that interest Kant in his essay. Importantly, though, Shakespeare also explores the limits of cosmopolitan hospitality. Throughout the play we see how sacrifice and persecution unsettle rituals of autonomy and inclusiveness. Ultimately, I argue, hospitality in The Merchant of Venice offers both a way to express cosmopolitanism’s greatest aspirations and a way to chart its inevitable failures.

Cosmopolitan Dogs: Foucault’s Indifference and Shakespeare’s Cynical Divestments

James Kearney (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Abstract: In his final lecture series at the Collège de France in 1984, Michel Foucault addressed Diogenes the Cynic specifically and the cynical tradition in Greek philosophy generally as part of his late work concerning ethics, practices of the self, and the “courage of truth.” Attending to cynicism as a mode of philosophical and political critique, Foucault reflects on “adiaphoros bios,” a lived practice of indifference that both sanctions and demands a cosmopolitan perspective. According to legend, Diogenes (4thC BCE) coined the term cosmopolitan when he denied allegiance to any local or particular polity and claimed that he was a citizen of the world (kosmopolitês). For Foucault, central to cynicism’s radical performance of political and philosophical critique as mode of life is its embrace of an “unlimited” divestment of both material possession and socio-political identity. In this paper, I address scenes of radical divestment in Shakespeare (Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, King Lear) – scenes informed by the cynical inheritance in early modern Europe – in order to discuss the ways in which Shakespeare dramatizes and wrestles with the ethical and affective demands of lived indifference and the impossible ideal of cosmopolitan identity.

Hidden Hospitality: Shakespeare and Early Modern Cosmopolitanism

Sheiba Kian Kaufman (University of California, Irvine)

Abstract: An integral component of harmonious coexistence is exercising hospitality toward the stranger, yet in Shakespeare’s Venetian plays, Othello and The Merchant of Venice, potential hospitable encounters take place off-stage or beyond the bounds of the play, leaving only the consequences of the exchange as markers for evaluating the success or failure of hospitality in the play. Moments of hidden hospitality in Othello and Merchant are primers in deciphering the extent of Shakespeare’s global visions, and offering through such narrations a means to measure the range of cosmopolitan impulses in the period. A key text that openly explores hospitable acts towards strangers sprouting from an earlier Shakespearean germination of the problems of plurality is The Travels of the Three English Brothers (1607). This paper considers how Shakespearean potentialities of interreligious and intercultural exchange manifest in this textual reception and suggests that reading Shakespeare’s narrations of hidden hospitality through parallel scenes of manifest hospitality between English Christians and Persian Muslims in Travels provides a more nuanced vision of early modern cosmopolitanism.

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