Nathaniel Lee’s Politics of Sovereignty

in Critical Survey
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This article explores the chaotic violence in Nathaniel Lee’s tragedies, which, while clearly originating in the sovereign, by its sheer excess and blindness, is hypostasised as a motor of history. In Lee, violence is a reflection of the political anxieties surrounding the Exclusion Crisis but it is also intrinsic to the way he understands the nature of political life; in reality, it is constitutive of the very exercise of power. Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer I argue that sovereign violence is inscribed in a most savage form as the very foundation of the civil community, and, therefore, its autonomisation, as in Lee’s early plays, is only apparent. In Lucius Junius Brutus: Father of His Country (1680) the extreme sovereign assault on human life fully discloses its politically defined character because it is emblematically performed in the name of the institution of a new body politic, the Republic.

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