Nathaniel Lee's Politics of Sovereignty

in Critical Survey
Aspasia Velissariou National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece

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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.

Contributor Notes

Aspasia Velissariou is Professor of English Literature and Culture at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. She has published widely on British drama, Restoration comedy, Jacobean tragedy and Shakespeare in connection with gender theory, seventeenth-century and contemporary political philosophy. Her work has appeared in, among others, The Journal of Beckett Studies, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Modern Drama, Themes in Drama, Restoration, Early Modern Studies, Texas Studies in Language and Literature, Papers on Language and Literature, Cahiers Elisabéthains, Law and Literature book series (De Gruyter) and Global Discourse. She has also written monographs on Wycherley, Congreve and Jacobean tragedy. Email:

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