Baiting Shakespeare and Staging Sackerson: Spaces of Human/Animal Entanglement in Early Modern London

In a time that predated Descartes’ axiomatic division of soul and body (human and animal) in what is known as “Cartesian dualism,” Shakespeare’s early modern London was a space replete with human/animal entanglement. This essay explores the conceptual and physical spaces where this entanglement occurs both on and off the Shakespearean stage–from Aristotelian views on the soul and the “Great Chain of Beings,” to bear baiting (a spectacle that competed with the theaters for an audience) and animals appearing on the theatrical stage (including the human ones)–threading cultural and historical co-texts through the plays in order to reveal the entangled nature of human/ animal relations in Shakespearean drama. The essay is divided into three parts, beginning with a look at how early moderns thought about human and animal identities, then looking at various places were humans and animals engaged with each other in early modern London, followed by a close reading of King Lear informed by Foucault’s Madness and Civilization and Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign.

By Danilo Caputo

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