SoE bannerFollowing the success of its conference on ‘Shakespeare and Waste’, Kingston Shakespeare Seminar in Theory seeks participants for a one-day conference on ‘Shakespeare and the State of Exception’ to be held on Saturday 19 December, 2015 at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames.

The concept of ‘the state of exception’, associated with Carl Schmitt’s book Political Theology (1922), and recently revisited by Giorgio Agamben in The State of Exception (2005), refers to the total or partial suspension of the juridical order.

Far from being a mere footnote in legal studies, ‘the state of exception’ became the basis for the notorious Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which Hitler used to authorise a twelve year state of emergency in Nazi Germany, starting on March 23, 1933.

Schmitt theorised that such a suspension of law is intimately connected with a concept of sovereignty whose origin is not merely political, but also religious. He called this ‘political theology’.

‘Political theology’ has had a long and important history in Shakespeare studies beginning with Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology and Walter Benjamin’s Origin of the German Tragic Drama.

Literary critics such as Julia Reinhard Lupton, Debora Shuger, Victoria Kahn, Richard Wilson, and Eric L. Santner have recently revitalised and deepened the discussion of ‘political theology’ in the Renaissance, to explore the relationship between sovereignty, religion, citizenship, and state sanctioned violence in Earl Modern Europe in light of theoretical contributions by Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, and Giorgio Agamben.

Regarding—or disregarding—this context, we invite abstracts for 20-minute presentations on the topic of Shakespeare and the state of exception. Papers might consider, but are not limited to, the following topics and questions:

  • Exploration of ontological or political ‘states’ of exceptionality and exceptionality in general in the works of Shakespeare.
  • State or status of exceptionality as an epistemological or ethical category, for example otherness in adaptations and performances of Shakespeare, perhaps in relation to the 21st century discourse on immigrants and refugees.
  • How is Shakespeare’s unique status as playwright entangled with issues of sovereignty and exceptionality? Consider, for example, Danny Boyle’s use of Shakespeare during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Summer Olympic Games or the famous copy of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, called the Robben Island Bible, inscribed by Nelson Mandela in prison.
  • The ‘state of exception’ is often described according to an apparent contradiction: it is a ‘suspension of the juridical order’ that is contained within that very order. How might Shakespeare’s conception of the Early Modern state be analysed in light of this complex topographical (inside / outside) metaphor?
  • The concept of ‘necessity’ is, according to Agamben, frequently asserted as the foundation for the ‘state of exception’. Consider the concept of ‘necessity’ in relation to law, nature, and human action in the Early Modern period and in Shakespeare.
  • Consider Early Modern political culture in relation to torture, surveillance, and extrajudicial imprisonment. How might these insights shed light on the continued ‘state of exception’ which justifies the ‘detainment’ of political prisoners in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp without due process?
  • Did sex offences in the Early Modern period produce a state of ‘exception’ in perpetrator and victim? Consider, for example, The Rape of Lucrece and its relationship both to suicide and the founding of Rome. Can such exceptionality give us insight into contemporary exceptional legal language surrounding sex offences, sex offender registries, and indefinite detention of sex criminals?

Please submit abstracts and brief CVs by emailing the organizers at before Friday 13 November, 2015.

Conference oganizers: Paul Hamilton, Timo Uotinen.

Further information: and

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Kingston Shakespeare Seminar in Theory (KiSSiT), part of the London Graduate School, is a forum for research by postgraduate students, postdoctoral researchers and early career scholars with an interest in Shakespeare, philosophy and theory. The program is committed to thinking through Shakespeare about urgent contemporary issues in dialogue with the work of past and present philosophers—from Aristotle to Žižek.


About kingstonshakespeareseminar

Kingston Shakespeare is the home of KiSS, and its offshoot KiSSiT. Both explore the world by thinking through Shakespeare.
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