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The University of Hong Kong
"Kill all the lawyers": Shakespeare's (Negative) Political Spirit

This talk re-examines the notorious Jack Cade scenes of Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI, which include the famous rebel cry, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. I will argue that Shakespeare’s representation of the breakdown of the body politic, including into the chaos of the so-called “mob scenes”, raises the shadow of a more just political community.  The paper forms part of a larger project that seeks to read Shakespeare’s drama as a negative mode of political thought. It pursues something of a phenomenology of political spirit that looks to the creative potential of experiences of negativity, failure, impasse, disruption, and dreams. In pursuing Shakespeare’s negative spirit, the project operates as a counterpoint and corrective to the often positivist way in which scholarship has discussed the intersection of Shakespearean drama and politics.


Nicholas Luke is an Assistant Professor in the School of English at HKU. Nick’s work focuses on early modern literature, how we receive it, and why it still matters. His first book, Shakespearean Arrivals: The Birth of Character (Cambridge University Press, 2018), argues that contemporary criticism fails to do justice to the ongoing power of Shakespeare’s tragic characters and seeks to re-establish the concept of character on new philosophical and theatrical foundations. Nick’s current research re-examines the vexed question of Shakespeare’s engagement with religion through the theme of resurrection.

(In-person Seminar Only)