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The Law’s First Subjects: Animal Stakeholders, Human Tyranny, and the Political Life of Early Modern Genesis

The Law’s First Subjects: Animal Stakeholders, Human Tyranny, and the Political Life of Early Modern Genesis

Chapter:
Chapter One (p.29) The Law’s First Subjects: Animal Stakeholders, Human Tyranny, and the Political Life of Early Modern Genesis
Source:
The Accommodated Animal
Author(s):
Laurie Shannon
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226924182.003.0002

During Shakespeare’s time, attributions of a wild and “beastly” ferocity, or an animalistic taste for blood of tyrants, were received merely as common rhetoric. A tyrant, as John Ponet called him after all, was a “monstre and a cruell beast covered with the shape of a man.” However, Bottom’s wording of a certain phrase in his part in A Midsummer Night’s Dream—“chief humor is for a tyrant a part to tear a cat in”—maps tyranny across species in the opposite manner. This example introduces the chapter’s chief aim: the pursuit of the ways living creatures before Descartes were held to have shared a regime of orders or laws that governed them commonly. Today “animal rights” go up against a certain grain of presumptions about consciousness and language, whereas in the past there was a sense of profound ambivalence of humanness that left space for greater cognizance of nonhuman claims.

Keywords:   John Ponet, Bottom, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Descartes, animal rights, ambivalence of humanness, nonhuman claims, tyrant, Shakespeare

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