“‘a passion so strange, outrageous, and so variable’: The Invention of the Inhuman in The Merchant of Venice”

Stefan Herbrechter

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationPosthumanist Shakespeares
    EditorsStefan Herbrechter, Ivan Callus
    Place of PublicationBasingstoke, UK
    PublisherPalgrave
    Pages41-57
    ISBN (Print)9780230360907
    Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2012

    Bibliographical note

    Author's note: (The book this chapter is published in) - The volume co-edited by Ivan Callus and myself in which this essay contribution is published has been included in the prestigious Palgrave Shakespeare Series. It contains essays by a number of high-profile Shakespearean scholars and theorists (e.g. Neil Rhodes, Bruce Boehrer, Gabriel Egan, Andy Mousley, and Adam Max Cohen). Posthumanist Shakespeares is a critical investigation of the relationship between early modern culture and contemporary political and technological changes concerning the idea of the “human”. The value of the collection lies in extending a posthumanist paradigm to interpretations of Shakespeare, and in demonstrating how posthumanism can be in turn read back by Shakespeare’s work. What emerges from Posthumanist Shakespeares is that the encounter between posthumanism and Shakespeare studies, far from being unlikely, is productive for both fields and can lead to a critical rethinking of both, recasting questions concerning time, life, death, science, technology, and the nature of the human.
    My introduction to the volume builds on aspects first developed in Herbrechter (2011) and presented as an invited speaker at the interdisciplinary conference on “Humankinds: The Renaissance and Its Anthropologies”, Munich, July 2009. It brings together Shakespeare studies and posthumanism for the first time in a systematic way and explains the mutual benefits that reading Shakespeare from a posthumanist and postanthropocentric perspective today provides. In fact, it argues for a mirror relationship between early and late or posthumanism along the lines that new historicism and cultural materialism proposed in relation to early and late or postmodernity.
    My own essay contribution to the volume provides the first systematic posthumanist reading of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. It extends and problematises Harold Bloom’s provocative claim that Shakespeare should be credited with the “invention of the human” as far as our modern understanding of character is concerned. The contribution critically evaluates the possibility that in inventing the human, Shakespeare – being situated at a crucial transition point in relation to emergent modern humanism – might as a result also be credited with a critical awareness of the “invention of the inhuman” that modern humanism depends on as its “other”. This hypothesis is then supported by a reading of various aspects of “inhumanity” in The Merchant and critically related to the current debate on the figure of the “posthuman”.

    Cite this

    Herbrechter, S. (2012). “‘a passion so strange, outrageous, and so variable’: The Invention of the Inhuman in The Merchant of Venice”. In S. Herbrechter, & I. Callus (Eds.), Posthumanist Shakespeares (pp. 41-57). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.