Law and Critique

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 63–81 | Cite as

Hobbes’ Frontispiece: Authorship, Subordination and Contract

  • Janice RichardsonEmail author


In this article I argue that the famous image on Hobbes’ frontispiece of Leviathan provides a more honest picture of authority and of contract than is provided by today’s liberal images of free and equal persons, who are pictured as sitting round a negotiating table making a decision as to the principles on which to base laws. Importantly, in the seventeenth century, at the start of modern political thought, Hobbes saw no contradiction between contractual agreement and subordination. I will draw out these arguments by comparing three images of politics that employ the human body: Hobbes’ frontispiece is compared firstly with an earlier picture of the state, the illustration of the Fable of the Belly, and then with a later Rawlsian image of the social contract described above. At stake is Hobbes’ view of two associated concepts: authorship and authority. I argue that Hobbes’ image is a vivid portrayal of a ‘persona covert’, akin to the feme covert, a wife characterised in common law as so dominated by her husband that she is imagined as being ‘covered’ by his body.


Authorship Carole Pateman Hobbes’ frontispiece Leviathan Subordination 



I would like to thank Justin Clemens for inviting me to Melbourne University’s Conference on Genre, Affect and Authority in Early Modern Europe, where I started to discuss the frontispiece of Leviathan. Thanks also to the anonymous referees.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawUniversity of MonashMelbourneAustralia

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