Identification, Alienation, and ‘Hating the Renaissance’
This essay places political Shakespeare from the 1980s in the context of neoliberal economic transformations that gave rise to the Occupy movement, underfunded public higher education, and left students vulnerable to a market-oriented undervaluation of the humanities. Given the current conjuncture, it argues that cultural materialism and other forms of political criticism seeking to demystify powerful agents of social reproduction need to be rethought. Political criticism risks seeming undialectical: it takes Shakespeare’s positive value for granted and thereby dismisses students’ hard-won literacy, their skill in negotiating and taking pleasure in difficult texts. Extrapolating from the classroom, the essay argues ignoring students’ desire to identify with characters and establish an affective relationship to Shakespeare risks their alienation—the opposite of what we’d wish to accomplish.