Peter Kishore Saval, Shakespeare in Hate (London, Routledge, 2016), 170pp., ISBN 9781138850873, £95.00 (hb). Reviewed by: Paul Hamilton

Hatred is older than love.

It is, for Freud, the original transgression – not of the sinner, but of the world of ‘un-pleasure’ impinging on the narcissistic ego, establishing the distinction between ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, and confronting it with its incapacity to exclude what it doesn’t want and incorporate what it wants.

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As Peter Saval recounts in Shakespeare in Hate, every experience of desire recalls that primeval loss of the illusion of self-containment and the encounter with an external world that can never be fully managed, but only accommodated. As a consequence, the experience of love is the confrontation with limitation, whereas hatred is infinite.

While psychoanalytical criticism, inaugurated by Freud, gives rise to the latent world of the individual psyche, with its defensive structures and disavowed emotion, it sacrifices a fidelity to the very experience that causes critics and audiences to fall in love with Shakespearean drama in the first place: most importantly, for Saval’s study, the extravagant liberation of anti-social emotions. Is the disturbing charisma of a Richard III or the captivating menace and cruelty of an Iago really susceptible to psychoanalytical explanation? And what about the dizzying seesaw of rival emotional claims and judgments in which Shylock and Antonio, for example, are locked, in a bloody contest that can only end in death or disgrace for one of the two characters?

For Saval, Shakespearean theatre affords audiences the freedom to experience antisocial emotions such as hatred – so often carefully policed in our professional lives. Such passions are not a ‘problem to be solved’, but an ‘intensification of our world’ (12). They ‘impinge on us, challenge us’ (13) not only with terrifying capacities within ourselves that we might not wish to recognize, but with a world of emotional claims that unsettle our fundamental assumptions about ourselves.

To quote the Shakespeare critic, Ewan Fernie, with whom Saval’s critical spirit has some kinship:

A good question of any theory or philosophy is: what kind of model or image of life – realized, say, in novel form – would it express? If we cannot imagine it as anything other than hopelessly thin or facile, then it is simply not suitable to the dense complexities of art. (The Demonic, 2013, 5)

Saval also seeks a criticism that does not present a ‘hopelessly thin or facile’ … ‘image of life’. But in contrast to Fernie, who approaches the anti-social emotions in art through the concept of the ‘demonic’, Saval seeks to understand the impact of the dangerous intensity of our encounter with Shakespeare’s work by returning to the original theorist of drama in the Western tradition, Aristotle. He then adapts Aristotle’s theory of emotion to produce original readings of Coriolanus, Othello, Timon of Athens, King Lear, and the Sonnets.img_who_is_aristotle_onassis_and_what_did_he_do_6625_600.jpg

In his analysis of Aristotle, Saval is influenced by historians of Aristotelian emotion such as Jonathan Gross, David Konstan, Martha Nussbaum, John Elster, and others. What these theorists of Aristotle offer Saval is a view of hatred not as a subject of clinical investigation, but as a ‘social passion’ … ‘provoked by perceived unjustified slights’ … that ‘presupposes a public stage where social status’ is both concretely determined and ‘always insecure’ (1-2). In such a world, anger and hatred are not social problems to be solved in ‘workshops’, ‘self-help books’, and on ‘psychological couches’ (19), but ‘patent judgments’ (7) upon individuals perceived to have inferior status who have challenged a superior. Saval is not, here, attempting to argue that all emotions are ‘patent’ and legible or that Aristotle’s social world is identical to that of Shakespeare’s (or, indeed, ours), but that Aristotle’s view of emotional judgments 1) reveals important features of hatred obscured by our own ideology of democratic equality; and 2) presents hatred not as a clinical problem of the individual, but as a challenge that cannot be evaded because it implicates us in social reality.

Saval’s view of hatred as a ‘judgment’ may seem, at first, like an oxymoron. Isn’t hatred the antithesis of a judgment? Yet as Saval explains, emotions such as hatred are not merely physical sensations or a product of the psychological history of an individual. If I am shoved from behind by a stranger in a random act of malice, my response will be very different than if I realize that the stranger has just rescued me from being hit by a truck. My emotion, in either case, though, will be a judgment based upon the context in which the ‘shove’ has occurred. Of course, in Shakespeare’s work, the emotional judgments are far more intricate: sometimes emotions are latent rather than patent; sometimes emotional judgments made by the same speaker are incompatible (as Saval argues takes place in the Sonnets); sometimes there is a disjunction between emotion and persuasion (as Saval argues is the case in King Lear): but that does not mean that many emotional expressions are not intelligible. Saval’s point is that rather than merely ‘explaining’ emotion, it is important to accept that one is implicated in emotion as well. To understand hatred as a judgment means to recognize its dangerous political potential, and also to recognize that it may contain an indictment that shatters the illusion of critical objectivity.

Saval’s view of emotion, therefore, has both political and personal consequences. As a political intervention, he relies on theorists like Eva Illouz to investigate the way that hatred’s often unrecognized judgments illuminate aspects of status and class in Shakespeare and in our own social system. Instead of self-contained individuals whose hatred is merely an attribute of a potentially pathological psychological history, hatred reveals a system of competing groups who fail to recognize the claims and judgments implied in antisocial emotion expressed towards them. At the same time, Saval is not merely a cultural materialist. For the critic, in Saval’s view, by definition cannot be an objective judge. He/she is complicit in the competing judgments of the literary work and so the posture of objectivity outside of this engagement is a ruse – unless one refuses entirely the life principle upon which literature is predicated, in which case, one’s judgment is worthless.

To appreciate Saval’s reading of Coriolanus is to understand just how deeply an apprehension of emotion as ‘judgment’ can go towards rethinking not only the institutions within which we work and live, but the nature of the self. It is also, implicitly, to confront an ethical challenge to the critic that is frequently buried: the struggle between fidelity to the emotional experience of the reader and the subordination of judgment that the form of a professional essay submits us to.

Rather than approaching Coriolanus from a typically historicist perspective and analyzing the humoral concept of ‘choler’, Saval conceives of Coriolanus’s anger as a critical feature of a rhetorical rivalry between competing factions of the Roman republic’s government: the patricians and the tribunes. Since Aristotle’s own analysis of emotion is discussed in the context of his book, Rhetoric, this is an especially effective and persuasive approach.

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In Saval’s account, Coriolanus sets in conflict two different ideals of governance, an aristocratic style that is ‘rash’, celebrating the virtues of ‘fearlessness, directness, and frankness’ (p. 29) and a deliberative approach to governance, based upon caution and delay. What Coriolanus understands too well is that the ‘mixed regime’ (45) of the republic also requires a split between public and private selves, feeling and decorum, that commits him to the mendacity he abhors, represented by Menenius. So Coriolanus is not just directing anger towards a particular form of government, he despises the fact the republic not only compromises his self-integrity, but restricts the emotional range of his speech. Anger does not ‘have a privilege’ in deliberative speech, and the consequence is the sacrifice of the virtues of bluntness and candour for circumlocution and hypocrisy. The resulting ire and frustration cannot merely be dismissed as a ‘bodily disturbance, a humoral imbalance, [or] a problem with [Coriolanus’s] mother’ (36), etc.: it is, in Saval’s view, a judgment that must be taken seriously.

While Coriolanus’s anger towards the tribunes (and the very ideal of the republic) is ‘reactionary’ and ‘anti-democratic’ in Shakespeare’s ‘fictional world’, Saval argues that ‘in the space of the theater’, his anger is ‘rebellious’:

… because it threatens the posture of ‘reasonability’, ‘thoughtfulness’, and caution that we members of the managerial class, sitting in the audience, take for granted as the only permitted emotional responses to white-collar power. (20)

For Saval, the temptation to regard Coriolanus’s anger as ‘unintelligible’ (25) is difficult for literary critics to resist because they are ‘members of a managerial class’ (20) that is predisposed to view anger as infantile.

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Yet Saval’s challenge to critics, in my view, goes deeper than class bias, for to understand oneself as implicated in Coriolanus’s anger is also to recognize the claim of one’s own emotional identification with Coriolanus. It is implicitly to recognize as legitimate one’s own potential anger at the fact that the transformative emotion one experiences in Shakespeare’s plays is often smothered by the subordination to the procedural and formal requirements of the traditional academic essay.

To use Hazlitt’s word from a passage quoted by Saval (in a different context), the ‘aristocratic’ emotional claim on behalf of the reader/critic is subordinated to the necessity of hair-splitting over precise terminology, the need to carefully qualify claims, and the ceremonial deference to a circle of respected authorities. After reading Saval’s chapter, it is easy to view the academy as a kind of Roman Republic, in which Menenius becomes the mendacious professorial pedagogue and Coriolanus the unlikely heroic advocate for the imperial claims of the reader to the right to retain a fidelity to the emotional experience of Shakespeare’s plays.

And yet Saval is not calling for an aristocratic reader to declare a military ‘state of emergency’ on Shakespeare’s texts, making fidelity to emotion the sole arbiter of meaning. He views Coriolanus as balancing the competing claims of the deliberative process, whose aim is ‘justice’, and, implicitly, the claim to the authority of the emotional experience of Shakespeare’s work that does not lend itself easily to academic norms. Merely to provide the theoretical framework to defend the emotional claim of the reader in a professionalized academic monograph is revolutionary. Saval goes further, though. The structure and form of his study seek to revitalize the academic essay by holding the competing obligations to emotion and formal process in dynamic tension. The result is a well-researched, highly creative and original intervention.

So Saval, for example, unceremoniously invests his own personal history into his study. He frequently interjects poignant personal reactions, asides, and autobiographical confessions in a style more familiar to the criticism of Hazlitt and Coleridge than to the professionalized academic essay. In the midst of an analysis of variations of the Greek term for ‘hatred’, he introduces this exasperated, but inspired aside:

My interest is elsewhere than Greek philology. Everything becomes hair-splitting. The resonance of the emotions is lost. I begin to grasp the Renaissance distaste for those scholastics who cared more about Aristotle than the world. I abhor the pedantry that would bind itself in a servile way to Aristotle’s concepts. But the lines still give me an insight … (11)

This passage perfectly exemplifies the tension within Saval’s dual identity, as a diligent researcher and a critic who does not want nit-picking over definitions to undermine the power of close-reading. So, for example, in Saval’s study, ‘hatred’ includes a host of other anti-social emotions: anger, spite, envy, indignation, to name a few. While he is conscientious about historicizing these variations on his central theme, his fidelity is not to precise definitions, but to the quality of his close reading:

A great work of art reveals that words like ‘anger’ and ‘hate’ lead us to emotions too subtle and various to be encompassed by these names. I believe, however, that emotional subtlety is not through a fastidiousness about the terms we will use, but the sensitivity with which we interpret the emotional judgments in the work that we read. (11)

In his struggle to enlarge the scope of the critical essay, Saval also refuses to present us with a familiar and predictable critical space. Rather, he opens up a rich and varied landscape. In his chapter on Othello, for example, he transports the reader from Harold Bloom, to Jean Paul Sartre, to Stephen Greenblatt, to William Empson, to W. H. Auden, to David Hume, to Robert Jackson’s criticism of Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground – to name a few figures to whom Saval alludes. In his chapter on King Lear, we encounter Montaigne’s Essays, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Homer’s Iliad, Aeschylus’s Oresteia, to name just those.

Shakespeare critics might take issue with the fact that Saval’s list of contemporary Shakespeare perspectives is somewhat thin. For example, on Othello, he cites Harold Bloom, Stephen Greenblatt, and Stanely Cavell on the topic of Iago and class envy. This appeal to a small list of Shakespeare critics makes it appear as if the view that Iago is ‘motiveless’ is, perhaps, more generally accepted than it is. However, my view is that, while Saval’s approach necessarily sacrifices some precision of insight (it is impossible to provide a complete range of critical opinions if one is leaping from Aeschylus to Tolstoy), it offers a new vision of the content and expressive potential of academic writing. While Saval regards the existentialists’ transcendent claims to ‘freedom’ as an ‘evasion of [] emotion’ (88), it is difficult not to regard his intervention as a celebration of intellectual freedom – a freedom that, outside publications such as Ewan Fernie and Simon Palfrey’s ‘Shakespeare Now’ series, has frequently been disregarded.

Author biography

Paul Hamilton received his PhD from the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, for his thesis entitled, America and the Perverse Shakespearean Imagination (2015). He is currently writing a book on the ‘cultural history of