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The theatrical device of appointing Angelo as acting sovereign in order to activate the dormant laws foregrounds the fact that, as Carl Schmitt argues in Constitutional Theory, the legal system that appears to be autonomous nevertheless depends on a sovereign who decides to apply the law. 6 One of the central effects of Measure for Measure is to make the technical process of the law seem inseparable from the personal and even arbitrary authority of an acting sovereign who is above the law. Indeed, just after he resigns, the duke tells the friar that part of the point of turning power over to Angelo is to force him to reveal his character in a true light: More reasons for this action At our more leisure shall I render you; 46 Shakespeare’s Anti-Politics Only this one: Lord Angelo is precise, Stands at a guard with envy, scarce confesses That his blood flows, or that his appetite Is more to bread than stone.

It is no matter, his name’s Cinna. Pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going. THIRD PLEBIAN: Tear him, tear him! They set upon Cinna. 29–36) Though the plebeians begin with a nominally political desire—to kill conspirators—by the time they establish that this Cinna is not Cinna the conspirator, a kind of primal killing frenzy takes over. On the one hand, there is a social logic to this frenzy, for in rebelling against Cinna’s very name the plebeians are expressing a kind of peasant resentment against those who have names as opposed to those who have none— the plebeians, after all, are merely assigned numbers.

The conspirators are not more public-minded than Caesar’s citizens, only differently public, and with a different relationship to state power. The familiar interpretation of Julius Caesar is that Brutus and the conspirators represent a kind of nascent public sphere that is outside of the state and that checks the dictatorial state power that Caesar represents. In fact, however, the conspirators do not see themselves as operating outside the state at all, only as embodying a different relationship to the state than either Caesar or the public citizenry Caesar conjures up.

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