Blogging, like exercise, requires self-discipline. I’ve never possessed much in that department. That said, it’s a new semester, a new opportunity to teach “Shakespeare and Justice” to a new group of students. Onward.
Based on students’ feedback, for this semester, I decided to omit The Spanish Tragedy. The entire first unit on the “Spectacle of Justice” is devoted to Titus and supplemental readings. The more relaxed reading schedule allowed us to spend a session (90 minutes) on the first chapter of Foucault’s seminal Discipline and Punish. For many students, it was their first exposure to this seminal text (and chapter).
I started the class with a very brief effort at contextualization, mentioning Foucault via his reception by New Historicists (Greenblatt) in the 1980s and the way law and literature scholars engage with Foucault. Next, using a series of Powerpoints illustrating the “Places of Judgment: Scaffold, Body, and Soul” I talked about the scaffold/theater connection, the “alphabet” of the criminal law as it brands felons with “M,” “T,” “SL,” “F” and other marks of shame, and the “soul” as a site of judgment.
“What does Foucault mean by ‘soul’?” Asked a student. So began a rewarding conversation about subjectivity, communal judgment, and the complicity of knowledge fields (including literature, it must be said…) in the production/reproduction of juridical power. One student pointed out that each Judge Judy episode involves the good judge raking the plaintiff or defendant–or both–over figurative coals. This student was so right. Judge Judy isn’t really about exploring the finer points of law. The show is about using the law to translate messy human relations to more legible, more graspable moral “lessons.” There’s some easy pleasure to be gained in watching her (crude) dissection of the soul in the virtual company of millions of anonymous viewers.
Foucault Discipline and Punish Ch 1 (PDF…with my annotations)