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The Accommodated Animal

Cosmopolity in Shakespearean Locales

Shakespeare wrote of lions, shrews, horned toads, curs, mastiffs, and hellhounds. But the word “animal” itself only appears very rarely in his work, which was in keeping with sixteenth-century usage. As Laurie Shannon reveals in The Accommodated Animal, the modern human / animal divide first came strongly into play in the seventeenth century, with Descartes’s famous formulation that reason sets humans above other species: “I think, therefore I am.” Before that moment, animals could claim a firmer place alongside humans in a larger vision of belonging, or what she terms cosmopolity.
With Shakespeare as her touchstone, Shannon explores the creaturely dispensation that existed until Descartes. She finds that early modern writers used classical natural history and readings of Genesis to credit animals with various kinds of stakeholdership, prerogative, and entitlement, employing the language of politics in a constitutional vision of cosmic membership. Using this political idiom to frame cross-species relations, Shannon argues, carried with it the notion that animals possess their own investments in the world, a point distinct from the question of whether animals have reason. It also enabled a sharp critique of the tyranny of humankind. By answering “the question of the animal” historically, The Accommodated Animal makes a brilliant contribution to cross-disciplinary debates engaging animal studies, political theory, intellectual history, and literary studies.

312 pages | 4 color plates, 25 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2013

History: History of Ideas

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, General Criticism and Critical Theory


“Writing with undeniable meticulousness and care, Shannon undertakes to weave together an incredibly broad range of dense subject matter, from philosophy and ethics to history, literature, myth, and science. . . . Readable and engaging. . . . Highly recommended.”


“This big, beautiful, growling, howling book is as revelatory about language as it is about the natural history of our animal kinships: the ‘curtailed’ dog, the ‘sovereignties’ of motion, and the ‘race’ of locomotive animals invite us to encounter familiar words on all fours, our phantom tails and impotent noses newly alert to semantic climate changes.”

Julia Reinhard Lupton | Studies in English Literature 1500–1900

 “In forceful, vivid, sometimes playful language, Shannon lays out a conception of community as cosmopolity.”

Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

“With striking fluency and originality, Shannon sets out to retrieve from the long sixteenth century an all-inclusive model, lost to modernity, by which the world was consigned to all living creatures. . . . There is exacting precision and strong logic, to be sure, but there is also a happy way with words. It is what makes her Herculean labors look easy.”

Shakespeare Quarterly

“Beautifully written and carefully researched. . . . Offers brilliant readings.”

Renaissance and Reformation

“Brilliant. . . . With inexorable logic and playful wit, Shannon makes the case for animals’ role in defining concepts of justice, tyranny, and sovereignty in early modern Europe. . . . Shannon’s work should be required reading for anyone interested in early modern animals, animal studies, or posthumanist theory; but it will also greatly influence analyses of Shakespeare, and will introduce readers to a number of regrettably overlooked texts like Baldwin’s or Gelli’s. . . . It advances the field significantly.”

Renaissance Quarterly

“An ambitious and piercing study of the status of animals in early modern culture. . . . Situates Shakespeare in a larger . . . discourse that intertwines history, philosophy and literature.”

Memoria di Shakespeare

“No other early modernist prosecutes a case with the exactitude of Laurie Shannon, whose ethical attention to the exercise of rights and authority informs every word she writes. With acumen and grace, she reveals the presence of a zootopian constitution, in which humans and other animals were all included within the scope of meaningful justice. Beyond issuing a potent challenge to the common practice of reading animals as metaphors for human behaviors—and thereby radically revising our interpretations of central texts—she opens a capacious window onto the cosmopolity of early modern culture.”

Valerie Traub, University of Michigan

“In this wonderfully written and deeply researched book, Laurie Shannon unearths in early modern culture what teems beneath the generic designation, ‘animal,’ to which we have become accustomed over the past four hundred years: a wild and woolly ‘zoography’ of fish and fowl, ‘beasts’ and ‘brutes,’ nonhuman agents and four-footed actors, all cheek to jowl with human beings as ‘fellow-commoners’ in a trans-species polity, where questions of sovereignty, tyranny, and justice bear directly upon how we treat nonhuman beings. Ranging across legal, literary, philosophical, theological, and scientific texts, The Accommodated Animal finds posthumanism very much alive and well, avant la lettre, in the early modern period’s soul-searching attempts to secure our place among the remarkable variety of life that challenges our most cherished and self-flattering biases about the human animal.”

Cary Wolfe, Rice University

 “Beautifully written, Laurie Shannon’s book explores ways in which questions of sovereignty and rule bear on our treatment of non-human beings, posing a wonderful challenge to our complacent view of what we think it means to be human. A book to set beside Montaigne.”

David Bevington, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Texts and Terms

FACE Creatures and Cosmopolitans: Before “the Animal”
    The Eight Animals in Shakespeare
    Trials of Membership: Montaigne versus Descartes
    Range of Chapters
    Looking Back

1. The Law’s First Subjects: Animal Stakeholders, Human Tyranny, and the Political Life of Early Modern Genesis
    A Zootopian Constitution
    The Political Terms of Cross-Species Relations
    Bestiae contra Tyrannos: Sidney’s “Ister Bank”
    Desert Citizens: Edenic Species-Memory in Shakespeare’s Arden

2. A Cat May Look upon a King: Four-Footed Estate, Locomotion, and the Prerogative of Free Animals
    Biped Fantasies: Mah-ah-ah-ah-ah-narch of All I Survey
    The Course of Kind, “Unyoked”
    Fight, Flight, or Stay and Obey: Animal Prerogatives
    The Flick of History’s Tail

3. Poor, Bare, Forked: Animal Happiness and the Zoographic Critique of Humanity
    The Insufficient Animal
    Nudus in Nuda Terra: Unaccommodated Man
    The Animals Testify: Plutarch and Gelli
    The Unhappy Beast in King Lear

4. Night-Rule: The Alternative Politics of the Dark; or, Empires of the Nonhuman
    Night’s Black Agents, Human Night Blindness
    Contingencies of Kind: “Who Knowes?”
    Baldwin’s Beware the Cat: Assisted Cognition Reveals Feline Empire!
    Where the Vile Things Rule: A Midsummer Night

5. Hang-Dog Looks: From Subjects at Law to Objects of Science in Animal Trials
    Answerable Animals in a Justiciable Cosmos
    Whip Him Out; Hang Him Up!
    Cosmopolity in The Merchant of Venice
    Laid on by Manacles: Disanimation, Vivisection, and the Vacuum Tube
    A Scotch Verdict on Humanity

TAIL  Raleigh’s Ark: The Early Modern Arithmetic of Livestock



SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 & Rice University: Elizabeth Dietz Memorial Award

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