Étienne Poulard – Shakespeare’s Politics of InvisibilityMarch 7, 2010
Shakespeare’s Politics of Invisibility: Power and Ideology in The Tempest
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With their paranaoiac visual regime, Shakespeare’s Jacobean plays uncannily anticipate Michel Foucault’s sense that ‘visibility is a trap.’ In The Tempest, Prospero’s panoptic rule brings this anti-ocularcentric crisis to a climax. The invisible eye of this god-like and omniscient ‘prince of power’ suggests that power will always already have included its own resistance, whose subversive potential is thus inherently defused. However, this all-inclusive power is sustained by an ideological narrative which has to remain hidden from the absolute ruler: indeed, ideology must remain invisible in order to keep the vacuity of the Real at bay.
The essay provides a Žižekian ideology critique of The Tempest. For Žižek, the main function of ideology is ‘to offer us the social reality itself as an escape,’ which is also the main dramatic axiom proposed by the play. To preserve this essential space of escape, Prospero’s fantasy of absolute power is consistently deferred to a perpetual tomorrow. Ultimately, by staging a traumatic encounter with the Real, The Tempest conveys the very Žižekian notion that power generates its own excess.
Slavoj Žižek gave a public lecture at Cardiff University on March 3rd. His paper was entitled:
See also Cardiff University’s Centre for Ideology Critique and Žižek Studies.