The Life and the Letter of the Law
This contribution addresses issues of interpretation and translation in Derrida’s reading of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in relation to the supposed opposition of the letter and the spirit of the law. Rather than supporting a supersession of the law’s letter in favor of its spirit and advocating a sublation of the law by means of mercy, as a traditional reading suggests, this essay’s reading of Shakespeare’s play suggests that it deconstructs the underlying opposition. By linking the insistence on “the letter of the law” not to a kind of literalism or blind compliance with the law, but instead to an insistence on the textuality of the law, such a reading elucidates the law’s need for interpretation and highlights how the attempt to surpass the letter of the law involves a threat of a fundamental injustice.
Keywords: Giorgio Agamben, Aufhebung, interpretation, Jacques Derrida, Letter of the Law, The Merchant of Venice, Spirit of the Law, sublation, translation, William Shakespeare