Symposium Introduction

“Turning away,” writes bell hooks in All about Love: New Visions, “we risk moving in a wilderness of spirit so intense we may never find our way home again. I write of love to bear witness both to the danger of this movement, and to call for a return to love.” In Loving Justice, Living Shakespeare, Regina Schwartz echoes hooks in calling for a return to love, particularly in the realms of political thought and philosophy, by turning to the dramatic offerings of the beloved Bard.

Schwartz, an English professor who specializes in early modern literature, also teaches classes to law students. She notes in her introduction that in the many tomes on justice lining her shelves, she finds few references to love: “While whole sectors of our culture are preoccupied with love—novels, film, painting, music, poetry, religion—it has been marginalized or even exiled from other spheres—from political, economic, legal thought, and largely, even from philosophy” (3–4). Yet Schwartz, with her expertise in the Hebrew Bible and Milton’s Christianity, recognized a loss in these “preoccupations with distribution, duty, and rights”: an erasure of the rich Jewish and Christian tradition that understood justice precisely as love, justice embedded in the Hebrew Bible’s commands to love both neighbor and stranger and in the New Testament’s further command to love one’s enemy.

In secular modernity, the way back to biblical wisdom is perhaps a narrow road. Schwartz’s tactic here is to highlight another source of this wisdom in the venerated plays of William Shakespeare, whose drama, she writes, “often depicts justice as love” (16). Shakespeare’s plays emerge from an era uniquely marked by both a religious worldview and also the beginnings of the secular age as we know it. Shakespeare, then, is a door through which we secular sorts might find our way back to an understanding of justice as love-for-the-other.

The book divides this emphasis into five categories: experience, law, power, economics, and forgiveness. Schwartz offers carefully honed readings of four of Shakespeare’s plays—King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet, as well as creative readings of as many biblical narratives, including the story of Moses and the Law, Jonah’s call to Nineveh, and Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers. These readings of the dramas and the scriptures are contextualized in a wide-ranging engagement with other thinkers: Plato and Aristotle, Moses Maimonides and Rowan Williams, Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Luther, Emmanuel Kant and Rabbi Simhah Zissel Ziv.

Importantly, Schwartz also contextualizes her scholarly work in a story of her own. The book begins with a personal narrative about her mother’s final years, the lengths to which Schwartz had to go to secure robust care for her, insisting to doctors and hospital ethicists that her mother’s quality of life should be understood not in terms of cost-benefit charts but by the love she could give and receive. By introducing the book in this way, Schwartz reminds us that the question of love’s displacement from conceptions of justice has inescapable real-world consequences. It arises from lived life. It indelibly marks lived lives.

These material concerns also surface at points when the book nods toward contemporary crises: Shakespeare’s handwritten revisions to the earlier play Sir Thomas More, including a passionate response to anti-immigration riots in 1517 London, “have reached across the centuries to rebuke the present” (48). Similarly, Hamlet’s “anti-revenge plot,” in Schwartz’s reading, suggests the forgotten power of forgiveness within a contemporary frame of retributive justice. In a world of caged asylum-seeking children and grossly disproportionate minority incarceration, such visions remind us that another way is possible.

Our symposium’s panelists open up a multidisciplinary conversation about Schwartz’s book, several of which note the challenge defining love presents: at points the book points to love as an act of care-for-another, while at other points love seems to be importantly emotional. Nicholas Wolterstorff commends Schwartz’s engagement with love and justice in the biblical tradition but wonders whether love is precisely as equivalent to justice as the book seems to suggest: is love always a response to human need? Might there be other ways of loving, and other ways of doing justice? Vittorio Montemaggi also wonders about the slippage between love and justice, noting that the book suggests a “medieval” idea of human and cosmic love as continuous. Rather than rejecting this capacious understanding of love as both feeling and doing, Montemaggi wonders whether it might be possible to extend it even further to love as human being.

Montemaggi also highlights Schwartz’s inclusion of personal narrative as a distinguishing methodology: this emphasis on personal experience, he argues, is the book’s ultimate authority on love. Practicing this methodology herself, Julia Lupton recounts her experience of a “moving lecture” by James Clifford about sculptures of saints culled from churches and reinstalled in a medieval Verona castle-turned-museum. Lupton anchors her reading of Loving Justice, Living Shakespeare in the experience of this lecture and its accompanying images, highlighting the role of interpretive context in readings of ancient art. Thus Lupton contrasts Schwartz’s “unabashedly religious” reading of Romeo and Juliet with Paul Kottman’s “resolutely secular” one.

Michael Shapiro similarly focuses on the readings of the plays, offering an overview of the book’s interpretations before detailing his own fuller reading of The Tempest to extend Schwartz’s and supplement her treatment of Hamlet as an “anti-revenge play.” And finally, Penelope Geng highlights the book’s contribution in bringing original readings of Shakespeare to questions of contemporary urgency. Focusing on King Lear, Geng wonders about where the book’s arguments might be extended by a fuller engagement with the scholarship on “the culture of neighborly justice in English common law culture.” Noting the evolution of scholarly conversations and recent reevaluations of their ethical weight, as well as the passionately engaged style of writing Schwartz models, Geng ends with a future-oriented question we all might do well to ponder: What does Schwartz—and what do we—hope to see from this and the next generation of scholars?

What might it look like for scholars to unabashedly embrace love?

Nicholas Wolterstorff


Meant for Love

Loving Justice, Living Shakespeare is a critique of modern liberal ways of thinking about persons and society and a critique of present-day Western society as shaped by those liberal ways of thinking. The critique is incisive and powerful. Its power comes not from brash and aggressive rhetoric but from the lucid and winsome presentation, in gracious prose, of the alternative to the liberal way of thinking and acting that is to be found in Hebrew and Christian scripture and in certain of Shakespeare’s plays—and that was embodied, as we learn from the moving opening pages of the book, in Schwartz’s own mother.

Schwartz quotes Michael Sandel’s statement of liberalism’s understanding of the self: the self is a “separate, individual person, each with [his] own aims, interests, and conception of the good life . . . freed from the sanctions of custom and tradition and inherited status, unbound by moral ties” and capable of steering his course with freedom. In short, the self is understood by liberal thinkers as an autonomous agent primarily concerned to pursue what it perceives as its own good. Rights are commonly understood as protectors of autonomy. Justice, if not tied directly to rights, is commonly thought of as the fair distribution of benefits and burdens. Contracts are prominent in how individuals interact with each other in societies shaped by liberalism. And prominent thinkers in the liberal tradition insist that wrongdoers ought to be punished with a severity proportioned to the gravity of their wrongdoing. Wrongdoers deserve retribution.

By contrast, at the core of biblical thought about persons and society is love. Instead of each pursuing what we perceive to be our own good, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, even if the neighbor be an enemy. To do that is to act justly. The law of love, writes Schwartz, “is identical with justice” (19).

We are to love because we are needy, each and every one of us. Need calls for love. The widow, the orphan, and the stranger, singled out in the Hebrew Bible as those to whom we owe love, “are not people we would describe as autonomous individuals claiming the right to respect—although they are that—so much as people in need. The model seems to be of humans, not as brutish, self-interested, aggressive, and competitive (the model Hobbes bequeathed), nor as autonomous and choosing their course freely (the Kantian legacy), but as needing: as hungry, dispossessed, lonely, mourning, lacking protection. To be just is to love these people; that is, recognize and provide for their needs” (20). Whereas it is typical of liberal thinkers to regard love as an emotion, lacking in significant power, and hence of no particular social significance, love in biblical thought is action of a certain sort, namely, helping, caring.

And as for responding to wrongdoing, what Scripture teaches, says Schwartz, is that victims are to renounce revenge and retribution, and instead engage the wrongdoer in an interactive process of reprimand, repentance, and forgiveness, aimed at restoring the broken relationship.

Schwartz interprets King Lear as a dramatic presentation of the power of loving the stranger, and Romeo and Juliet as a dramatic presentation of the power of loving the enemy. The Merchant of Venice she interprets as a dramatic presentation of the tragic consequences of allowing contractual arrangements to replace love in our interactions with each other. And Hamlet she interprets as an anti-revenge, anti-retribution, tragedy.

Here I must forego presenting even the highlights of Schwartz’s analyses of these dramas. I realize that to do so is to invite the suspicion, on the part of the reader, that her analyses are plodding and tendentious: Lear is an illustration of the thesis that love for the stranger can be powerful, Merchant is an illustration of the thesis that tragedy lies in the wake of allowing contracts to replace love, etc. Her analyses are anything but plodding and tendentious. They are subtle, considerate of alternative interpretations, compelling even when they were, for me, surprising.

Schwartz is measured and discriminating in her critique of liberal thought and practice; they merit praise along with critique. She remarks, “The advances made by liberalism are impressive—its values of impartiality, utility, and measure are a leap forward from a world of private bonds infected by hatreds, prejudices, and injustice. Religious and ethnic minorities and women have suffered horrifically and without recourse before the new values of liberalism were put in place” (121). What she is asking, she says, is whether “by throwing away the value of affective bonds we have thrown away the baby with the bathwater. . . . Now that our sublime liberal values are in place, perhaps we can afford to admit to their shortcomings, and to put love back on the map of human justice” (121).

I agree with Schwartz in her critique of liberal thought and practice. And as for her interpretations of Shakespeare, I, as someone who is not a Shakespeare scholar, or even a literary scholar, can do nothing but admire and be illuminated. That leaves me with a few quibbles about her understanding of the relation between love and need, and between love and justice, in Hebrew and Christian scripture. I call then “quibbles” because they do not detract from my admiration of Schwartz’s achievement in this book.

I question whether love, as understood in Scripture, is as tightly connected to need as Schwartz suggests. She takes note of the fact that over and over, when the Hebrew Bible speaks of love and justice, it singles out widows, orphans, and strangers for special mention. She observes that such people were especially needy in that society and that it was their neediness that called for love and justice—as does the neediness of those who are needy in our society. She mentions some in our society that I would never have thought of: “one who offends unknowingly,” “one who engages with naïve trust in unfair transactions” (22). I agree that need calls for love. My question is whether love is confined to meeting needs.

There are different kinds of love. There is the love of being attracted to something for its worth—to a poem, for example. And there is the love of being attached to something—to one’s pet, to one’s house. Though Schwartz does not take time to single out from love’s various forms the particular form she has in mind, clearly it is love as beneficence—love that promotes a person’s good for the sake of that person. Of course, such love is often mingled with love as attraction and with love as attachment.

I think we sometimes bestow a good on a person even though that person is not in need of that good. We want the person to flourish beyond the satisfaction of her needs. A lovely small purse catches my eye as I am walking through the store. The thought comes to mind of buying it for my wife. She doesn’t need another purse. But I think she will very much enjoy this one. So I buy it for her.

And then there is the matter of our love of God. In spite of the prominence of such love in Scripture, it plays no role in Schwartz’s discussion. Obviously our love of God is not a response to God’s neediness. Of course, one might insist that our love of God is just a different kind of love from our love of the neighbor—that it consists exclusively of love as attraction and of love as attachment with no tinge of love as beneficence. It appears to me, however, that Scripture takes for granted that we can advance God’s good. “Hallowed be thy name,” we pray. When human beings hallow God’s name, rather than taking it in vain, they are not responding to a need on God’s part. But are they not advancing God’s good?

Though Schwartz never flat-out says that, when love and justice are understood as they are in Scripture, then to love is to secure justice, it appears to me that that is in fact her thought. She writes, for example, “when justice is understood as love” (14), “this understanding of justice as love” (20), “the biblical understanding of justice as loving the fellow” (24), and “the justice of love” (83). Of course, strictly speaking, love and justice cannot be identical. Love, as Schwartz understands it, is action of a certain sort, and justice is a social condition of a certain sort. Her thought is that love yields justice—that to love is to do justice.

In the Western tradition, the relation between love and justice is commonly understood as inherently conflictual: if one acts out of love, one is not acting as one does because justice requires it, and, conversely, if one acts as one does because justice requires it, one is not acting out of love. Some writers make the even stronger claim that acts of love are sometimes unjust and that doing justice is sometimes unloving. The main thesis of my Justice in Love is that, when love and justice are properly understood, they are not conflictual. That thesis also underlies and animates Schwartz’s discussion in Loving Justice.

My way of articulating that thesis was to develop an understanding of love and of justice such that treating the neighbor justly is an example of loving the neighbor—an instance of loving the neighbor. There are other ways of loving the neighbor than rendering justice to the neighbor. But love never wreaks injustice. By contrast, Schwartz’s way of articulating that thesis is to hold that, on the biblical understanding of love and justice, love just is doing justice.

I doubt it. A trivial example of the point is that when, out of love for my wife, I give her that small purse, I am not treating her as justice requires. Let’s have a more significant example. One of the most incisive and powerful passages in Schwartz’s book is the extended passage in which she presents what Scripture teaches as the role of forgiveness in life. God’s forgiveness of the wrongdoer is the paradigm of forgiveness. Divine forgiveness is an act of love that goes beyond what justice requires. The wrongdoer cannot claim that he would have been wronged by God had God not forgiven him—that he would have been treated unjustly. So too, then, for our forgiveness of each other: forgiving the one who has wronged me is an act of love on my part that goes beyond what justice requires.

There is one passage in which Schwartz appears to share this view. She writes: “Forgiveness is the outpouring of love precisely to one who does not deserve it. Forgiveness, like love, exceeds desert” (116–17). If forgiveness exceeds desert, does it not exceed what justice requires?

In the course of her discussion in chapter 5 of “The Forgiveness of Love,” Schwartz highlights the evils of punishment as commonly practiced in our society and compellingly presents the central role in Scripture of reprimand, repentance, and forgiveness, while remaining silent on the matter of whether punishment is ever a good thing. I was left with the impression that she regards punishment as always wrong, and that she interprets Scripture as teaching that. If that is indeed her view, I dissent. Though Scripture quite clearly teaches that retributive punishment is always wrong; but I do not find it teaching that punishment as such is always wrong. I discuss what seem to me acceptable forms of punishment in part 3 of Justice in Love.

One small point in conclusion. Schwartz writes, “Forgiveness is not even on the radar screen” in present-day liberal societies. And then she asks, “How could our ‘corrective’ system be more responsive to the moral value of forgiveness?” (116). The situation is not quite as bleak as Schwartz presents it. The increasingly popular movement of so-called restorative justice gives a prominent role to apology, forgiveness, and the restoration of relationships.

  • Regina Schwartz

    Regina Schwartz


    Response to Nicholas Wolterstorff

    I was three chapters into my book, the introductory chapter critiquing the dominant theories of justice, the chapter on the love commands of Leviticus 19 that define love as apprehending and tending to the needs of others, and the chapter on the limits of contractual justice, so vividly depicted in the perverse contract in The Merchant of Venice that demands a pound of the lender’s flesh if his loan cannot be repaid, when a notice came across my email that Nicholas Wolterstorff was speaking on love and justice at the University of Chicago. Here was a distinguished philosopher engaging precisely what I was obsessed with, the relation between justice and love. I introduced myself, sent him my written work on the subject and was fortunate to join him and others at the Center for the Advanced Study of Culture in Charlottesville where I completed my book; his philosophical rigor was an immense help as I sought to sharpen my argument.

    That rigor is evident again in his response. We have been in the friendliest of arguments about our small difference, sharing, as we do, our critique of liberal thought on justice, and seeking to rehabilitate the centrality of love. We agree that “need calls for love.” He questions whether love is confined to meeting needs, and he goes on to distinguish love as attachment and love as attraction from loving as caring for needs. I have little doubt that love has a host of usages: I love the color red, I love Mozart, I love my son, I love travelling, I love ice cream, I love teaching—these are attractions and attachments of a very different order and we use the word liberally for them all, and more. The issue here, however, is what does love mean in biblical “love commands” that define justice. I want to focus on that not only because it is such a challenging, radical version of justice, but also because it had such wide influence, embraced by Western religious thought. Not a few lines in Leviticus, but a huge and enduring tradition is encoded.

    Those incredible lines in Leviticus that spawned this beautiful tradition deserve our pause. x

    Wolterstorff turns to buying his wife a purse that she doesn’t really need as an act of love (interesting, that he did not resort to a biblical example). But from the perspective of humans as needing, one might be tempted to interpret the event otherwise: the need being expressed by this act could be Wolterstorff’s, for the love his wife gives him, or indeed, the need of his wife, to be buoyed by the reminder that her husband loves her. When Saul gives his armour to David, it is because the slight youth needs protection against the mighty Goliath. When Judith dresses and anoints herself to seduce Holofernes, it is to rescue the needy Israelites against this aggressor.

    Shakespeare has addressed “need” explicitly in King Lear; arguably, the entire play centers on need, from the haunting image of man as a poor forked bare animal to Lear pelted by the storm:

    O reason not the need! Our basest beggars

    Are in the poorest thing superfluous.

    Allow not nature more than nature needs,

    Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. . . . But, for true need—

    You Heavens, give me that patience, patience I need.

    You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,

    As full of grief as age, wretched in both. (II.iv.263–72)

    It looks as though Lear is saying humans are entitled to want many things they do not need, that they should not have to justify these wants on the basis of need. But the context of this speech inflects it: he is asking his daughter to house him and his retinue and she is refusing; he is on the rapid descent from ruler to the abject subject of his cruel daughters’ whims, and will soon be locked out of shelter in a storm. He is begging his daughter to take care of him in his dotage. “Reason not the need”—indeed! He will soon discover, through painful experience, the needs of others, and this new recognition of the needs of others will, in turn, enable him to see what he could not when he was only self-interested, and to reconcile with his cast-out daughter.

    Wolterstorff and my small differences come to definitions. He wants to reserve the meaning of justice to what one deserves; he writes, “If forgiveness exceeds desert, does it not exceed what justice requires?” By narrowing the definition of justice to desert, biblical justice, i.e., giving to those in need without measure, or forgiving someone for an injury they have confessed, would not be justice for him at all. When we are asked to let “justice roll down like the waters” it would have to mean something like giving everybody what they deserve, instead of the unlimited generosity of giving. Would that kind of justice flow like the waters instead of being carefully measured?

    I have long wrestled with punishment in the Bible (see The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism). Refusing to endorse human retribution, God reserves retribution for himself and he unleashes it often: at the flood, the giving of the law, the exile, and throughout the prophets, with terrifying threats and horrific curses. How do we reconcile this with the love commands? I do not want to deny this atmosphere of punishment, in both testaments, against unbelievers. But we do need to ask whether the book of Amos, with its threats and curses, or the book of Jonah, with its forgiveness for terrible wickedness, is “the last word,” that is, which upends the other? Jonah, enacting the extraordinary love command in the form of forgiveness, is a response to the excesses of Amos.

    The prophet Jonah is rebuked and instructed by a forgiving God, one who forgives the wickedest city on the earth, the very capital of the Babylonian Empire responsible for the destruction of ancient Israel and the exile of its survivors. Who included the book of Jonah? Who said this story of loving the stranger could be included, the story of tending to his moral failings and inspiring him to reform? In light of this remarkable critique of retributive justice, how could Hamlet and The Tempest endorse it?

Vittorio Montemaggi


June 18, 2019, 1:00 am

Julia Lupton


June 25, 2019, 1:00 am

Michael Shapiro


July 2, 2019, 1:00 am

Penelope Geng


July 9, 2019, 1:00 am