chapter  8
8 Pages

But Mercy is Above: Shylock's Pun of a Pound

Shylock's scandalous payment quotes a problematic remnant of the ancient Law of the Twelve Tables in Rome, a remnant which—like the by notorious Homo Sacer excavated by Giorgio Agamben—serves as the index-fossil for a whole legal-historical formation. Its attraction stems from the exposure of a historical latency in legal practice, into the historical site of which the Augustan turn, into which Christianity entered, is marked by Agamben's source Pompeius Festus as a constellation without which the success of the new religion and its means of binding, religio, would barely be thinkable. The pun of the one pound, which already in the transmission of the Twelve Tables of ancient Rome had endangered the balance of Iustitia, delivered the judiciary, just as in the proverbial clementia Caesaris, to an unweighable ruse of reason—and this must have been as much fun for the students of law in the audience as the logical textbook crux of "to be, or not to be.".