Disintegration and Reunification of Political Bodies in Shakespeare's Second History Tetralogy
Watson, David A.
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In Shakespeare's Second English History Tetralogy the body functions as metaphor for the kingdom. In The King's Two Bodies Ernst Kantorowicz argues that a medieval king exists in two ontological phases, two bodies. Shakespeare deconstructs the idea that the monarchy is dual natured in his Richard II. Over the next three plays he rebuilds it on a new foundation. The end result is a conception of the monarchy that is more stable and coherent. This thesis argues that, throughout the four plays, Shakespeare uses the metaphor of the king's body to explore how love, particularly erotic love, binds the two bodies of the king together and creates a coherent political system. When Bolingbroke accuses Richard's counselors of having broken the communion of the royal bed, transforming him from "a happy gentleman" into the shadow of a king, he is effectively arguing that Richard has ceased to act as the incarnation of the system of political order. Though he still maintains the symbolic trappings of kingship, he has become a "hollow crown," a king who is not a king. Richard's fall undermines the symbolic power of the king, and as a result Bolingbroke, though an effective king, is plagued by a kingdom in which degree has been abandoned. This presents itself, in 1&2 Henry IV, in the dual figures of Falstaff and Northumberland, who represent the polemical endpoints of a world without degree. Northumberland's speech in 2 Henry IV, in which he wishes the essential de-creation of the world in his grief over the death of Hotspur is driven by the same lack of respect for order that Falstaff rejects in his ruminations on the value of honor in 1 Henry IV. Throughout 1 & 2 Henry IV the body of the kingdom is described as diseased and venereal imagery is used over and over again as a symbol of disorder. The disunity of the kingdom is depicted as essentially sexual, and stems from the separation of King and Queen in Richard II. This reading of the separation of Richard and his wife as the root cause of the fall of Richard and the political chaos of 1& 2 Henry IV might seem overly generalized. But this criticism overlooks the notion, common in the 16th century, that Love was the force which ordered Chaos into Nature. Moreover, the separation of Richard and his wife mirror, in their placement, the wooing of Katherine of France by Henry V in the final act of the last play in the cycle. It is in this final act of the final play that Shakespeare reunites, in the generous act of physical love, the two bodies of the King
Political plays, English
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 - political plays
Politics in literature
Politics and literature
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