“With mine own tears I wash away my balm”: The King’s two bodies in Shakespeare’s Richard II and King Lear.

Sélima Lejri


The aim of this paper is to delineate the representation of kingship in Tudor and Stuart England and its articulation in Shakespeare’s political drama, through the examples of Richard II (1599) and King Lear (1606), two illustrative plays of the respective eras. Conceived of as two-bodied, the sovereign is, from early medieval times, positioned in an uneasy liminal state whereby his natural body is also the incarnation of the mystical concept of the everlasting Body politic. Anxieties over this seemingly unbreakable continuity of mystical kingship become nonetheless palpable as Queen Elizabeth I lies dying, leaving no heir to the throne of England. The first Stuart monarch hence reinforces the doctrine of The Divine Right of Kings by confidently advancing the unique precedence of godhead over manhood in the monarch. Set in this context, Shakespeare’s two political figures question the validity of the king’s impregnable nature as they grapple with their human condition exposed to all mortal ills. When Richard II’s “tears wash away (his) balm” and his meta-physiological body withal, Shakespeare exposes the frailties underneath the fiction of the monarch’s two-bodied nature parodied in King Lear as “every inch a king”.

Full Text:



Brigden, S. (2000): New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors 1485-1603

London, Penguin.

Burns, J. H. (1996): The True Law of Kingship. Concepts of Monarchy in Early

Modern Scotland, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hart,V. (1994): Art and Magic in the Court of the Stuarts, London and New York:


Levin, C. (1994): The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of

Sex and Power, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Lockyer, R. (2005): Tudor and Stuart Britain, 1485-1714, Edinburgh: Pearson


Frye, S. (1996): Elizabeth I. The Competition for Representation, New York: Oxford

University Press.

Hadfield, A. (2004): Shakespeare and Renaissance Politics, London: Thomson

Learning/The Arden Shakespeare.

Kantorowicz, E. H. (1957): The King’s Two Bodies. A Study in Medieval Political

Theology, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Leggatt, A. (1988): Shakespeare’s Political Drama. The History Plays and the Roman

Plays, London and New York: Routledge.

McCoy, R. (2002): Alterations of State. Sacred Kingship in the English Reformation,

New York: Columbia University Press.

McLaren, A. N. (2004): Political Culture in The Reign of Elizabeth I. Queen and

Commonwealth 1558-1585, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nuttall, A.D. (2007): Shakespeare the Thinker, New Haven and London: Yale

University Press.

Parker, W. R. (1996): Milton: A Biography. Volume I, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Shakespeare, W. (1961): King Richard II, ed. Peter Ure, London, New York:


Shakespeare, W. (1992): The Tragedy of King Lear, ed. Jay L. Halio, Cambridge, The

New Cambridge Shakespeare.

Shakespeare, W. (2005): Henry V, in The Complete Works, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Suhamy, H. ed. (2004): Richard II. William Shakespeare, Paris: Ellipses.

Tanner, J R. (1960): Constitutional Documents of the Reign of James I. A. D.1603-

, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17951/lsmll.2014.38.2.43
Data publikacji: 2015-05-20 17:37:21
Data złożenia artykułu: 2015-04-22 02:56:44


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2015 Lublin Studies in Modern Languages and Literature

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.