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Shakespeare's Fugitive Politics$
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Thomas P. Anderson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780748697342

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748697342.001.0001

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Touching Sovereignty in Henry V

Touching Sovereignty in Henry V

(p.65) Chapter 3 Touching Sovereignty in Henry V
Shakespeare's Fugitive Politics

Thomas P. Anderson

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter takes seriously the Chorus’ avuncular description of Henry’s presence in the camp at Agincourt as ‘a little touch of Harry in the night’ (4.0. Chorus. 47). It draws on early modern and modern understandings of the royal touch to make the case that tactility in the play becomes the vehicle for reconfiguring sovereignty, exposing its fractured condition as well as efforts to reconstitute its integrity. For Henry, to touch is to redeem sovereign authority. His contemplation of the ritual effect of the royal touch to cure his own diseased condition, however, demonstrates the impossibility of sovereign redemption through touch. To the multitude in the play, however—Falstaff, Williams, Bates, even Katherine—tactility is an expression of individual sovereignty that agitates institutional power through body politics. In Henry’s quest for union between England and France, redemption and union are conjured, like magic, through his tactile encounter with Katherine. This magic does not serve a new politics of consensus; instead, it disavows what Henry knows too well—that his royal touch is powerless to make sensible the fugitive condition of a dissensual politics immanent at the core of his divided condition.

Keywords:   politics of touch, king’s evil, royal touch, divided sovereigny, dissensual politics, Katherine’s body, tactility, republicanism, absolutism, women in history plays

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