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Shakespeare's Body PartsFiguring Sovereignty in the History Plays$
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Huw Griffiths

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474448703

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474448703.001.0001

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‘My kingdom for a horse’: Bestial Sovereignty in Richard III

‘My kingdom for a horse’: Bestial Sovereignty in Richard III

(p.121) Chapter 5 ‘My kingdom for a horse’: Bestial Sovereignty in Richard III
Shakespeare's Body Parts

Huw Griffiths

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter offers a conclusion to the book, through a movement away from the human body into the ways that animal bodies are also recruited for Shakespeare’s metaphorics of sovereignty. More than any other of Shakespeare’s history plays, Richard III is dominated by animal imagery. One way to understand this is as a form of moral commentary on the “bestial” state that England has been dragged into by the civil war and, particularly, by the evils of that war as concentrated in Richard himself, a concentration particularly in the image of his body as deformed. However, the slipperiness of metaphor does not allow for the stabilization of sovereignty in any one body, including the stability imagined in the metaphysical conceit of the “kings two bodies”. In this chapter, I offer a final countermand to Kantorowicz’s reading of Richard II wherein Richard’s abdication offers up the Christ-like sacrifice of the king as a concentrated image of divine sovereignty. In place of this, I read Richard III backwards from the moment of Richard’s own brief “abdication” at the end of the play: his willingness to exchange his kingdom for a horse, albeit in the face of death. Whilst not ascribing any revolutionary intent to the character of Richard, this moment affords an alternate insight into the translatable locations of sovereignty. Re-read through its figurations, sovereignty is conceived of as never inalienable; it is, rather, always dependent on the bodies of others including, here, the bodies of animals.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, Sovereignty, Richard III, The Body, Animals, Derrida

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