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Outlaws and SpiesLegal Exclusion in Law and Literature$
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Conor McCarthy

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474455930

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474455930.001.0001

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Sovereign Outlaws: Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy

Sovereign Outlaws: Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy

Chapter:
(p.55) 2 Sovereign Outlaws: Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy
Source:
Outlaws and Spies
Author(s):

Conor McCarthy

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474455930.003.0003

This chapter asks whether the sovereign can (and perhaps must) act outside the law in a reading of the second tetralogy of Shakespeare’s history plays. The discussion opens with an examination of the notion of sovereign immunity, contrasted with a competing line of discourse against tyranny. It then argues that questions around the king’s status relative to the law constitute an important set of issues within Shakespeare’s Richard II,where both individuals (Richard and Bolingbroke) and events (Richard’s deposition) may be read as existing outside of the law in various senses. The chapter proceeds to consider the remaining plays in the tetralogy, arguing that Henry V, a sort of quasi-outlaw before gaining the throne, finds as king that he must act outside the law to defend the interests of his state. The discussion surveys a range of legal questions in Henry V, from his claim to the throne of France to his threats before Harfleur and his killing of prisoners at Agincourt. The chapter concludes with a brief glance at espionage in Elizabethan England, and the Elizabethan state’s recourse to methods of invisible power.

Keywords:   William Shakespeare, Ernst Kantorowicz, Sovereign immunity, Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Henry V

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