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«Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft Ausgabe 10 (2012) Believing in Shakespeare: Faith and Doubt on the Elizabethan Stage ...»

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Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft

Ausgabe 10 (2012)

Believing in Shakespeare:

Faith and Doubt

on the Elizabethan Stage


Shakespeare Seminar 10 (2012)


The Shakespeare Seminar is published under the auspices of the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft,

Weimar, and edited by:

Christina Wald, Universität Augsburg, Fachbereich Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universitätsstr. 10, D-86159 Augsburg (christina.wald@phil.uni-augsburg.de) Felix Sprang, Universität Hamburg, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Von-Melle-Park 6, D-20146 Hamburg (felix.sprang@uni-hamburg.de)


Shakespeare Seminar is a free annual online journal. It documents papers presented at the Shakespeare Seminar panel of the spring conferences of the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft. It is intended as a publication platform especially for the younger generation of scholars. You can find the current Call for Papers on our website.


ISSN1612-8362 © Copyright 2012 Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft e.V.


Introduction Christina Wald and Felix Sprang

King John as Performed Palimpsest Lukas Lammers

“Why do I yield to that suggestion”: Crisis of Autonomy and Autonomy as Crisis in Macbeth Jan Mosch

The Jew and the City: Containment and Circulation of Religious Otherness in Shakespeare’s Venice and Marlowe’s Malta Ariane de Waal

Twelfth Night or Inshallah Sean Aita

“In that Jerusalem shall Harry die.” King Henry IV’s Faith and Doubt Imke Licherfeld

Resonances of Faith and Doubt: C.G. Jung, Shakespeare and Questions of Healing Claudia Richter

Call for Statements Shakespeare Seminar der Shakespeare-Tage 2013




Ton Hoenselaars judges King John to be a play on “the practical and psychological problems of an unrightful monarch” (146). The same can be applied to the plays involving the character of Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV, which were written at roughly the same time as the study on the earlier king of England (c. 1595-1598).

When usurping the throne in Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke seems a strong and pragmatic politician; at the end of Henry IV Part II he dies, old, sick and troubled, apparently from similar reasons as Hoenselaars applies to King John.

Bolingbroke’s illness seems, in modern terms, largely psychosomatic, defined by the OED as “a. Involving or depending on both the mind and the body as mutually dependent entities. […] b. Applied to physical disorders caused or aggravated by mental, emotional, or psychological factors” (XII, 770). Henry does not only seem to age prematurely, he also becomes weary of the crown end eventually dies of illness.

This idea can be explained in twofold ways: as far as the Renaissance idea of the state as a macrocosm and that of kingship as a microcosm is concerned, there have been various discussions of the sick macrocosm of the state of England corresponding to the sick microcosm the persona of the king,1 but at the same time the theory of the king’s

two bodies can be applied here.2 Henry IV’s body natural, his physical body deteriorates while the body politic, i.e. the spirit of kingship will transfer to the next heir:

Bolingbroke’s usurpation is thus usually seen in the light of traditional divine kingship and its theo-political implications (Cf. Kantorowicz 39-40), and Shakespeare’s treatment of Henry’s reign is often discussed with respect to the doctrine of the divine right of kings.

Less attention has been paid to the interrelation between the king’s faith and the faith in the king as a reciprocal process. In this respect, this article will also touch upon the idea that Shakespeare uses the issue of faith in his second tetralogy as a lens to Most of these studies originated in the middle of the twentieth century, among them E.M.W.

Tillyard’s monographs such as The Elizabethan World Picture and Shakespeare’s History Plays.

Heinz Zimmermann also concentrates on the ideological crisis in Richard II in his more recent article, see bibliography. For a modern discussion which treats this correspondence, diagnosing the body in drama, but with a relation to satirical Jacobean drama, see William Spates. “Shakespeare and the Irony of Early Modern Disease Metaphor and Metonymy” Rhetorics of Bodily Disease and

Health in Medieval and Early Modern England. Ed. Jennifer C. Vaught. Farnham/Burlington:

Ashgate, 2010. 155-170, especially 160-161.

Kantorowicz’ widely acclaimed study on the two bodies of the king contains a classic chapter on the situation in Richard II. Ernst H. Kantorowicz. The King’s Two Bodies. A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton, New Journey: Princeton University Press, 1997. (19571). 24-41.

www.shakespeare-gesellschaft.de/publikationen/seminar/ausgabe2012 54 King Henry IV's Faith and Doubt focus on the troubled relationship between church and state, clergy and landed gentry that resulted from the Reformation, or, as Richard Rex calls it, the “crisis of obedience” with its “transfer of the ecclesiastical loyalty of the English people from pope to king” (863). Thus the immediacy of the religio-historical context of the Shakespearean era is adapted and can be detected in the histories.

The burden of the king’s two bodies, which naturally affects the anointed king, now also bears down on the usurper and haunts him: the idea that the ‘monarch is sick and therefore the state is sick’ or rather the ‘state is sick and therefore the monarch becomes sick’, and vice versa, effectually applies to this monarch who has overturned the old order and has so far proved an able-bodied man but then deteriorates rapidly.

However, already at the end of Richard II, Shakespeare points to a miraculous, almost supernatural healing cure for the politically weakened new monarch: a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Throughout both parts of Henry IV, Henry is continually preoccupied and “obsessed” (Black 19) with Jerusalem3 and later claims that he is convinced that Jerusalem will be his final destination: “It hath been prophesied to me many years, / I should not die but in Jerusalem.” (2H4, 4.5.236-237). The curing effect is certainly associated with a religious absolution of sins but it remains to be seen in how far a pilgrimage is feasible, also with regard to ecclesiastic political thoughts in the time of Shakespeare.

The idea of travelling to the Holy Land – though not yet that of dying there – is first presented by Henry Bolingbroke in Richard II; in his speech following the execution of Richard, Henry insists on the following decision: “Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe […] I’ll make a voyage to the Holy Land/ To wash this blood off from my guilty hand.” (R2, 5.6.45, 49-50) It remains to be analysed in what way exactly Henry is convinced that travelling to Jerusalem will serve as a means to prove his faith and Christian virtues as a new monarch after the usurpation of the throne of the divinely anointed head of state, i.e. to do penance for his disobedience towards his God and king. A different strategy is presented by the question whether the voyage might purely serve as a means to solidify his politics, and thus the question poses itself, in how far Henry instrumentalises the idea of a pilgrimage or even a military excursion, i.e. a crusade as a public redress or intended cure to his usurpation.

Jonathan Baldo argues that “[c]rimes against rightful inheritance and dynastic continuity lie at the center of the play’s action” (“Sublime” 82) and the voyage will

serve to satisfy Henry’s “craving for forgetfulness” (Baldo, Memory 77) by the nation:

Through the vow, Henry officially utters an intended obligation to achieve a pardon, i.e. Christian remission of sins: similarly he presents himself as a penitential believer and faithful4 Christian at the start of Richard II when he is willing to fight a duel that is decided by God’s judgment. Later in 2H4, his statement in Westminster Abbey appears The historic Henry did travel to the Holy Land, but Shakespeare either neglects this fact for dramatic reasons or is unaware of it: “By not knowing, or not using, the fact that Henry had already traveled to the Holy Land and back, Shakespeare is able to make Henry’s attempts to get there the more dramatically urgent” (Black 20).

The OED lists various entries for the definition of faith, first indicating “I. Belief, trust, confidence”, but also an “Inducement to belief or trust” (II.) and “The obligation imposed by a trust” (III), OED V, 678-679.

Shakespeare Seminar 10 (2012) Imke Lichterfeld as a faithful and humble assertion of his previous, vainglory hope of absolution when confronted with the irony of the chamber’s name, Jerusalem, in 2 Henry IV, 4.5.234.

On the surface, Henry appears as a character whose faith seems well-established.

Nevertheless, he usurps the crown of the anointed king and thereby acts against Christian morals and the doctrine of obedience. Audiences must therefore position, and arguably re-position, themselves in deciding how pragmatic or how religious Henry is.

Of course, this often depends on the presentation of the monarch in performances.

David Troughton, for example, in the RSC production in 2000 (directed by Michael Attenborough) was a down-to-earth pragmatic politician, but the crown did indeed prove to be an utter burden that fiercely pressed upon his head and visibly left marks upon his temples (cf. Chernaik 131); similarly did Clive Wood in 2006 (directed by Michael Boyd) begin as a strong pragmatist and solid warrior to only end up decidedly aged and marked by signs of illness.5 Throughout both parts of Henry IV, doubts about the rightfulness of his kingship and the succession after Richard II remain, as Richard’s memory haunts Henry: “nothing is more difficult to control, more unruly and more prone to riot and rebellion, than the kingdom of the dead” (Baldo “Sublime” 83). Henry’s doubts can underline the psychosomatic nature of his sickness from the crown, but there are two possible reasons for his sickness: first, a guilt-ridden conscience, and second, a caring sickness that could have afflicted the dutiful monarch Henry.

What audiences thus have to negotiate are extremely opposing views of Henry’s character: a faithful Christian, devout, loyal to his country, courageous and patriotic, and later a truly insecure king who has lost his innocence (cf. Baldo “Sublime” 92), who regrets the act of usurpation, and who is influenced by power-seeking noblemen around him (once they realise how easily monarchy can be undermined); or: a Machiavellian politician, pragmatic, strategic, tactical, hypocritical, “military” (Parvini

193) and “ambitious, unscrupulous, opportunistic and dissimulating” (Forker 24, cf.

Baldo “Sublime” 81, Zimmermann 23-24). Charles R. Forker phrases it shrewdly:

Has Richard masochistically delivered up himself and his throne to a hypocritical enemy who would have seized power in any case? Or has Bolingbroke through luck, percipience, a heroic temperament and skillful manoeuvring simply placed himself in a position to have greatness thrust upon him? The scene leaves these equivocal issues unresolved. (26-27) As Forker and Bevington have argued convincingly, the play is ambiguous: Henry seems none of these extremes but obviously holds a position or impersonates a role in between these two extremes (cf. Forker 27; Bevington 50). However, Forker completely neglects the issue of faith, and does not consider whether Henry’s character changes from Richard II to 2 Henry IV and becomes more pragmatic or more religious through the course of the three plays. Bevington on the other hand evaluates on the vitalizing effect of pragmatism in politics. Black, quoting A. R. Humphreys’ edition, argues that “Henry’s motives for a crusade are purely penitential in Richard II, V. vi.

49-50, whereas in 2 Henry IV, IV. v. 208-15, ‘they seem purely Machiavellian’” (19).

See a. o. the RSC theatre programme: Henry IV. Parts I & II. The Courtyard Theatre. RSC 2007 and production stills.

www.shakespeare-gesellschaft.de/publikationen/seminar/ausgabe2012 56 King Henry IV's Faith and Doubt This might give a first indication of Henry’s development into an administrative politician. Neema Parvini highlights the military unification against a common enemy as his main motive: “He proposes to lead a crusade to Jerusalem, thereby uniting the warring factions of his nation against a common, foreign and heathen enemy.” (Parvini 196) The following article will give a short overview of Henry Bolingbroke’s behaviour in Richard II and then evaluate his positioning towards faith and the intended voyage of faith to Jerusalem and how this is depicted in political terms throughout the following two Henry IV plays. Shakespeare’s plays investigate, as Hoenselaars puts it, the “delineation of personal and political identities […], the complex interaction between more or less traditional Christian perceptions of kingship on the one hand and, on the other, the pragmatic views of statecraft” (139).6 In Richard II, the word ‘faith’ is only used four times, and two occasions are of particular interest for this argument. Shakespeare has both King Richard and Henry Bolingbroke use the word ‘faith’ to characterise Bolingbroke, but they present opposing views on the question of a subject’s duty with respect to his monarch. The

following is Richard’s conception of ‘faith’ contrasted to Henry’s conduct:

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