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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: April 2018

Chapter 12 - Political Theology from the Pulpit and the Stage: Sir Thomas More, Richard II, and Henry V

from IV - Enactment:


Shakespearean texts often revisit the cultural use of biblical passages that played a dominant role in Elizabethan and Jacobean ideology. This chapter explores the conditions of reading the Bible in Shakespearean contexts by focusing on a politically resonant biblical passage as it moves through several plays. Romans 13:1-7 is the key biblical text behind the combination of sacred and state in Renaissance political theology. Shakespeare’s characters allude to Romans 13 onstage at least 26 times in the dramatic corpus, and with particular intensity in the history plays: in Henry V, Richard II, and the multi-authored and generically layered Sir Thomas More. In looking at Shakespeare’s treatment of this passage of scripture, this essay surveys the interpretive history of this text, with special attention to the use of the passage in homilies and sermons. The essay then turns to consider the divided use of the term “political theology” in literary criticism.

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