Renaissance Incorporations. Negotiating the Theory of the King’s Two Bodies

Author: Rolls, Albert
Synthesizes older and newer historical approaches to Renaissance texts in order to establish a reading of them that takes at its starting point the principles behind the period’s natural philosophy in order to reevaluate the theory of the king’s two bodies. Rolls presents a view of Renaissance thought that could adapt itself to new discoveries, and also turns to recent thinkers to interpret the material.


“One task set by this book is for us to note the legal and political difficulties in understanding the king’s second body – his political incorporation – was he the “head of state; or was he controlling a body which in turn controlled another body, the people; or was there a mystery in this second embodiment, such that it can only be understood as a mystery?” “The bifolding of the king’s two bodies obliges the present-day reader to return to a historiography of belief. Here, perhaps more than in other respects, Rolls wants to carry his readers beyond New Historicism. He finds we need a rather more neutral view that is implied by Foucault’s “discourse power theory,” where ideology always masks secretive, Althusserian control over outsiders, while insiders can only manipulate the power structure, including their own, by subversive means.”
-Angus Fletcher,
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English
Graduate School, CUNY

“This is an exciting and admirably readable book. It is an important contribution to the field of Renaissance studies that takes a sharp and steady look at the methods prevailing in the area, particularly those of new historicism… Reworking of the theory of the king’s two bodies had implications reaching far beyond the relationship of monarch to subject: God’s relationship to the cosmos and the structure of all communal bodies, including marriage and the family, had to be made over – not according to modernity, but according to what Rolls terms ‘modern medievalism’. The book delineates this change by reference to Shakespeare’s late plays, Middleton’s ‘Women beware Women’ and Donne’s Anniversaries …This is an important book for the field of intellectual history and for Renaissance literary criticism.”
-Catherine LaFarge,

“Despite the complexity of the material under discussion Rolls manages to provide clear and incisive expositions, for example of Foucault and Lacan. This establishes his authority and fluency on questions of theory. As an historicist he has produced a significant rereading of two-bodies theory, showing that the established treatments of the topic neglect important contributions to sixteenth-century jurisprudence. Even more striking is his ability to give alert, sustained and insightful attention to the passages of poetry and drama he introduces as evidence. The result is often quite compelling, bringing new considerations to bear on familiar scenes and exchanges in Shakespeare.”
-Daniel Carey

Table of Contents

Preface – Angus Fletcher
When the New Historicisms Become Powerful
I. Colonizing the Renaissance
II. What Is To Be Done?
The Dialectic Between the Bodies Natural and Politic
I. The Problem
II. The Possibilities
Richard II’s Anamorphic State
I. England’s Flight from Ritual
II. “Think I am Dead”: Richard II’s Tragic Demise
III. Richard’s paradoxical Order
IV. Bolingbroke’s Paradox
Metamorphosing Bodies
I. Egeus Knows By What Power Hermia Is Made Bold
II. A Family of Another Sort or Pastoral Set Awry
III. The Paragon of Naught
IV. The Thesean Metamorphosis
Subjectivity and The Body Politic: Parts I,II- Henry IV and Henry V
I. Hamlet’s Difference
II. Henry IV’s Body Politic
III. “Thou Has Damnable Iteration”
The New Philosophies: Thomas Middleton and John Donne
I. After Henry V
II. The History of the World: From Ptolemy to Copernicus
III. Some Concluding Remarks: Modern Medievalism