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Rumor, the Breath of Kings, and the Body of Law in 2 Henry IV



MEREDITH EVANS


This essay focuses on the political function of the personification of Rumor in order to challenge readings of the second tetralogy that see Rumor dramatizing the formation of a sovereign state, mounted securely on individual virtue and charismatic power. Through its ability to manipulate truth and elude ontological stability, Rumor appropriates the spectral authority of the state personified as a corpus mysticum and foregrounds the precarious quality of such nominally deathless institutions. Both a quality of the king and something that challenges or curbs his power, Rumor deontologizes the singular, deathless institution the king supposedly is. Tracing the affinity of Rumor (initially associated with the many‐headed multitude) with Henry IV, Falstaff, and finally the Lord Chief Justice, Evans argues that the real transference of power occurs not between Henry IV and Hal but between Rumor and the Lord Chief Justice. Thus, the play's representation of political authority is less centralizing and celebratory than is often acknowledged. By submitting to the Chief Justice's counsel, Hal gains the political legitimacy that his father lacked. At the same time, this submission initiates a juridical constraint on monarchic rule and a transition to the state as abstract personality. Thus, the play not only undercuts familiar humanist narratives of reform but also draws our attention to the fundamentally contestable nature of any given political configuration, especially those that claim to be originary and authoritative.



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