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Harry and Amurath



BENEDICT S. ROBINSON


Before his coronation, as he announces his intention to invade France, and as he proposes marriage to Katharine, Henry V invokes the specter of a Turkish double. These moments in Shakespeare's play punctuate the major political transitions of his reign; moreover, they condense a pattern of thought vital to these plays, one that concerns the constitution of English nationalist discourse from the often recalcitrant materials of a Christian political imaginary. In the sixteenth century, Christendom remained the object of powerful emotional cathexis, but the forms of allegiance and action it authorized were in dispute. Henry redirects the energies that once coalesced around the political and communal ideal of a Christian commonwealth to the commonwealth of England. But as Henry invokes the Turk as his opposite, he also suggests his resemblance to that figure. In this, Henry V opens up some serious questions about the “political theology” of the nation. In revealing the constitution of national community as a translated theology, Shakespeare suggests that this is a troubled process. Recent accounts of early modern nationalism have tended to downplay or forget Christendom as a transnational space of belonging both instrumental to the nation and still in competition with it. The strange relations between "Harry" and "Amurath" evoked in 2 Henry IV and Henry V are the traces of a wider struggle between Christendom and the nation as theopolitical spaces, a struggle that takes place in significant measure over the figure of Muslim difference.



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