Wayward Sons and Willful Bastards: Sovereign Legitimacy in Shakespeare's Henry IV and King Lear
Via a comparison of two of Shakespeare's plays, this analysis aims to answer the following problems: how is sovereign legitimacy conferred; what is the relation between political organization and nature? In both Henry IV, Part 1 and King Lear, the public and private realms are collapsed, so that familial problems are played out on a grander, political stage. The writings of Edmund Burke and Northrop Frye and a contemporary presentation of British inheritance law are called upon to contextualize better the legal framework. The two plays present the structural inversion of the other: Henry IV's reign is plagued by the need to establish sovereign legitimacy outside the domain of divine appointment. King Lear, though first recognized as a legitimate source of authority, must contend with a loss of agency and political will -- both the result of a breakdown in law. In their various attempts to establish and preserve order, Henry IV and King Lear advance a theory of modern political rule that is removed of its supernatural quality but which must still rely on appeals to nature. The kings are revealed to be fallible while their offspring must contend with proving their own legitimacy and right to rule.