Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Commentaries on The King's Two Bodies

Law, Culture and the Humanities 13:1 has published a commentary section on Ernst Kantorowicz's classic work, The King's Two Bodies. 

Here are the abstracts:

Stephanie Elsky, "Ernst Kantorowicz, Shakespeare, and the Humanities' Two Bodies"


This commentary reflects on two very different revivals of Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology in the field of early modern studies, the first during the heyday of New Historicism and the second in the current post-New Historicist moment that is still defining itself. The first revival focused on the literal meaning of king’s two bodies, the second on its figurative and fictional nature. The first trained its lens on the doctrine’s absolutist potential, the second on its constitutionalist strain. To account for these political and literary shifts I turn to a larger trend in literary and humanistic studies, the desire to move away from ideology critique and to reframe the humanities in terms of its capacity to articulate “a new vision for human community,” to borrow Victoria Kahn’s phrase. I argue that the peculiarly ironic status of the king’s two bodies offers a way to intervene in this debate, which I term “the humanities’ two bodies.” The commentary concludes by offering Laertes’ popular rebellion in Hamlet as a brief test case of the limits and promise of this most recent turn in the career of Kantorowicz’s protean text.

Karl Shoemaker, "The King's Two Bodies as Lamentation"


The King’s Two Bodies is, as has long been recognized, a genealogy of modern state power. But it is also something else less clearly recognized. The King’s Two Bodies is a lamentation. In Kantorowicz’s poignant eulogy, the sovereign that medieval lawyers had made in the imago dei, was revealed at last to be an idol. Profound reverence for the rule of law crumbled into absent-minded legality. The lawful sovereign became diabolical power, forever deciding exceptions but incapable of justice or grace. In The King’s Two Bodies, Kantorowicz mournfully shows how the death and tragic afterlife of a particular medieval concept of sovereignty helped to make possible the horrors of modern political absolutism and state idolatry.

Paul Raffield, "Time, Equity, and the Artifice of English Law: Reflections on The King's Two Bodies"


The aim of this article is to analyze the contribution of the early modern English legal institution to the formulation of the theory of the king’s two bodies. I explore three principal themes in the course of this article, all of which relate directly to central tenets of the thesis proposed by Kantorowicz in The King’s Two Bodies. First, is the centrality of time and continuity to theories of kingship and to the ideology of common law. Secondly, I consider the importance of equity to the formulation of decision-making in English law, and in pursuit of this end, the manipulation by the judiciary of political theology concerning the king’s two bodies. Lastly, I analyze the persuasive power of the trope, and especially the capacity of metaphor and metonym to embody such invisible and intangible juristic concepts as justice, equity, and law itself. Whilst recognizing the magisterial quality of Kantorowicz’s magnum opus, I take issue with some of the more extravagant of the author’s claims for the pervasive power of mystical kingship and its influence over English jurists and the English legal profession.

Sarah Burgess, "The Sovereign Claims from Within: The Rhetorical Displacement of Sovereign Bodies in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl"


This article considers the impact of Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies for understanding how claims of sovereignty are authorized and legitimated in a secular age devoid of the divine grace that underwrites the sovereignty of the king in medieval times. Through a reading of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 133 S.Ct. 2552 (2013), a case concerning the custody of a child of Cherokee descent, it demonstrates that sovereign bodies are constituted, (dis)placed, and recognized through an appeal to biopolitical logics. This insight is important as it invites a form of rhetorical critique that might account for the conditions in which sovereign claims fashion the terms of political community.

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