Playing with the King’s Two Bodies: Schmitt, Kantorowicz, and the Role of Theatricality
In the past few decades, Anglo-American academic discourse has often pitted theatricality and performativity (and theatre against performance), with the former usually designating artificiality, make-believe, and duplicity, while the latter associated with efficacy and concreteness. For a long while, this dichotomy had an implied hierarchy within it as well, privileging the sociopolitical effectiveness of performance over the affectedness of theatre, thus continuing the tradition of anti-theatrical prejudice in Western culture. As Janelle Reinelt demonstrates, this tendency is prevalent in Anglo-American academia much more than it is in continental Europe.
The current paper wishes to join recent attempts of reappraising theatricality, and to suggest that precisely those aspects of it which have been subjected to critique and prejudice – its mechanisms of « fake » representation – are potentially most radical and subversive, semiotically and politically. This will be argued through a close reading of the role of theatre and theatricality in two contemporaneous works: Carl Schmitt’s Hamlet or Hecuba (1956) and Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies (1957). By reading Schmitt alongside Kantorowicz, and examining the place of Shakespearean theatre in these works, I would explore the relationship between theatrical representation and the political-theological order: while Schmitt wishes to elevate Hamlet (and Tragedy at large) from « mere » theatrical play through the intrusion of political reality into it, in Kantorowicz’s interpretation of Richard II it is the theatrical actor who in fact serves to dismantle the doctrine of the king’s two bodies, and thus disrupt political representation. Theatre, precisely because of the « double-bodied » quality thus allows for a playful intervention within the political-theological order and its representational mechanisms. Kantorowicz’s Richard II can therefore be read as a (perhaps indirect) response to Schmitt’s Hamlet, and as a celebration of theatricality’s political efficacy.
Yair Lipshitz is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Theatre Arts in Tel Aviv University. His book, The Holy Tongue, Comedy’s Version, was published by Bar-Ilan University Press, and his next book, Embodied Tradition: Essays of Jewish Theatre, is forthcoming by Ben-Gurion University Press (both in Hebrew). Recent publications in English include: “The Clown’s Lost Twin: Messianic Moments in Hanoch Levin’s Drama, » Modern Drama 56:2 (2013); « Scrolls and Scandals: The Ritual Object as Stage Prop in God of Vengeance. » Theatre Survey 54:2 (2013); and “The Jacob Cycle in Angels in America: Re-Performing Scripture Queerly. » Prooftexts 32:2 (2012). His current research project focuses on Hebrew theatre as an intervention in the Zionist political-theological imagination.