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Religions 2013, 4(1), 30-50; doi:10.3390/rel4010030

Drama & Demigods: Kingship and Charisma in Shakespeare’s England

Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, 28 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA 23173, USA
Received: 3 December 2012 / Revised: 17 January 2013 / Accepted: 18 January 2013 / Published: 22 January 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Charisma, Medieval and Modern)
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Shakespearean charisma, with its medieval roots in both religion and politics, served as a precursor to Max Weber’s later understanding of the term. The on-stage portrayal of charismatic kingship in the twilight of the Tudor dynasty was not coincidental; facing the imminent death of a queen, the English nation was concerned about the future of the monarchy. Through the depiction of the production and deterioration of royal charisma, Shakespeare presents the anxiety of a population aware of the latent dangers of charismatic authority; while Elizabeth managed to perpetuate an unprecedented degree of long-term charismatic rule, there could be no certainty that her successor would be similarly capable. Shakespeare’s second tetralogy — known as the Henriad — examines this royal charisma as it appears both under crisis and in the process of what Weber would later characterize as routinization. While Henry IV (Bolingbroke) originally makes use of charisma to ensure his succession to Richard II’s throne, he loses his charismatic authority in the process. Henry V, by contrast, makes use of deliberate crisis — his claim to the French crown — in order to restore royal charisma. Henry V’s success, however, cannot last, and his son’s reign is a disastrous reminder that charisma is, as Weber will later argue, inherently unstable.
Keywords: Shakespeare; charisma; monarchy; Henry V; Henry IV; Richard II; Weber; divine right; Elizabeth I Shakespeare; charisma; monarchy; Henry V; Henry IV; Richard II; Weber; divine right; Elizabeth I
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Bezio, K.M. Drama & Demigods: Kingship and Charisma in Shakespeare’s England. Religions 2013, 4, 30-50.

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