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Abstract

The current focus on political theology in Shakespeare studies is largely devoted to tracing how Shakespeare's dramas illuminate the structural link between religious and political forms in both early modernity and modern liberal democracy. Critics concerned with addressing Shakespeare's engagement with political theology are also interested in how Shakespeare's portrayal of sovereign bodies in crisis constitute an early representation of ‘biopolitics’. These critics draw on theorists ranging from Carl Schmitt to Giorgio Agamben to inform their analyses of the way Shakespeare dramatizes sovereignty in a ‘state of emergency’ in his histories and tragedies. Plays such as Richard II, Coriolanus, and Hamlet have drawn particular attention insofar as they vividly interrogate the nature of the sovereign exception and decision highlighted by theorists of political theology. While this line of criticism adds a new theoretical dimension to Shakespeare studies, it also offers the potential for remapping our understanding of the religious and political history of early modern England in its attention to the deforming pressure of religious schism on traditional structures of sovereignty.