Rather than frame the abundant theatricality in Richard II as empty artifice, this essay contends that the play’s numerous episodes of apparently failed enactments in fact constitute successful instances of what Sherman terms “messianic performance”: the deliberately choreographed effacement and rendering irrelevant of the very capacity to act at all. The first section of the essay develops this concept by attending to two resonant but seldom conversant fields of inquiry, messianic theory and performance studies. Shakespeare’s play, I suggest, situates the messianic theology of St. Paul, whose philosophy vitalizes both early modern dramaturgy and contemporary critical theory, within a resolutely theatrical framework, the result of which crafts an irreconcilable tension between the dissolution of legibility promised by the epistles and the irreducibility of the performing body. The essay’s second section reads the play as a meditation on this tension to recover from its displays of seemingly hollow ritual a mode of performance that must, by its nature, appear to fail. Such mimetic “failure” does not indicate weakness or inefficacy but gestures powerfully at a form of logic beyond both the representational mechanics of the pageantry within the narrative and the play’s own status as a work of staged action.


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pp. 22-48
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