"What more remains?": Messianic Performance in Richard II
Shakespeare Quarterly 65.1 (2014). 22-48, April 2014
Donovan Sherman, Ph.D.
Department of English
Rather than think of Shakespeare's Richard II as a practitioner or exposer of illusions, this essay proposes that his resolute theatricality, in all its hyper-visibility and emptiness, is in itself a source of power. This power stems from reconsidering the king's apparent failure to perform as the fulfillment of a different kind of acting, which I call 'messianic performance': a carefully enacted effacement and rendering irrelevant of the very capacity to act at all. The first section of the essay attends closely to foundational work in Pauline theology and performance studies, coupling these theoretical fields with scenes of their realization in Richard II. Shakespeare's play, I suggest, situates the philosophy of Paul within a mimetic framework, crafting an irreconcilable tension between the dissolution of legibility promised by the epistles and the irreducible and explicit performing body. The second section closely reads several scenes to suggest a new interpretation of the play as a whole, reimagining Richard's fall as a leap into the open air of history—a leap that must be performed, depending as it does upon the very bodily and temporal registers that it seeks to eliminate. The messianic performance in the play thus comments on both the theatricality within its narrative and the more
broadly conceived theatre of the play's realization as a staged work.