'For I must nothing be'

Kings, Idols, and the Double-Body of the Sign in Early Modern England

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 Queen's University Belfast p.canning@uu.nl
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The importance of the 'word' in sixteenth century theology cannot be overestimated in both its literal and literary manifestations. As the incarnation of divinity, it is given form and material substance through scripture. From a Reformed perspective, this presents a theological anomaly: God is both form (word) and meaning (Word). As a duplicated representation of divinity encoding both nominal and intrinsic properties I propose that the 'W/word' can be read idolatrously. This article considers the implications of such a reading in the theological arena of early modern England. It focuses on the ways in which a theory of duplicated representation, or what I call, the 'double-body of the sign', strengthens while it also problematises early modern conceptions of authority. To date, few scholars have examined and debated these ideas through a stylistic framework using contemporary linguistic models. Focusing on the unstable signification that underpins monarchical and divine authority, I offer an analysis of William Shakespeare's Richard II which aims to address this critical lacuna. Reading Foucault and Kantorowicz, for example, alongside Fauconnier and Turner, I pay particular attention to the ways in which the relationship or bond of resemblance between signifier and signified animates the space in which tension, contradiction, and ultimately, schism can operate to disrupt the process of signification. It is this space within which representation can both exploit and be exploited politically, religiously, and culturally, having the power to destabilise monarchical authority and more devastatingly, the foundations of the Reformed argument.

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