By Peter Hyland
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Additional resources for An Introduction to Shakespeare: The Dramatist in His Context
And the like power have Kings. 14 This mystification of royal power was underpinned by the doctrine of 'the king's (or queen's) two bodies', which proposed that the monarch had a 'body natural' and a 'body politic'. The body natural contained the body politic; the body natural could die, but the body politic was immortal and passed on to a dying monarch's 42 An Introduction to Shakespeare rightful successor, which in England would normally be his or her first-born son. It is clear that, in the case of Elizabeth, neither a first-born son herself nor having one of her own, this doctrine was problematic and in need of continual readjustment, and that it must have generated problems in the debates over who would succeed her.
Some beliefs resisted, some were modified, some were supplanted, and if there was an Elizabethan world picture it was marked by diversity rather than uniformity. John Donne wrote in 'The First Anniversary' (1611): And New Philosophy calls all in doubt, The Element of fire is quite put out; The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit Can well direct him, where to look for it. (205-8) 15 Donne's doubts were more extreme than those of many of his contemporaries, but the difference was in magnitude rather than in kind.
Some are in high degree, some in low, some kings and princes, some inferiors and subjects, priests and laymen, masters and servants, fathers and children, husbands and wives, rich and poor, and every one has need of other: so that in all things is to be lauded and praised the goodly order of God, without the which, no house, no city, no common wealth can continue and endure. B We can only guess at how many times Shakespeare heard those words. They are echoed over and over in his plays. Shakespeare's main presentation of these ideas of cosmic order comes in Ulysses' speech on 'degree' in the first act of Troilus and Cressida: The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre Observe degree, priority, and place, Life and Times 41 Insisture, course, proportion, season, form, Office, and custom, in all line of order: [ ...