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Being and Having in Shakespeare$
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Katharine Eisaman Maus

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199698004

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199698004.001.0001

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Vagabond Kings: Entitlement and Distribution in 2 Henry VI and King Lear

Vagabond Kings: Entitlement and Distribution in 2 Henry VI and King Lear

Chapter:
(p.99) 5 Vagabond Kings: Entitlement and Distribution in 2 Henry VI and King Lear
Source:
Being and Having in Shakespeare
Author(s):

Katharine Eisaman Maus

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199698004.003.0005

This chapter considers the figure of the royal or noble ‘vagabond,’ theoretically entitled but actually dispossessed, a figure that in some Shakespeare plays becomes a conduit for questions about property relations and social organization. In 2 Henry VI, each side to the conflict over the throne construes itself as a ‘rightful owner’ and its opponent as a ‘pirate’ or ‘vagabond’; but the rightful owner is continually in danger of displacement into the ‘vagabond’ position, at which point he must become a pirate himself. The effect is to construe the pirate and the proprietor, the landowner and the vagrant, as both contraries and as replicas of one another. In the episodes of the Cade rebellion this effect is further intensified and developed, raising questions about the origins and social desirability of the institutions of private property. King Lear revisits some of the same issues, not merely to reprise the critique of property in the earlier play, but to suggest an even more radical conclusion. Indeed the effect of Lear’s wholesale, apocalyptic disjointings is to complicate, almost to the extent of annihilating, the powerful connections between property, power, and entitlement as they have been asserted in many of Shakespeare’s other plays.

Keywords:   1 Henry VI, Cade rebellion, King Lear, sovereignty, vagabond, distributive justice

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