chapter  6
32 Pages

Cordelia’s bond and Britannia’s missing middle (King

ByLear)

Just as the crisis of the succession had informed much of the drama, as well as the political thought of the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign, so what might be termed the crisis of the accession of James I left its distinct imprint on early Jacobean drama, in numerous plays which more or less obliquely interrogated not only the identity of the new king, but also that of his new kingdom. It was around 1606, when the debate about the Union of England and Scotland was at its height, that Shakespeare made two, and possibly three, powerful interventions in this reopened debate upon the question of kingship, for along with Macbeth and King Lear, he may also have written Antony and Cleopatra in this period.3 This latter possibility should serve to remind us that (like James’s own rhetorical attempts to define his kingship in patriarchal terms) Shakespeare’s dramatic meditations upon masculine rule invariably cast a long and feminine shadow behind them; yet in fact the implication of the ruler’s sovereign power with certain feminine tropes is already subtly delineated in Lear and Macbeth, plays whose historical proximity is further strengthened by their tropical affinity.