The history plays are not an obvious resource for an account of Shakespeare’s engagement with the supernatural. The genre of the history play has, with good reason, been understood as secular. There are serious arguments to be made about what counts as secularisation and what might be defined as secular, but whatever precise claims are made, the term designates the worldly, and it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the history plays are about the world and, perhaps, an increasing sense that the world is becoming more worldly.1 As a new genre, the history play exemplifies a quickening of interest in politics and political action. At the same time, the genre displays a new commitment to history as a positive value. These twin investments, in politics and history, the hurly-burly of human affairs construed as consequential, are what make the genre appear especially worldly. However, this claim does not deny the presence of the supernatural in the plays that we call histories. Nor does it relegate the supernatural to the status of the residual, an ideological hangover that will gradually dissolve in time. In what follows I want to make the case that Shakespeare’s earliest history play, The First Part of the Contention presents a distinctly post-Reformation vision of history that is simultaneously disenchanted and diabolical.2 Referring to the play by its original title, following Taylor and Wells, locates it more precisely in its moment of composition and production (as opposed to its later re-fashioning as one part of a three-part play in the folio); while the quarto text provides invaluable evidence of staging, I am ultimately more interested in the existence of textual variants than I am in proposing a theory that would explain them. The play exhibits a generally disenchanted view of the political world; action is dominated by an array of non-royal agents who vie for power, and the king himself, despite his piety, lacks the sanctity and charisma that elsewhere accompanies figures of sacred kingship. Most importantly, The First Part of the Contention stages the exposure of a false miracle, a moment of emblematic disenchantment. Simultaneously, the play depicts a world in which demonic conjuration is a frighteningly real possibility that raises difficult questions about diabolic agency in a partially disenchanted world. The implications of this argument are two-fold: it suggests that the traditional account of the genre has overlooked the degree to which the history play registers the various interpretive

conflicts, as well as actual violence, that followed the Reformation, and it provides evidence for the complexity of the process of disenchantment.