Chapter 1: Performance and the political subject in Richard II
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Shakespeare’s dramatization of the fall of Richard II, a young, inexperienced, and foolish king, asks its viewers to evaluate the character of a strong leader and the relationship between leadership and performativity. When Richard’s cousin Henry Bolingbroke resists Richard’s violations of English law, he emerges as an exemplar of political reform and strong leadership. However, Shakespeare’s characterization of Bolingbroke throughout the play calls into question his civic activism, while Richard’s performativity threatens to undermine the authenticity of Bolingbroke’s call for political reform. In its attention to the qualities of a successful leader, the play offers a modern audience a lens through which to consider the US political landscape and suggests potential liabilities of political performativity for American democracy.

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