History 367 Society and Ideas in Shakespeare’s England

He was a French politique (cf. politic; politics; politician; Twelfth Night 3:2:24-5: “policy I hate. I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician”)

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He was a French politique (cf. politic; politics; politician; Twelfth Night 3:2:24-5: “policy I hate. I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician”).

  • Bodin’s most famous book (1576) was translated into English as Six Bookes of a Commonweale, 1606, by Richard Knolles;

  • Knolles’s earlier General History of the Turks is a probable source for Othello.

    Jean Bodin

    Bodin, Six Bookes of a Common-Weale, translated by Richard Knolles, 1606

    Knolles’s Generall Historie of the Turkes, 5th ed., 1638


    • Bodin argued that there are a number of powers that are essential to government; e.g. making laws, taxing, commanding the army; these are sovereign powers.

    • He claimed that governments must possess all sovereign powers; if the government is a monarchy, the king must have complete sovereignty.

    • A government that lacks some sovereign power is not really a government.

    Sovereignty and its implications (1)

    • If one person holds a sovereign power (e.g. lawmaking) and another has a different one (e.g. command of the army) there will forever be (potential or actual) conflict between them, and the state will be under threat of destruction.

    • The sovereign cannot share powers with someone else; mixed government is impossible (though mixed administration is not).

    Sovereignty and its implications (2)

    • If the sovereign can be called to account (say, for exceeding the limits of his power) by another person (or assembly) then that person is really sovereign; so the sovereign is not subject to (enforceable) limits, and is not subordinate to (or accountable to) anyone;

    • Sovereign power is absolute and unlimited.

    • Sovereigns cannot be violently resisted; if someone had the right to use violence against a sovereign, that person would really be sovereign.

    Other aspects of the Divine Right of Kings

    • God created human nature; what is natural for human is of divine origin.

    • Humans require government; it is natural for them; the law of nature requires that people live in societies and under governments;

    • Governments get their powers from God/ nature, and not from the people; there is no evidence that the people ever had political power, so they could not give it to a King.

    The Divine Right of Kings (and other governments)

    • Sovereigns are not accountable to the people; anyone who has political power derives it from the sovereign; non-resistance and passive obedience.

    • Divine Right theory applicable to republics as well as monarchies; the theory circulated widely in Venice (Paolo Sarpi; Interdict 1606) as well as England.

    • Thinkers in monarchies often argued that monarchy is the best form of government.

    Paolo Sarpi, 1552-1623

    Divine Right and Monarchy

    • Arguments for monarchy:

    • God rules the universe as a monarch, and not in republican/ democratic fashion.

    • Decisions are often contested in republics, where decision-makers have different wills and interests; conflict results; this is not so in monarchies.

    • Where power rests on popular election, politicians have an incentive to exploit the irrational emotions of the masses (many-headed monster: cf. Coriolanus 4:1:1-2: “the beast with many heads”).

    Coriolanus (1608-9) is set against the background of mass unrest and food-rioting; anti-enclosure riots took place in several Midland counties in 1607-8; the 400th anniversary is here being celebrated at Cotesbach, Leicestershire, 23 miles from Stratford

    “Down with Enclosures”

    Monarchy and Indefeasible Hereditary Right

    • In hereditary monarchies the King has an incentive to make the state and people as prosperous as possible, to benefit his heir; in republics, people in power have an incentive to use their authority for private gain, and against the public interest.

    • Some but not all supporters of Divine Right Monarchy argued for indefeasible hereditary right; others thought Providence could change the succession (succession is an important issue in many of Shakespeare’s plays).

    Divine Right Theory: History 01

    • Conflict between Pope and Holy Roman Emperor in Middle Ages; some thinkers argued for strong secular power, rejecting claim of Pope to authority over Emperor, and arguing for power of state over church/ clergy; e.g. Marsilius of Padua; William of Ockham.

    • Luther, Calvin, and their followers also often argued in favor of strong secular power;

    Divine Right Theory: History 02

    • Luther violently attacked German Peasants’ Revolt 1525.

    • William Tyndale, The Obedience of a Christen Man (1528) stressed royal power; Anne Boleyn gave Henry VIII a copy; he liked it.

    • But when secular magistrates attacked Lutherans and Calvinists, they responded by arguing that greater magistrates could be resisted by lesser ones (Emperor; German princes as Spartan ephors).

    Divine Right Theory: History 03

    • Under Mary I, some Protestant exiles published works allowing violent resistance to monarchs who were tyrants or heretics; e.g. John Ponet, A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power (1556); Christopher Goodman, How Superior Powers Oght to be Obeyd (1558); John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558).

    • George Buchanan, De Jure Regni apud Scotos (On the Rights of the Kingdom among the Scots) (1579) argued that Scotland was a limited monarchy and justified the deposition of Queen Mary (1567).

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