While recent arguments for the saint play as a formal influence on the Shakespearean history play rely on a teleological notion of “secularization,” they may encourage us to rethink the genealogy of Shakespeare's earliest history plays, plays about the reign of Henry VI, who was venerated as a saint. In contrast to Tudor promotion of Henry as a saintly king, the popular cult–which preceded and outlived its political appropriation–celebrated Henry VI for his likeness to ordinary English men and women. This essay explores the resonance between the cult and the plays, especially how the physical and affective lives of English citizens attend the king's failure to symbolize the body politic. Religion can thus be understood as a mediating rather than a rejected term when studying the development of the history plays as a form for thinking about English community.

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