The King’s Two Bodies

‘I talk but idly, and you laugh at me.’ —Shakespeare’s Richard II (III.iii.171)

In the morning, a scene as common as dreaming yourself naked in a public square, only less anxious-making and, like nudity for some, about liberation. If only I’d slept longer. I’m teaching my students the medieval politics of the The King’s Two Bodies. Richard the Second to serve as our model. One of his bodies is natural, which is to say ‘corporeal’ and ‘mortal.’ The other, the body politic, is pristine, mystical, positively eternal, when a phone rings an antiquated ring and, passing amid not a few ardent essayists and at least two furtive chess players waging war on their devices, I start for the back of the room to pick up. Only it’s sixty boys now, writing out my rote description of the body politic as the same body passing from king to king—an animating spirit making kingships Christic—thus rendering the body natural impervious to any defect of age or illness that could mess things up for him. The voice on the phone belongs to my old friend Tim Kane. “Ivo,” it says, “You gotta come down here and get your dad. He’s making everyone uncomfortable.” Of my late father I say for the first time ever, “I’m not going anywhere, Tim,” and I mean it. “Do you hear what I’m saying?” When he doesn’t answer, I say it again: “Tell him what I told you. I’m not coming for him until I’m done here, and maybe not then either.” Silence. “Tell me you understand,” I say. “Say it back to me, Tim. I need to hear you say it. Tim?”