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This paper explores the depiction of the early modern English state in two late sixteenth century plays performed in London’s popular theatres. Working from Michael Braddick’s notion of the state as the network of magistrates carrying out delegated authority, and developing upon his idea that the state became real in the minds of ordinary Englishmen and women through practice, it specifically looks at moments of ‘state magic’ in these two plays. It suggests that while ‘state magic’ has been referred to as performative by multiple historians, using the toolbox of early modern drama studies offers new ways into considering the operation of authority by magistrates. It then considers how these performances are depicted in two plays where the king’s name is invoked by magistrates as a way to compel behaviour. It explores how the king’s name becomes an unstable referent in 1 Henry VI, revealing a state where the performance of authority can no longer work, and how Huntingdon interrogates the ability of a magistrate to act in the absence of the monarch, potentially offering its own view on the feasibility and morality of a ‘monarchical republic’.

Lucy Clarke is a DPhil candidate at Jesus College, Oxford, and a Scouloudi Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.

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