The Conscience of the King: Equity as Reconciliation in Shakespeare's Last Play
THE CONCEPT OF EQUITY: AN INTERDISCIPLINARY ASSESSMENT, Daniela Carpi, ed., pp. 185-207, Heidelberg: Universitaetsverlag, Winter 2007
26 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2007
The paper explores the understanding of equity found in Shakespeare's last play, King Henry the Eighth. It explains why conscience is at the root of equity. It follows Shakespeare's account of the conditions under which conscience, hence equity, is possible.
Shakespeare's argument proceeds through four trials: that of Buckingham, of Henry's wife Katherine, of his chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, and of Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It holds that conscience, hence equity, is possible only once we are able to apprehend the honor belonging to each life, most especially the honor belonging to the life of an enemy. Apprehension, Shakespeare argues, must lead to appreciation; appreciation, to reconciliation. It is reconciliation that is the highest passion of the man of conscience, the incomparable precondition of equity, the conscience of the king.
Keywords: equity, Shakespeare, conscience
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