Little, Little Graves: Shakespeare’s Photographs of Richard II


Criticism on Richard II has long been organized by Ernst Kantorowicz’s 1957 claim that the concept of the king’s two bodies is “not only the symbol but indeed the very substance and essence” of the play. This essay argues that the play’s many static, inset images of a dead Richard function through a temporal aesthetics that cannot be summarized by the king’s two bodies. In place of this paradigm, the essay invokes the photographic phenomenology theorized by Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag to describe how Richard generates images of his grave to proliferate himself across multiple temporal dimensions. Richard objectifies himself as a corpse while constituting himself observing his grave from a temporal dimension that postdates his own death. By capturing himself in images of morbid stillness, Richard deploys a photographic technology of aesthetic objectification and scopic anticipation to constitute his exceptional prerogative to imagine a future beyond his death.