Is Richard II Saint or Sinner?
Saint person is associated with doing good things to other people while a sinner refers to individuals who ways and actions targets to harm others. Richard II was a young king of England according to act was written, William Shakespeare. The actions and deeds of this young king have well portrayed his character to be of negative action to many people whom he is their king in England.
King Richard was involved in the extraction of his uncle Thomas of Gloucester, but the execution accused to Thomas Mowbray,(Shakespeare & Henry, pp.62-113). This is seen as Gaunt fail to revenge his Gloucester’s murderers is because he cannot rise against the king since strongly believe that King Richard II of England is appointed by God. It is also claimed that Richard II himself was involved in a conspiracy with the intention of killing Thomas, his uncle. Killing is associated with evil people, and hence King Richard II association with the killing of his uncle proves him to be a sinner. Throughout the play, most of the people are complaining about the organization, behavior, and action of the Richard II the king, for instance, most of the people are wonders on how king ought to behave. This proves that people are not satisfied with his behavior as a king of England.
King Richard II judgment towards Bolingbroke and Mowbray proves nepotism the king was. He only expelled his cousin Bolingbroke ten years which finally reduced to six years while Mowbray was expelled for life to stay outside England. As a good judge, he could have given both of the equal judgment since they had committed almost similar crimes. King Richard uses is powers and authority as a king to punish Mowbray whom many believes he was involved in the killing of Thomas uncle to the Richard II together with the king himself. Richard is also seen as to be very merciless, both Bolingbroke and Mowbray laments hopelessly have they have been expelled outside England as a punishment but he fails to consider their cry,(Shakespeare & Henry, pp.62-113). Thus proving how cruel Richard II the king was. Richard is very happy when he receives news that his cousin Bolingbroke and whom has many commoners behind him has left England to Europe. He feels relieved that his greatest political enemy now has left the country and hence he can rule and exercise his power in peaceful way without any political rival that can divide England. The evil behavior of King Richard is also seen in his happiness mood after he receives news that his uncle, John of Gaunt father to Bolingbroke was almost to die,(Shakespeare & Henry, pp.62-113).
The king immediately makes plan of selling Gaunt’s possession after his death and use that money in his war that he is planning with Ireland. Further, the king has planned to conquer Ireland for no good reason. It seem as if his war with Ireland is just for personal benefits. He also plans to tax England citizens’ heavy taxes to finance his war with Ireland and war that has no benefit to the country. He even plans to demand much money from wealthy men and also borrow extra funds from them with the intention that the wealthy men will be compensated from taxpayers’ money. His bad leadership is exposed by Gaunt his sick uncle after he pays a visit to him with his supporters after he had received news of his uncle’s sickness.
Gaunt rebukes Richard for heavily taxing England people, accepting wrong advice from his advisers who are just flattering him, sending to exile Bolingbroke his son as well as wasting people taxes,(Shakespeare & Henry, pp.62-113). I response, Richard the king becomes irritated and swears that if Gaunt was not from the royal blood, he could have killed him. This proves how the Richard the king had merciless heart. It also shows how Richard was ready to kill anybody who rebuke or condemns his evil behavior/character. Immediately after the of his uncle, Richard goes as per his word, he sells all his uncles wealth without even considering his cousin Bolingbroke since he was the beneficiary of such wealth by the fact that he is the son of Gaunt,(Shakespeare & Henry, pp.62-113). He then sails to fight Ireland with his army. This proves how Richard used his power as a king of England by organizing and leading a war to Ireland.
Instead of King Richard II keeping peace and ensuring that England relates well with other countries, he is only after going for war with his neighbors. After he sets back to England from Ireland and found that already his cousin Bolingbroke has rebelled against him and many lords of his country were against him, he promises that his crown will only be taken after the soil England has been watered by people’s blood,(Shakespeare & Henry, pp.62-113). This is as if he only anticipates for war between him and his cousin that would result to massive killing of many England population. This is also another evident of his evilness in him. His cannot lead people fairness and at the same time he don’t want somebody else who can lead England fairly to overtake the kingdom. People’s happiness after Richard cousin Bolingbroke have overtaken the kingdom also proves how King Richard leadership was cruel. People are throwing rubbish on his head as a sign of fake leadership that had been imposed to them.
The whole play poetic nature, many poetic metaphors have been highly used in this play. But the poetic increases towards the end of the play especially when Richard is parting with his wife as he heads to Pomfret Castle Prison while his wife in order to go back to France. They sigh, kiss each other and weep with many rhythmic poetic words. For instance, weep thou for me in France, I for thee here””,(Shakespeare & Henry, pp.62-113).
Shakespeare, William, and Henry Norman Hudson. The complete works of William Shakespeare. Colonial Press, 1900.
Richard II: The Player-King
Thus I play in one person many people,And none contented. Sometimes I am king,Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,And so I am.V:v:31-34, King Richard IIWhile entangled in the throes of dramatic suspense, the self-reflexive concept of metatheatrics reminds an audience of its present relationship with the actors. Shakespeare often implements metatheatrics; exemplified by the ‘play within a play’ concept that occurs in both Hamlet (Shakespeare,1603) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare, 1596). In these and other examples, Shakespeare uses the stage as analogous to the world, and vice versa. In As You Like It (Shakespeare, 1600) Jaques succinctly demonstrates this analogy, saying “All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players” (II:vii:139). Metatheatrics are especially prevalent in the Henriad, with Kings Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, and Richard III, respectively, serving as performers in front of their court as well as literal performers on stage. Anne Righter in her study Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play describes this as the “Player-King image”, in which Shakespeare illustrates the “contrast between the individual and the part which he assumed at the moment of coronation” (Righter 121). However, because Richard in King Richard II (Shakespeare, 1593) is the first King in the Henriad, he is never portrayed as an individual prior to the label of King. The crown is Richard II’s sole source of self, and his identity is the reflection of his court’s perception of his performance. Richard no longer has an identity when Bolingbroke usurps his crown. This essay’s title quote indicates Richard’s realization of his role as actor, with no real man behind the figurative mask. These lines take on dual meaning, as the actor reciting the lines literally does “play in one person many people” while the character of King Richard II also plays “in one person many people”; in essence, an actor portraying an actor (V:v:31). This concept of metatheatrics is woven throughout the play on various threads and is especially evident in the identity, or lack thereof, of King Richard II.A display of court theatrics sets off the beginning of King Richard II, with a mutual indictment of treason between Thomas Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke. The situation, however, is not as it appears; court formality masks the reality of the situation. Despite all of the flattery, professions of truth, and loyalty to the King, Bolingbroke’s indictment of Mowbray is really a sublimated implication of King Richard for the Duke of Gloucester’s death. It is a politically correct way in which Bolingbroke is able to threaten the King. Under the pretenses of defending himself, Mowbray is also defending King Richard. Every word in this scene is a misrepresentation, and while all three men are aware of it, they act out their roles accordingly. Richard’s talent as performer is showcased in his ability to play the unflinching monarch. His demeanor is completely professional with impeccable use of royal language. Speaking of Bolingbroke, Richard says, “He is our subject, Mowbray, so art thou; / Free speech and fearless I do to thee allow” (I:i:122-123). In this twist of irony Richard generously offers to be unbiased towards his kinsman Bolingbroke; indeed the King should be impartial towards Bolingbroke since Bolingbroke is condemning him! When considering the reality of this situation, the effusive flattery also becomes a farce. Bolingbroke’s words,In the devotion of a subject’s love,Tend’ring the precious safety of my prince,And free from other misbegotten hate,Come I appellant to this princely presence.(I:I:31-34)are the exact opposite of his intentions. Bolingbroke is not concerned with the ‘precious safety’ of his ‘prince’ and is by no means ‘free from other misbegotten hate’. It is precisely Bolingbroke’s ‘misbegotten hate’ that brings all three men into the present situation. The reality of the circumstance is quite the opposite of its appearance, and the function of members of court as actors is made apparent in this scene.Aware of the precarious situation he is in, Richard uses this opportunity to rid himself of the enemy Bolingbroke. Contrary to his intentions, his actions indicate that he favors Bolingbroke over Mowbray, sentencing Mowbray to lifetime banishment, but only six years to Bolingbroke. An act of political prudence, he does this to appear sympathetic towards his kinsman. Richard delivers these sentences in an passionate speech, stating that “our kingdom’s earth should not be soil’d/ With that dear blood which it had fostered” (I:iii:125-126). At the end of the act, however, Richard indicates to Aumerle that he intends to keep Bolingbroke out of England longer, stating, “but ’tis doubt,/ When time shall call him home from banishment” (V:iv:20-21). The irony of this statement comes to fruition when Bolingbroke returns from banishment much earlier than Richard intended. Nonetheless, this moment displays King Richards’ ability as an actor; indicating that all of his prior emotions and impassioned words were feigned.When this situation establishes Richard’s keen ability to perform, all subsequent actions and speeches become blindingly melodramatic. The language with which he manifests his emotions is so ostentatious that he appears utterly fake. His royal speech pattern does not allow the basic function of communication; in The Player King James Winny describes this as “uttering declarations rather than conversing” (Winny 48). The trend in conversation comprises Richard orating in the royal ‘we’ and his subjects responding in effusive flattery. When Richard is engaged in dialogue it is hardly dialogue at all; the dynamic is that of performer and audience rather than mutual speaking parties. Conversation involves a dramatic soliloquy from Richard and then a reaction from whomever happens to be his audience. The result is an awkward dynamic which leaves no room for natural impulsive emotion and creates a metatheatrical atmosphere for the duration of the play.Richard’s soliloquies are so dramatic that it is impossible to discern his true emotions. In Act III scene ii, when he returns from Ireland, he experiences a violently rapid change of expression several times. As he reenters England, he expresses confidence in his rule, saying,This earth shall have a feeling, and these stonesProve armed soldiers ere her native kingShall falter under foul rebellious arms.(III:ii:24)After learning of Bolingbroke’s return to England, Richard’s egotism inflates even more, proclaiming that Bolingbroke will “Not able to endure the sight of day,/ But self-affrighted tremble at his sin” (III:ii:52-53) because “The breath of worldly men cannot depose,/ The deputy elected by the Lord” (III:ii:56-57). When Richard then learns that his Welsh troops have dispersed, leaving him vulnerable, he panics, only to quickly regain his composure when reminded to by Aumerle. An instant later, however, he panics again in a blinding rage, cursing the Earls as “Three Judases, each one thrice worse than Judas!” (III:ii:132). The Christ comparison is indicative his obnoxious egotism. Richard’s speech then reaches the pillar of melodrama, wallowing in his melancholy:Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs,Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyesWrite sorrow on the bosom of the earth.(III:ii:145-147)This range of emotions within two hundred lines approaches the point of ridiculous. It seems a farce; a comic jab at overacting. Regardless of whether that was Shakespeare’s intention, the point is made that Richard is a performer.Richard’s ability to perform stems from the unbalanced amount of power he has over others, derived from his title of King. As his subjects, others are obligated to listen to his grandiose orations and respond with affirmations of his greatness. Despite his occasional protest against flattery, Richard needs it more than anything. He is a performer and his identity and value lie in the reaction he receives from his audience, the court. In this situation there exists a dichotomy between real life and the play, because the actor who plays Richard derives his present value from the audience’s reaction to his performance as Richard. This is true for any time period, as the value of an actor lies in his ability to evoke the right response from his audience. Richard becomes a more pitiable character as the plot develops, and as his subjects turn on him, so, too, would an audience begin to favor the dashing Bolingbroke. Although it was rarely shown during Shakespeare’s time because of its anarchist plotline, a common Elizabethan audience would favor Bolingbroke despite his usurpation, because he is kind to the common man. Richard describes,Ourself and BushyObserv’d his courtship to the common people,How he did seem to dive into their heartsWith humble and familiar courtesy.(I:iv:23-26)As Richard loses his credibility with his audience, the English court, the actor playing Richard loses status with an audience. Richard’s speeches take on dual meaning, not only representing Richard’s losses, but the actor’s losses as well. In the climactic scene in which Richard hands over the crown to Bolingbroke, the actor playing Richard is handing over the lead role to the actor playing the newly-named King Henry IV. Commanding a mirror, Richard looks into it and asks, “Is this the face that which fac’d so many follies, / That was at last out-faced by Bolingbroke?”, again representing both Richard and the actor playing him (IV:i:285-286). To be sure, the role of Richard is out-faced by Bolingbroke, as the character of King Henry IV continues as the title role in two more of Shakespeare’s plays. When Richard violently smashes the mirror he indicates a complete loss of identity, both for the character and the actor.The metatheatrical element present in Richard’s role as king remains after the abdication scene. The Duke of York tells of Richard’s plight;As in a theatre the eyes of men,After a well-grac’d actor leaves the stage,Are idly bent on him that enters next,Thinking his prattle to be tedious;Even so, or with much more contempt, men’s eyesDid scowl on Richard.(V:ii:23-27)and Bolingbroke later comments, “Our scene is now alt’red from a serious thing,/ And now changed to the beggar and the king” (V:iii:77-78). Because the idea of usurping a throne was so anarchist in the eyes of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, he uses these metatheatrical elements not only as a literary technique but also as a means of constantly reminding the audience that this is only a play. Although based upon historical events, Shakespeare constantly infuses elements of metatheatrics to vindicate himself.Richard’s value as a character derives completely from his response to others. Devoid of all other qualities, his crown was the only thing that created a positive reflection of himself. Even in Richard’s most personal relationships, with his wife for example, he does not breach the realm of professionalism. He performs even with her; their final exchange mimics his impersonal oratory style that he used with his subjects. After his abdication Richard maintains his flamboyant use of language but it loses its impact when there are no sycophants to respond. This is illustrated when Richard says, “God save the King! Will no man say amen? / Am I both priest and clerk? Well then, amen” (IV:i:172-73). Accordingly, Richard becomes his own audience.In his final monologue Richard sits alone in prison contemplating the world and his place in it. He concedes to the fact that without an audience he cannot function, saying,And, for because the world is populousAnd here is not a creature but myselfI cannot do it.(V:v:3-5)Richard is an individual with no identity other than in his ability to perform, an ability that is null with no one to perform for. In losing his crown he lost his audience and is henceforth obsolete. When pondering the meaning of life he arrives at no conclusion other than that his time is nearing an end. Stating, “For now hath time made me his numb’ring clock”, the actor indicates that both his time on stage and Richard’s time on earth are coming to a close (V:v:50). Accordingly, the metatheatrics that pervade the plot of King Richard II apply to his final lines, as Richard the master actor bids farewell to his stage. Having played in one person many people, he never managed to find his sense of self.BibliographyPalmer, John. Political and Comic Characters of Shakespeare. London: Macmillan, 1974.Righter, Anne. Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play. London: Chatto & Windus, 1962.Shakepeare, William. As You Like It. Ed. Agnes Lathum. London: Arden, 1999.Shakepeare, William. King Richard II. Ed. Peter Ure London: Arden, 1956.Winny, James. The Player King. London: Chatto & Windus, 1968.
Kingship As a Means Or An End in Shakespeare’s King Richard II and King Richard III
When Edmund challenges himself to conjure the worst prophecy he can think of for the forthcoming eclipse, he not only anticipates the plot of King Lear, but also highlights the fears of Tudor political society asunnaturalness between the child and the parent; death, dearth,dissolutions of ancient amities; divisions in state, menaces and maledictions against king and nobles; needless diffidences, banishment of friends, dissipation of cohorts, nuptial breaches, and I know not what.These fears do not question the valediction of the different state apparatuses, rather more the disruption of order. Menaces and maledictions against a king are immediately an act of malevolence irrespective of their aims purely because they seek to upset the political balance (Edmund’s fictive prophesy clearly has a certain perversion in respect of his own intentions). Here, kingship is seen as an end – the head of the body politic, God’s representative on earth whose legality is not to be questioned. This assumption of a particular order inevitably leads to a host of problems; society will need to reconcile the actions of a king, no matter whether they are deemed wrong or right, and judge whether the claims of a potential usurper are valid. For if a credible alternative to the current king is found, then this immediately defines kingship as a means to achieving greater ends rather than simply a position to be held. And if a candidate is deemed more worthy than the current king, it remains to be considered by which criteria they are being judged. In the past century, ideology has provided leaders with legitimacy; the narrower concerns of Shakespearean monarchs would have involved maintaining law, order, religion and defence. The internal aims of a king or aspiring king may not be altruistic; the personal drive for power, with its psychological benefits is always a considerable factor when dealing with networks of human relations. A covert politic manifesto may not be in the service of the state and would require a great deal of skill in using the mechanisms of politics to employ it from the position of the king.Nowhere are these issues addressed more cogently than in King Richard II and King Richard III, where five contrasting kings feature in power struggles which were still relevant in Shakespeare’s world and brought together ideas of divinity, the state, ambition and the self.An obvious and crucial difference between the two plays is that one of the titular characters is king, and the other wishes to be king. Richard II’s position of power provides him with the strength of power, but the problem of being judged by the results of his policies, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, on the other hand can afford to make idle promises about what he intends to do. Evidence of Richard II’s political outlook is unlikely to be stated at length, as this would not really serve Shakespeare’s intentions as a professional dramatist, yet there is evidence of his pursuit of particular policies. Although Shakespeare only uses the war in Ireland as a function of the narrative, he frames it’s inclusion in terms that show Richard as a monarch who is defending his realm, as a part of his responsibilities as king; “We must supplant those rough rug-headed kern, / Which live like venom” . Green describes them as “rebels” , and were Richard to tolerate them, he would be jeopardising the security of the state. The moral validity of the war is of no concern to a king, whose responsibility is to the exclusive ruling order, however, whilst the suppression of the rebellion is prudent, the means by which he finances the war is contrary to the system he is preserving, and the crucial error which leads to his downfall. Although the audience never learns of what Northumberland calls “These accusation and these grievous crimes / Committed by your person and your followers / Against the state and profit of this land” which Richard is asked to read out, many of his follies are evident from the discussion between the rebel nobles.Ross The commons hath he pilled with grievous taxesAnd quite lost their hearts. The nobles hath he finedFor ancient quarrels and quite lost their hearts.(…)NorthumberlandWars hath not wasted it, for warred he hath not,(…)RossHe hath not money for these Irish wars,His burthenous taxations notwithstandingBut by the robbing of the banished duke.This financial impropriety not only displays a lack of political skill, but is indicative of a king who regards his power as absolute and indisputable. The rebellion of the nobles therefore shows they regard kingship not as an incontrovertible end, but a means to justice, lawful succession and financial prudence. The treatment of Bullingbrook would be of particular concern to the nobles as the injustice of his banishment, the opposition to his marriage and the loss of his inheritance in an attack on the society on which their position is based. Richard’s position as absolute ruler is compromised from the outset with his involvement in the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. A fratricide cannot surely claim authority from God, and thus renders his position as lawmaker flawed. He compounds this initial injustice with the banishment of Bullingbrook and the subsequent theft of Bullingbrook’s inheritance from John of Gaunt. Such a disturbance of the patrimonial line of succession is a serious breach of his responsibilities, as even the conservative Duke of York warns Richard; “how art thou a king / But by fair sequence and succession?”.Words involving “just” appear in the play a total of nine times, and their use highlights the uncertainty of the rights of kings, as different character use the word in different senses. When Bullingbrook describes the blood of the Duke of Gloucester crying out to him “for justice and rough chastisement” he intends it in the most modern sense as correctly convicting Mowbray as the murderer of Gloucester according to moral law. Similarly, Northumberland’s reply to the contention that Bullingbrook is poor in terms of title and money is “Richly in both, if justice had her right” . Alternatively, Richard uses “just” as a synonym for “loyal”: “we create, in absence of ourself, / Our uncle York lord governor of England; / For he is just and always loved us well”, or in relation to his personal application of law, as he responds to Gaunt: “Why at our justice seem’st thou then to lour?” (emphasis added). The other usage is that in reference to a divine or natural justice, to which Richards publicly appeals for to decide the contest between Bullingbrook and Mowbray “Since we can not atone you, we shall see / Justice design the victor’s chivalry” , Richard then overrules this justice by deciding the contest himself. After being captured by Bullingbrook on the basis of having corrupted the king, Green consoles himself by declaring that “My comfort is that heaven will take our souls / And plague injustice with the pains of hell” . Green knows he is not being executed for corrupting the king, but for supporting Richard’s right to the throne, his appeal to heaven raises the issue of divine right that provides the greatest obstacle to Bullingbrook. The idea of divine appointment is now an utterly flawed concept, but was very much a belief in Shakespeare’s world. The issue was not to be used as a flexible political tool, but was deemed essential to the structure of power. In Act IV, Carlisle, as a Bishop, puts the case most forcefully that God alone can judge the king and that Bullingbrook, as a subject of the divine king, is automatically a traitor. His defence is lengthy, logical, and eloquent and presents Bullingbrook with a problem. The answer comes abruptly from Northumberland: “Well have you argued, sir, and for your pains / Of capital treason we arrest you here” , thereby the argument is ended by force and the matter ignored. However, the issue remains and underscores much of the debate in Henry IV Part 1 and 2 and even in Henry V it plays upon Henry’s conscious enough for him to declare “…Not to-day, O Lord, / O, not to-day, think not upon the fault / My father made in compassing the crown!” .Where Richard may have neglected his secular duties as king, there are indications that Bullingbrook will be able to fulfil them. Richard himself notes Bullingbrook’s popularity with the common man: “How he did seem to dive into their hearts / With humble and familier courtesy, / What reverence he did throw away on slaves” . Richard regards this behaviour as an unnecessary extension of the role of a nobleman, which debases his rank and is dubious in its intention. However, it demonstrates a political ability that Richard lacks, and displays Bullingbrook’s comprehension of what power is built on. It can be argued that Bullingbrook regards power as built from below, whereas Richards sees it simply descending from above in the tradition, irrefutable chain. Whether Bullingbrook is ingenuous or not does not diminish the fact that popular support prevents suspicion and the sort of unjust measures Richard has to resort to. This political attitude is extended when Bullingbrook declares he is prepared to pardon Mowbray and welcome him back to England. “…Norfolk be repealed. Repealed he shall be / And, though mine enemy, restored again / To all his lands and signories” . This respect for Norfolk’s hereditary rights transcends their personal differences and restores the order of the state. By maintaining the established order, Bullingbrook highlights the concept of the kings’ two bodies, where the position of king as head of state is confirmed as a structural end of the hierarchy of power, but the man who occupies the role is expected to employ means for this status quo to continue. Bullingbrook’s apparent political subversion, is in fact a measure to ensure the system of power remains the same, after all, Shakespeare was writing whilst the succession of the English throne was a matter for concern and less than 60 years after Richard II, England was king-less. If Bullingbrook’s ascent fits neatly into a Foucauldian power/subversion relationship and the continuation of the political structure was ensured, then the techniques used to gain power are of greater interest, and none of Shakespeare’s protagonists display a greater mastery of political manoeuvring than Richard III.Richard domination of Richard III is the force that drives the play, demonstrated from the outset by his opening soliloquy, which immediately outlines his intentions and nature. Of course, Richard’s character predates the action of Richard III, and he features in Henry VI Part 2 and 3, as a loyal Yorkist. This is where the revelation of his self emerges as he declaresAnd yet, between my soul’s desire and me–The lustful Edward’s title buried–Is Clarence, Henry, and his son young Edward,(…)Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,(…) I can add colours to the chameleon,Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,And set the murderous Machiavel to school.richThis conscious and unashamed understanding of his desire is what Stephen Greenblatt describes as “improvisation” , the ability to deceive by assimilating the surrounding culture through “empathy” and using it pragmatically to gain whatever is advantageous to your cause. Richard’s confident boast that he can outdo the deception of the chameleon, Proteus and Machiavelli is exemplary of Greenblatt’s idea of ?self-fashioning’. Key to this idea is the dichotomy within Renaissance culture of “submission to an absolute power or authority” and “something perceived as alien, strange or hostile” , concluding that “self-fashioning occurs at the point of encounter between an authority and an alien” . In Richard’s case, the ?alien’ is authority and the ?authority’ is himself. This perversion of these two concepts leads Ronald Levao to observe that “Richard is just as surely a demonic parody of Renaissance man’s most optimistic self-image. He is the paragon of a world where malevolent desire replaces [altruistic love]” . The prospect of Richard as king supported by this combination of desire and skill is abhorrent to many of the other characters, who make frequent connections between Richard and the underworld, he is variously described as “dreadful minister of hell” , “son of hell” , “A hell-hound ” and “Foul devil “. Richard’s concept of kingship is the antithesis of the ideal model, where the monarch is naturally virtuous and appointed by God. He desires the kingship for psychological pleasure, the Lancastrian dynasty that he opposed has been replaced with his own family, and so he turns his attentions on them, defining himself by his ability to disturb power. Richard’s opening soliloquy is often cited as the revealing of his personality, his neuroses and his desire. Richard’s understanding of his self is in relation to the power he desires; the ambiguity of the famous declaration “I am determinè¤ to prove a villain” provides the essence of Richard’s character from both an internal and external perspective. There is recognition from Richard of the determination and awareness required for success, and the realisation of his role as destabilising the power structure. Moreover there are overtones of the role of God in shaping Richard’s destiny and the inevitability of his purpose as a product of a society that is prepared to usurp kings.Richard has a dislike of the niceties of courtly behaviour that his deformity excludes him from. His deformity is of no political significance in itself, but the psychological complex it gives him would form the foundation of any psychoanalytical approach to his character. He does not regard the activities of Edward’s court as symptomatic of decadent rule, which might be a valid political objection, but is possessed with an envy which leads to a rebellion against the forces of nature that have deemed him “not shaped for sportive tricks / Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass / … Cheated of feature by dissembling nature” . Richard’s positioning of himself in opposition to nature is echoed by opinion of him within the play: “Thou that wast seal’d in thy nativity / The slave of nature” .Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s opposition to court practices is shared by the Duke of York in Richard II, but on vastly different terms. York has a genuine political concern that the frivolities of court life contribute towards Richard’s shortcoming as king: “… it [Richard’s ear] is stopped with other flattering sounds, / As praises, of whose taste the wise are fond, / Lascivious metres, to whose venom sound / The open ear of youth doth always listen” . York considers the “Reports of fashions in proud Italy” as an infiltration of alien and corrupting influences. This difference between the elder generation of York and Gaunt as hard-headed men of state and Richard as a leader more inclined to poetry than war demonstrates Richard’s tendency to self-centricity rather than use kingship as a means to further the prosperity of the England. Christopher Pye notes this indulgence when he comments that “Richard often seems drawn to the pathos of his fall than to any affirmation of his glory” . Indeed, Richard’s eloquence during his descent from the throne contrasts with Bullingbrook’s increasing taciturnity as he develops into a statesman.Just as Bullingbrook’s rise relies on increasing support through political legitimacy, Richard, Duke of Gloucester relies on his employment of political techniques. Levao accurately judges that “he outplays the others through his extraordinary agility, his ability to create a contrivance for every situation. At one moment he is a Petrarchan lover; at another a wise old uncle” . The Lord Mayor would also regard Richard as a man of the people; “Do, good my lord, your citizens entreat you” and religious adherent; “See where his grace stands, ?tween two clergymen” . Through illusion, Richard gathers support from powerful men like the Mayor and the Bishops (“[To the Bishops] Come, let us to our holy work again” ) and uses promises of promotion to ambitious men like Catesby and Buckingham to gain trusted lieutenants. Where bribery or deception does not work, he turns to violence to eliminate opposition. The execution of men that have greater legitimacy to the throne – which originates in Henry VI Part 3 with the killing of Henry and Edward, Prince of Wales and continues with his brother Clarence and the key nobles Rivers, Grey and Vaughan – are productive political acts, regardless of their moral justification. This process of elimination presents Richard with the throne, and a problem which Richard has overlooked ? that of what to do with the kingship. His abuse of the political structure and the position of king may have satisfied his desires, but without a broader political outlook he has undermined the system of which he is part. Richard’s answer is to continue his brutality, by executing Buckingham for counselling caution in murdering the two boy princes. The murder of the princes and Lady Anne (who stands in his way of a more advantageous marriage with Edward’s daughter, Elizabeth) is politically unnecessary and murder of women and children morally reprehensible. Because Richard regards being king as an end, not one justified by God, but by himself, his fall from power becomes inevitable in the light of what Levao sees as degeneration “from a creature of infinite variety into a creature of indeterminacy, his limitless power descending into formless desire” . The system that Richard was trying to defeat ultimately defeats him; the ghosts of the people he has murdered come back to haunt him, literally and metaphorically.Some critics have noted the resolution of the play, with the success of Richmond, as a deflationary note on which to finish ? “the victorious Richmond is dreary and wooden compared even to a defeated Richard crying for a horse” . Yet, Richmond promises a more stable and just government from the Tudor dynasty, which was, of course, still in power when Richard III was written. The desire for a more charismatic figure to conclude the play emphasises the conflict between expecting drama from the narrative and the restrictions of depicting (relatively contemporaneous) historical figures. All debate concerning the characters of men and the structure of narratives in these history plays must be done with the cautious reflection that they are not of Shakespeare’s invention. He did not decide that the death of Edward IV would provide Richard with an opportunity to become king or invent the murder of Thomas of Woodstock to start the narrative of Richard II. Neither was he writing in a political vacuum ? the Tudors sought to demonise Richard III as his lack of legitimacy for the crown helps reinforce their dynastic origins, and Elizabeth drew parallels between herself and Richard II as heirless monarchs whose crown was about to move diagonally down the hierarchy. Martin Dzelzainis attempts to reconcile the lack of overt political thinking from Shakespeare by placing him within some kind of zeitgeist of “the agenda of the new humanism in the 1590’s” . Dzelzainis deems it necessary to defend Shakespeare from the accusation that “he has nothing new to offer in terms of political thought, but is content merely to rehearse a familiar repertoire of doctrines and figures (the Tudor myth, the great chain of being, degree, obedience, the many-headed multitude, the Machiavel, the king’s two bodies” . All these ideas may seem familiar and basic after over four centuries of development in political theory and action, but were undoubtedly of great relevance to Shakespeare’s world. Bullingbrook and Richard, Duke of Gloucester may have performed similar functions in purely political terms, but the dramatic treatment that Shakespeare affords their characters expands and explores the central issue of the relationship between the individual and power. Shakespeare’s views on the kingship are not radical, nor are they explicitly stated. His traditionalist view is one that is suitable to the lessons of history that teaches that man must work with the system, or prepare to be consumed by it, kingship could never be an end so long as certain functions are expected from it.BibliographyCraig, W.J., ed. Shakespeare Complete Works. London: Oxford University Press, 1905.Dzelzainis, Martin, ?Shakespeare and Political Thought’. A companion to Shakespeare. Ed. David Scott Kasten. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1984.Harris Sacks, David, ?Political Culture’. A companion to Shakespeare. Ed. David Scott Kasten. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.Levao, Ronald. Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions: Cusanus, Sidney, Shakespeare. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.Pye, Christopher. The Regal Phantasm: Shakespeare and the politics of spectacle. London: Routledge, 1990Shakespeare, William. King Richard II, ed. Andrew Gurr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.Shakespeare, William. King Richard III, ed. Janis Lull. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
“Hadst thou groaned for him”: Maternity, Power, and History in Richard II
Richard II, like most of Shakespeare’s history plays (though, notably, unlike his comedies and tragedies), establishes a theatrical world dominated by men and masculinity. Female characters are few, and those that appear on the stage tend to say little and have less agency. But, as critic Graham Holderness notes, “women may not be much in evidence in the play, but femininity is” (173). Holderness’ article “A Woman’s War: A Feminist Reading of Richard II” attempts to reinsert femininity into history and historicity into feminist criticism, but his insightful argument does not examine fully enough the most powerful way in which femininity is in evidence in Richard II: in the imagery, metaphors, and explicit comments about motherhood, maternity, and childbirth that appear at various important moments throughout the play. Maternity not only reinserts femininity into the history play but indeed constructs femininity as the site of an uncanny, incomprehensible experience (of emotion, of power, of pain) that haunts both male and female characters and makes women far from a silent presence in Richard II. From John of Gaunt’s searing elegy to his threatened motherland to Queen Isabella’s prophetic fantasy of the birth of sorrow to the Duchess York’s impassioned plea on behalf of her traitorous son Aumerle, maternity, and the mother-child relationship, are represented as traumatic – painful and ineffaceable – sources of knowledge and power that resonate throughout not only individual life but (through metaphor and rhetoric) the life of the nation and, thus, in a sense, structure the way history is created and experienced within the play.Queen Isabella is certainly the most tragic female character in Richard II; for most of the play (most saliently in scene 2.1) she is, as Holderness notes, “a virtually silent, self-effacing character, who is also ignored by everyone else in the room, virtually as an absence, a non-existence” (170). When she speaks, her words often seem as vague and unfocused as the sense of sorrow that haunts her; entering the garden with her attendants and asking “What sport shall we devise here in this garden/To drive away the heavy tough of care” (3.4.1-2), then stubbornly refusing every “sport,” the Queen seems silly and childlike if not altogether mad, a pathetic Ophelia-like creature addled by grief. The Queen’s speech in 2.2, though, is both eloquent and thematically significant, and its engagement with the issue of maternity is fascinating. Haunted by a sadness that has no obvious cause, the Queen says that “Yet again, methinks,/Some unborn sorrow, ripe in fortune’s womb/Is coming towards me, and my inward soul/With nothing trembles. At something it grieves/More than with parting from my lord the king” (2.1.9-13). Queen Isabella’s voice is not only melancholy but prophetic; with what might be somewhat crudely called a particularly feminine kind of knowledge (insight denied to, or ignored by, men), she anticipates the play’s impending tragedy and puts the fall of a King – a moment of national, historic crisis – into the language of pregnancy and maternity, envisioning a “fortune” that might be broadly defined as the narrative shape of history or of the play as a pregnant woman, a mother.Refusing Bushy’s reassurance that “‘Tis nothing but conceit, my gracious lady” (2.2.33), the historically childless Isabella (Holderness 177) continues to imagine herself as involved, in a complicated fashion, in the birth of tragedy. Holderness claims that “Isabella naturally uses the imagery of pregnancy and birth, but displaces such possibilities from her own body, envisaging the birth of nothing but misfortune” (176). I am not convinced, however, that Isabella’s rhetoric is so far removed from her body: “nothing” was a commonly recognized Elizabethan euphemism for vagina, and the Queen’s repeated use of the word (“my inward soul/with nothing trembles” [2.2.12]; “As, though on thinking on no thought I think,/Makes me with heavy nothing faint and shrink” [2.2.31-32]; “‘Tis nothing less…/For nothing hath begot my something grief,/Or something hath the nothing that I grieve” [2.1.34-37]) in speeches that deal explicitly with pregnancy and childbirth suggest that this meaning is being consciously referenced here. The female genitals, literally the site of reproduction and birth, metaphorically (and through worldplay) become the site of premonition and tragedy; Isabella implies, in fact, that her portentous melancholy is a fatherless child, a pure product only of the female genitals: “Conceit is still derived/From some forefather grief. Mine is not so,/For nothing hath begot my something grief” (2.2.34-36). Her next line – “Or something hath the nothing that I grieve” (2.2.37) might be read as mourning the loss of that moment of purity or as claiming further agency for the female body, the location of a physicalized, embodied knowledge (and thus power) derived from the experience of maternity, one that becomes more closely tied to Isabella’s own body when she says “So, Green, thou art the midwife to my woe,/Bolingbroke my sorrow’s dismal heir./Now hath my soul brought forth her prodigy;/And I, a gasping new-delivered mother,/Have woe to woe, sorrow to sorrow joined” (2.1.62-66). The female experience of the traumatic pain of childbirth – as the “prodigy” or monstrous omen (which is, of course, now justified and proved not “nothing” at all) is transmitted through Isabella’s soul and conflated with her body or genitals – becomes explicitly tied to the workings of the state and of history: not only are Isabella’s personal “woe” and “sorrow” joined to those of England, but it is through the woman’s suffering that the sufferings of the King and the nation are both dramatically anticipated and rhetorically represented.The play’s most explicit representation of the power of motherhood is its last: against the wishes of her husband, who turns against their son Aumerle for his treasonous plot, the Duchess of York begs King Henry for pardon on behalf of her son. Holderness argues that, in contrast to the Queen and the Duchess of Gloucester, “the Duchess of York offers what is in effect a contrasting success-story, precisely because she accepts and embraces the subjected and marginal role of women…the prospect of losing her son would rob her of her very existence” (178), exemplifying Holderness’ thesis that women’s identities in the play are constituted solely through their relationships to men, that “their only function in this masculine world is that of bearing sons for their powerful husbands” (177). Holderness reads the Duchess’ passionate plea for her son, first to her husband and then – against that husband’s will – to the King as yet one more example of female subjugation to male power, finding in her begging on her knees to the King and her self-effacing appeal to paternal pride (“He is as like thee as a man may be,/Not like to me, or any of my kin” [5.2.108-109]) evidence that “to save her son the Duchess is not only prepared to humiliate herself…but even to sacrifice from her boy the personal traces of her maternal inheritance…” (178).I would propose that the Duchess of York’s scenes with her husband and with King Henry display a much more profound engagement with issues of gender, maternity, paternity, and power than Holderness gives them credit for. To begin with, the Duchess of York does, as Holderness acknowledges, represent a “contrasting success-story” in that she succeeds in bending the will of the king to save the life of her son; perhaps she does so through a kind of subjugation – “For ever will I walk upon my knees/And never see day that the happy sees,/Till thou give joy…/By pardoning Rutland, my transgressing boy” (5.3.94-97) – but it is a subjugation so literal as to seem highly self-conscious: this is a woman who, in perhaps inappropriate post-feminist terms, knows what she wants and what she has to do to get it, even – especially – if that means a performative reenactment of the rhetoric and structures of patriarchy. Brilliantly manipulating those structures, the Duchess begs the king to “Say ‘pardon’ first, and afterwards ‘stand up.’/And if I were thy nurse, thy tongue to teach,/’Pardon should be the first word of they speech/…/Say ‘pardon’ king; let pity teach thee how./The word is short, but not so short as sweet;/No word like ‘pardon’ for kings’ mouths so meet” (5.3.112-118). On her knees, she subtly inverts power structures not through nearly forcing the king to say “pardon” through her insistent, rhythmic, alliterative speech, but suggesting that the figure of the “nurse” (whom for the sake of this argument I would conflate with that of the “mother” as women charged with the responsibilities of child-rearing, though it is worth noting that historically the nurse is even more marginalized than the mother) is invested with the power, through teaching, of controlling what men say, of controlling the inheritance of language, of deciding what words are “for kings’ mouths so meet.” This strange female authority over language is also suggested in Mowbray’s lament over his banishment: “The language I have learnt these forty years,/My native English, now I must forgo…/I am too old to fawn upon a nurse,/Too far in years to be a pupil now” (1.3.159-171). Leaving his motherland and without access to a new source of maternal teaching, Mowbray conceives of himself as robbed of the power of speech, radically disassociated from language itself. The Duchess’ inversion remains ambivalent and the triumph incomplete, since the oppressive workings of patriarchy cannot be denied both in society and in language itself (the speech being taught by the nurse is an inherently masculinist one), but the moment is nonetheless a profound one: the scene, I would argue, suggests that even when most fully entrenched within patriarchal domination (in what Holderness calls an “embrace” and I would call a performative and thus destabilizing enactment), the woman, as the figure charged with the responsibility of passing language on to (male) children, exerts a kind of control over that very language and thus over its uses.In the scene prior to her appeal to the King, the Duchess refuses to indict her son for his participation in the treasonous conspiracy though her husband orders her to do so, disavowing fatherly affection and accusing his wife of overly emotional feminine weakness: “Thou fond mad woman,/Wilt thou conceal this dark conspiracy…/Away, fond woman! Were he twenty times/My son, I would appeach him” (5.2.95-102). The Duchess argues eloquently for the placement of familial bonds over political loyalties (a vexed issue throughout the play, as evidenced by the bond of blood shared by Richard and Bolingbroke that torments both men) and for the supremacy of maternal experience: “Hadst thou groaned for/him/As I have done, though wouldst be more pitiful” (5.2.103). Holdnerness recognizes that here “the Duchess does at least suggest that femininity may have its own peculiar experiences and values, in some ways quite separate from the world of masculine ideology” (178) but, again, I would argue that the Duchess’ words suggest something more meaningful than that: the traumatically painful ordeal of childbirth (the Duchess’ term “groan,” which in Shakespearean usage often directly or indirectly references the pains of labor, resonates throughout the play, as in Richard’s potentially transgendering injunction to the Queen: “Go, count thy way with sighs; I mine with groans/…/Twice for one stop I’ll groan, the way being short…” [5.1.88-91]), an ordeal that at once ruptures and strengthens the primal bond between mother and child, gives the woman access to a realm of physical and psychic experience not only “separate from the world of masculine ideology,” not only at odds with it, but exerting an uncanny power over it while remaining incomprehensible to it. Though tied to Linda Bamber’s psychoanalytic concept of feminine Otherness, “female principle apart from history” (quoted in Holderness 167), this evocation of maternal experience claims authority and power not only against history but within it – or even over it: the profound original bond between mother and child, the traumatic (because painful and ineffaceable) ordeal of childbirth, alters the shape of history (or history as written within the history play). “His words come from his mouth, ours from our breast” (5.2.102) the Duchess says of her husband to the King, claiming once again the primal authority and uncanny knowledge of maternity and locating it, like Isabella’s prophecy does, in the body (specifically the breast, the son’s first source of food), in a place beyond and deeper than language but also (recall the image of the nurse) exerting control over language and over action. The scene of Oedipal struggle is played out between father and son but, as the King himself (symbolically the ultimate Father) cedes to the demands of the Duchess, it is the Mother who triumphs.Mothers are, of course, intimately tied to nations in the (largely masculinist) rhetoric of patriotic sentiment, as the term “motherland” and the traditional gendering of countries as female makes clear. The rhetoric of England-as-mother occurs throughout Richard II: “Then England’s ground, farewell; sweet soil, adieu,/My mother, and my nurse, that bears me yet!” (1.4.306-309) says the banished Bolingbroke, and King Richard speaks of “our peace, which in our country’s cradle/Draws the sweet infant breath of gentle sleep” (1.3.132-133), conceiving of the political situation (“our peace”) and thus, in a sense, of history as the child sleeping in the mother-country’s cradle. Most significant, of course, is the famous speech in which John of Gaunt laments the state of his beloved nation, his motherland: “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,/This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,/Feared by their breed and famous by their birth,/Renownd for their deeds as far from home,/For Christian service and true chivalry,/As is the sepulcher in stubborn Jewry/Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s son…” (2.1.50-56). Holderness argues: “In Gaunt’s feudal and aristocratic perspective, women appear as the passive vehicles by means of which the patriarchal seed is procreated…Even the femininity of his metaphorical ‘England’ is ultimately spurious, since that maternal symbol is so completely a construction of the kings and warriors who have served their country” (185). Yes, but: I would suggest that my analysis of the other moments of intersection of maternity and politics in the play might allow a re-reading of Gaunt’s speech and of how the sentiment expressed within it functions in the play. Though his perspective is undoubtedly “feudal and aristocratic” and steeped in the rhetoric and ideology of patriarchy, I would propose that considerably more agency can be granted to the abstract femininity represented here by England than Holderness allows; as he acknowledges, “You cannot really talk about nurses, and wombs, and birth, and breeding, without bringing into play a feminine dimension of meaning…[that] proves remarkably hard to expel” (174). England is represented as both mother and nurse, both woman who gives birth and woman who breeds and teaches (the parallel structure of likes 51-52 emphasizes this point), and as a “teeming womb” (a woman before birth) filled with unborn children, unachieved potential, unlived history. The womb, as in Queen Isabella’s speech, is rhetorically imagined as a vessel of kings and of history, but not only as a “passive vehicle.” As we have seen, the figure of the Mother (and of the Motherland) retains a kind of control, even if it is a control planted firmly within patriarchal structures, over the actions, words, and thoughts of the sons – the warriors, the knights, the kings – who create history. This is why the image of a woman’s body – a womb – is so appropriate in the middle of a movingly patriotic monologue and at the same time so jarring: the authority granted by maternity, the knowledge/power of the womb, the insertion of female meaning into male speech (and male history), is deeply troubled and ambivalent but – like the relationship of mother to son – inexorable.In Richard II, the incomprehensible (to men) physical and psychic pains of pregnancy and childbirth, the traumatically disrupted but never fully shattered primal bond of child to mother, the authority of mother/nurse to teach language to the son and thus to in a sense control the way that knowledge is transmitted, grant to women an uncanny, ambivalent, but surprisingly strong control over the way that history is structured and spoken about. History, or at least history as dramatized and given narrative arc within the history play, can be envisaged as a kind of endless Oedipal battle between Father and Sons, as an older king (and generation) is deposed by a younger one. King Henry is haunted at the end by guilt over his historically ordained murder of the father-figure King Richard: “Lords, I protest my soul is full of woe/That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow” (5.6.45-46). As in every Oedipal battle, though, the figure of the Mother looms large, and this is no exception: in Isabella’s prophetic knowledge, in the Duchess of Gloucester’s linguistic power, in John of Gaunt’s patriotic rhetoric, maternity exerts its uncanny force within history.Works CitedHolderness, Graham. “‘A Woman’s War’: A Feminist Reading of Richard II.” Shakespeare Left and Right. Ed. Ivo Kamps. New York: Routledge.Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.
The King in Falstaff
Shakespeare’s genius in character and plot development is exemplified in two of his most complex history plays, Richard II and Henry IV, Part I. With these sequential plays, Shakespeare vividly develops characters and sets up complicated plots by juxtapositioning people with others. Specifically, he first creates a binary opposition between Richard and Bolingbrook in Richard II, and then, recalls the plot and carries out an almost mirror image character contrast with Hal and Hotspur in Henry IV, Part I. However, in typical Shakespeare fashion, the seemingly mirror-image binaries of Richard/Bolingbrook and Hal/Hotspur break down with Shakespeare’s character complexity.A major reason why these character parallels do not perfectly hold up is because of the marvelous character of Falstaff. Absent from Richard II, Falstaff is introduced in Henry IV to create intricacy and ambiguity regarding likenesses among these characters. Falstaff significantly complicates the Hotspur-is-to-Bolingbrook-as-Hal-is-to-Richard II assumption because Falstaff has so much in common with the King. Therefore, as opposed to Hotspur’s becoming the Bolingbrook persona, it is the drunken and disorderly Falstaff who becomes the character most parallel to the King. However, the King associates himself with Hotspur, who, as his name suggests, is a relentless warrior. The King puts forth a sense that Hotspur will act as Bolingbrook did in Richard II, by challenging the Prince’s right to the throne; he feels that Bolingbrook’s rivalry with Richard is reflected in Hotspur’s position as Hal’s challenger.In the first scene of Henry IV, Part I, King Henry immediately sets up a binary opposition between the Prince and Hotspur. The King aligns himself with Hotspur, whom he would prefer to have as a son instead of Prince Henry. Upon hearing of Hotspur’s successes in battle, Henry IV compares Hotspur to his son. He declares, ì[w]hilst I, by looking on the praise of [Hotspur], /[s]ee riot and dishonor stain the brow / [o]f my young Harryî (I.i.84-86). This opposition between Hal and Hotspur is emphasized in the following scene, where we find Prince Hal in the tavern with the drunken Falstaff, while his rival, Hotspur is preparing for a rebellion. These first two scenes set up a contrast between Hal and Hotspur that seems to recreate the Richard/ Bolingbrook binary. Hotspur appears to be like Bolingbrook, in that he will fight for what he feels is owed to him, and Hal acts like Richard, in his reveling with base tavern buddies.Prior to battle, the King continues to perceive a similarity between himself, as Richard’s challenger, and Hotspur, as Prince Henry’s challenger. He articulates to Prince Henry that the battle against Hotspur is a reflection of his and Richard’s rivalry: ìAs thou art to this hour was Richard then / When I from France set foot at Ravenspurgh; And even as I was then is Percy nowî (III.II.94-96). Even though the King is threatened by Hotspur’s advancements, he admires his grit, and envisions a strong resemblance between the valiant young Hotspur and himself. But if King Henry is looking for the person that most resembles him, he should go to the taverns and ask for Sir Jack Falstaff. Sharing many character traits, Falstaff and the King make an interesting parallel; the similarities between Falstaff, the ìKing of Misrule,î and Henry VI, King of England, are shown in many ways throughout the play, negating the King’s vision of himself in the character of Hotspur.The play oscillates between the grave and ominous world of the King and the fast-paced and comical world of Falstaff. The King leads the serious aspects of the play, while Falstaff heads the comedy. Falstaff’s comic scenes provide a flipside to King Henry’s world, revealing similarities between the two. Both Falstaff and the King live, to a great extent, by the sharpness of their minds: Falstaff as a criminal, and the King as a politician. What separates them is their outward appearance and their self-images. While Falstaff seems to be able to accept himself for what he is, the King appears to be tied up in his image as a great ruler, and thus will never admit to being anything less. Accordingly, King Henry sees himself in the brave and honor-seeking Hotspur, and of course would never align himself with the likes of Falstaff. However, as the play progresses the many connections between King Henry and Falstaff become clear.The first and most obvious similarity between the King and Jack Falstaff is the fact that they are both guilty of thievery. Falstaff admits to being a robber of purses; the king is also a thief, but instead of robbing purses from travelers, he stole Richard’s crown. In this way, Falstaff’s line of business represents a mirror image of Henry IV’s theft of the crown. In fact, Falstaff seems to compare himself, as a thief, to King Henry. Falstaff tries to convince Hal to join him in a robbery, and Hal claims, ìWho, I rob? I a thief? Not I, by my faith.î (I.ii.129). To this, Falstaff cleverly replies, ìThere’s neither honesty manhood, nor good fellowship in thee, nor thou cam’st not of the blood of royal if thou darest not stand for ten shillingsî (I.ii.130-132). Here, Falstaff is implying that, since the King stole an entire empire from Richard II, certainly his own offspring can engage in some petty highway robbery. The King, probably unconsciously, echoes Falstaff’s reference to the theft of Richard’s kingdom, when he tells the Prince of his triumph: ìI stole all courtesy from heaven, And dressed myself in such humility that I did pluck allegiance from men’s heartsî (III.ii.50-52). Stealing ìcourtesy from heavenî obviously alludes to Henry’s stealing the throne of a divine monarch. The language of stealing in the King’s remarks reminds us of the thief in Falstaff, who shows up in the following scene to again create a similarity between Henry IV and Falstaff.After finding out that the King is readying for battle, hoping to kill off the Percy rebels so that he will not have to repay his debts to them for helping him seize Richard II’s throne, we move back to the tavern for some comedy. There, we find Falstaff engaged in a similar contest – he is picking a fight with the tavern hostess, Mistress Quickly, in order to evade her demands that he pay his tab. The Hostess herself calls Falstaff on this game-playing when she says, ìYou owe me money Sir John, and now you pick a quarrel to beguile me of itî (III.iii.63.63). There is a strong parallel between the way in which the King is avoiding his debt to the Percys (i.e., engaging in a war against them) and Falstaff’s comical method of squirming out of his large tavern bills. Interestingly, just as the Prince will ultimately save his father’s life on the battlefield of the King’s contest, Hal rescues Falstaff from his fight with the Hostess by paying his bills for him. He also pays back the money from their highway robbery, which irritates Falstaff, who says, ìO, I do not like that paying back! ëTis a double laborî (III.iii.171-172). Falstaff’s comments further the connection between Henry and Falstaff, since these words clearly reflect the King’s sentiments toward the Percy’s claims. Here, Falstaff seems to be articulating what the King feels regarding his obligations to the Percys, yet would never admit, and their similarities concerning the notion of debt is emphasized.The cowardly acts of both Falstaff and King Henry on the battlefield further exhibit their similarities regarding honor and obligation. The King shows his lack of courage by having his followers disguise themselves as King Henry so that he could avoid danger in his own battle. Similarly, Falstaff fakes his death after being attacked by Douglas, so that he too would be safe. Again, the King in no way resembles the intrepid Hotspur; in fact, he is portrayed as the polar opposite of Hotspur and a parallel character with Falstaff. While Hotspur lives for honor, Falstaff and the King fail to display any, and, again, it is Falstaff who comically articulates the uselessness of honor: ìCan honour set-to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is honour? A wordî (5.1.131ñ133). By the King’s uncourageous actions in the battle, it would seem he feels the same way Falstaff does about honor, as he too chooses to avoid danger as opposed to seeking honor in battle. However, as one might expect, it is only the King’s comedy double, Falstaff, who brazenly speaks up against fighting for honor.The idea that Falstaff says things that Henry IV likely feels but would not admit to himself or anyone else is played out in the comical scene where Falstaff pretends to be Henry IV. When Prince receives word that he is to meet with his father, Falstaff suggests that Hal practice his responses to the King’s expected reprimands, and the two engage in a lively rehearsal. Falstaff first assumes the role of Hal’s father, which allows Falstaff to comically defend his own reputation. He states, ìthere is virtue in that Falstaff. Him keep with, the rest banishî (II.iv.408-409). This is not something the King would ever say, as Hal points out when he asks Falstaff, ìDoes thou speak like a king?î (II.iv.412). However, the exchange helps to establish Falstaff as the comical parallel to the King, suggesting that there is a side to the King that Henry IV would never reveal.Another interesting parallel between the King and Falstaff stems from the speculation that Shakespeare himself played King Henry in the original stage production of Henry IV, Part I. It is possible that, if the actor playing the King was Shakespeare himself, a connection can be made between the King’s character and Falstaff, since the wordplay between the name of the King’s actor and the name ìFalstaffî is parallel: Shake/spear, Fall/staff. One can see that the name Falstaff undeniably resonates with the name of the playwright, Shakespeare, who, apparently, was also the actor playing the King. Thus, by this clever name parallel, Shakespeare makes a subtle alignment between King Henry IV and Falstaff. Again, this connection between the King and Falstaff serves to weaken the relationship between King Henry and Hotspur.While there are similarities between the Bolingbrook/Henry IV vs. Richard II contest and the respective Hotspur vs. Hal rivalry, the character of Falstaff brings question to the doubling of these characters, particularly since Falstaff serves as the most appropriate double for the King, so that aligning the King with Hotspur seems unfitting. Adding complexity to characterization through his comical action, Falstaff is a crucial character in Henry IV, Part I, and it is through the character of Falstaff that we see the parallel between Hotspur and Bolingbrook breaks down.Works CitedShakespeare, William. Henry IV, Part I, ed. M.A. Shaaber, Penguin Books (NY: 1985).
History and Tragedy in Richard II
How valid is the distinction between history and tragedy in Richard II?An attempt to sort Shakespeare’s plays into neat categories may appear to have its benefits when striving to understand his work, but even a superficial reading of Richard II indicates that this approach is largely futile and sometimes misleading. While it cannot be doubted that the play is of a historical nature, based on events recorded in Holinshed’s Chronicles of 1577 and named after an actual king, a sense of true Shakespearean tragedy is also present throughout. Instead of trying to analyse or appreciate the differences between these two forms, it is more interesting to understand how they complement each other. Shakespeare vividly brings the past to life in Richard II, and it is surely the careful mingling of historical fact and tragic elements that is responsible for the great dramatic value of the play.Knowledge of the period of history from which the play is drawn means that the audience is prepared for Richard’s fate, for example, and this only serves to illuminate the tragic inevitability of his downfall. The audience is aware that Richard II is only the first in a series of history plays, and will be followed by Henry IV (parts one and two) and Henry V. In this sense Richard could be viewed in a potentially unemotional light, as a component of English history whose reign simply linked the reigns of two others. The fact that he was usurped from the throne and murdered is not overwhelmingly tragic when seen in the context of world history, especially if his reign is being viewed with cold hindsight. However, Shakespeare’s colourful portrayal of Richard and his fate means that the audience can in many ways appreciate the king in terms of a tragic hero; Coleridge asserting that ‘the play throughout is an history of the human mind’ (p.128).The fact that the majority of the play’s characters can predict Richard’s downfall almost as accurately as the omniscient audience creates a sense of inevitability, which is central to the notion of tragedy. His friends and enemies are united in their experiences of negative presentiment, from which only Richard seems to be immune. The Queen relates that,Some unborn sorrow, ripe in fortune’s womb,Is coming towards me; and my inward soulAt nothing trembles.(II.ii.10-13)Despite the ambiguity of these lines regarding the nature of the ‘unborn sorrow’, there is an overwhelming sense of unavoidability. The passiveness of the Queen is notable (the sorrow is ‘coming towards’ her), and the emphatic positioning of ‘Is’ at the beginning of the second line suggests that there is no escape from this looming disaster. The dramatic irony of the audience knowing that her intuition is correct can only lead to increased pity for her situation. Meanwhile the tragic inevitability of Richard’s plight is touched on with the image of ‘fortune’ giving birth from her ‘womb’: the King and Queen are going to be presented with their decided destiny and they cannot change it. The fact that they cannot create their own children only adds a cruel irony to this idea of enforced passivity.Later in the scene Green also predicts the inevitability of Richard’s downfall, sympathetically likening his task in overcoming Bolingbroke to ‘numb’ring sands and drinking oceans dry’ (II.ii.146). The grand scale of this language emphasises the king’s lack of control: only a god could accomplish these universal feats. Similarly, Salisbury declares that he envisages Richard’s ‘glory, like a shooting star,/ Fall[ing] to the base earth from the firmament’ (II.iv.19-20). Like Green’s metaphor, this use of exaggerated simile is reminiscent of Richard’s limitations, the use of ‘shooting star’ particularly appropriate in describing the brief drama of his reign. Once again, the historical knowledge of the audience can serve to enhance appreciation of this description. Most fascinating are Bolingbroke’s comments regarding Richard’s imminent downfall, and once again the sense of inevitability dominates his sentiments. Intriguingly, he does not boast of his own confidence in overpowering Richard, but instead sends messages of ‘kind commends’ (III.i.38) to the Queen. This rather unexpected gesture of sympathy seems to imply that Richard is suffering from an incurable disease. It is as if Bolingbroke is completely uninvolved in the matter of Richard’s downfall and is instead witnessing it from a distance, marvelling at the king’s misfortunes like everybody else.The fact that, ultimately, Richard brings about his own collapse is what makes this peculiar image of Bolingbroke seem plausible. Shakespeare depicts the king like one of the heroes of ancient Greek drama, whose blindness to fate means that nobody can convince them to act rationally and for their own good. The Aristotelian notion of the ‘tragic flaw’ can often be recognised in Shakespeare’s characters: it tends to be a weakness of a casual nature which escalates to disaster, such as Hamlet’s habit of procrastination. Richard’s main flaw is his reluctance to recognise and address the problems surrounding him. From the beginning his ear is ‘stopped with flattering sounds’ (II.i.15) which distance him from reality. He is particularly unimpressed with the power of logic, as can be seen from his haphazard conduct when dealing with Mowbray and Bolingbroke at Coventry. John of Gaunt, who enjoys reminiscing about England as ‘This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,/ This other Eden, demi-paradise’ (II.i.41-42), is disliked by Richard. The king’s reaction to his death, ‘So much for that’ (II.i.155) is disrespectful in its apathy. Holderness provides an explanation to Richard’s behaviour by suggesting that he is ‘hopelessly overwhelmed by the overbearing authority of that patriarchal past, [and] simply rejects history altogether’ (p.187). His sense of discomfort when around Gaunt, a painful reminder of England’s past glory, stems from this unwillingness to acknowledge his duties and responsibilities as king.The most frustrating aspect of Richard’s flaw is his inability to recognise it, despite the advice and help of others. Whatever happens, he is destined to be oblivious of his imminent downfall until it has actually occurred, when it will be too late to prevent it. York becomes aware of Richard’s inability to make rational decisions, and (in vain) tries to enlist the understanding and support of others:I have had feeling of my cousin’s wrongs,And laboured all I could to do him right.But in this kind to come, in braving arms,Be his own carver, and cut out his wayTo find out right with wrong – (II.ii.140-144)Although York is still attempting to sound hopeful, there is a sense of finality about his words and a real frustration in ‘laboured all I could’. This aggravation is similarly apparent in Bolingbroke when he is condemning Bushy and Green to death. He accuses them of ‘mis[leading] a prince, a royal king,/ A happy gentleman in blood and lineaments’ (III.i.8-10). Bolingbroke seems confused in looking for someone else to blame, as if he cannot bring himself to accept Richard’ foolishness. This acceptance comes later on, however, when he is asking Northumberland to pass on his demands to Richard:Be he the fire; I’ll be the yielding water.The rage be his, whilst on the earth I rainMy waters: on the earth, and not on him. -(III.iii.57-59)This sudden personal attack conveys Bolingbroke’s loss of patience with Richard. His fire and water analogy describes his view of the king’s passionately destructive nature, while his emphatic ‘the rage be his’ indicates his frustration with Richard’s troublesome character. The pun on ‘rain’ (reign) indicates his desire to become king and deal logically with all the problems Richard has created, but he does not want to ‘rain’ on Richard himself. This is presumably because Bolingbroke does not have the tolerance to deal with Richard’s self-destructive problems: he has finally come to terms with the king’s tragic flaw.Richard only begins to recognise his shortcomings once he has lost the throne to Bolingbroke, and this adds to the tragedy of his situation. When looking in the mirror, he expects to find physical evidence ‘where all my sins are writ’ (IV.i.265) but is surprised by the pleasant reflection. He exclaims, ‘O flatt’ring glass,/Like to my followers in prosperity,/Thou dost beguile me!’ (IV.i.269-270). It is only now that he begins to acknowledge his own weaknesses, which means he can be pitied more readily. The moment when he refers to himself as ‘a traitor with the rest’ (IV.i.238) for causing the downfall of the king, is particularly poignant. Now the all-knowing audience can empathise with Richard as he tries to live with the consequences of his actions, for which it is still hard to believe he was ultimately responsible.Shakespeare’s emphasis on Richard’s poetic and dramatic qualities undermines the potent historical nature of the play. It is very difficult to take serious note of the actions and thoughts of a king who seems more interested in acting out the role of king, almost satirically, than attending to his duties. For instance, when in trouble he appeals poetically to nature for help:Feed not thy sovereign’s foe, my gentle earth,Nor with thy sweets comfort his ravenous sense;But let thy spiders that suck up thy venomAnd heavy-gaited toads lie in their way,Doing annoyance to the treacherous feetWhich with usurping steps do trample thee.(III.ii.12-17)The lyrical beauty of these lines is effective in showing the power of Richard’s language. The content matter, however, suggests that he does not have an equally impressive grasp of reality. His address to ‘my gentle earth’ suggests that he views himself as a god-like figure capable of controlling nature, despite the fact that he is about to lose his throne. His beautiful language is juxtaposed with a complete lack of logic. Richard’s mention of ‘treacherous feet’ and ‘usurping steps’ indicates that his problems are clearly troubling him, but his solution centres around venomous spiders: hardly practical. Even Isabella tends to create a distance from reality, asking ‘What sport shall we devise here in this garden, /To drive away the heavy thought of care?’ (III.iv.1-2) when awaiting news of Richard. This very human trait of failing to accept everyday reality can endear the couple to the audience, but does not lead to much respect for the pair.Later, Richard mocks the public ritual of handing over the crown to Bolingbroke by turning the whole event into a farce and refusing to read out his sins, making himself out to be the victim (which, arguably, he is). This can only be described as childish behaviour, not something which is generally associated with royalty. Richard’s failure to accept the usurpation is, however, another crucial element of the tragic: the protagonist’s protests against his fate make him all the more pitiful.Shakespeare has added a tragic dimension to historical fact by positioning Richard’s wrongdoings regarding Bolingbroke against a context of inevitability. The fact that Richard clearly never had the qualities of a good king is seen as a tragedy in itself, rather than a simple historical statement. As Coleridge puts it, ‘We cannot help – pitying [Richard], and wishing he had been placed in a rank where he would have been less exposed, and where he might have been happy and useful’ (p.128). So while Richard II does display signs of a typical history play, such as the extensive number of personages, the scenes of parliament and the ambivalent ending, the character of Richard means that the audience is concerned with his plight in a tragic, personal manner rather than as a representation of history. For this reason, despite knowledge of his ultimate fate, the spectators can experience pity and fear for the tragic Richard as the play develops, and thus appreciate history in a new, more colourful light.
Creative Liberties in Shakespeare’s Richard II
Oftentimes when writing historical fiction, authors take creative liberties in their works. William Shakespeare was no different when he wrote his history plays. In Shakespeare’s English Kings, Peter Saccio discusses such discrepancies. In the course of this essay, the degree of victimization of King Richard II will be explored. As Saccio points out, “Richard was the victim of multiple treacheries in Wales, whereas Shakespeare’s Richard, although in a difficult position, is challenged by more honorable opponents and accompanied by more faithful supporters” (Saccio 30). The paper will pursue an answer to the purpose of Shakespeare’s modification of history in Richard II, and will analyze how those changes affect the play.
First it is important to outline the discrepancies—that is, to contrast the real figures with Shakespeare’s characters in light of their relationships with Richard. According to Saccio, Northumberland promises Richard at Conway that Bolingbroke would let him keep his crown and his power in return for his rightful inheritance, but then ambushes the king when he comes (Saccio 29). Shakespeare does use Northumberland in his role as Bolingbroke’s messenger; however, the playwright completely leaves out the ambush. Instead, Richard willingly comes at Bolingbroke’s call, knowing that his reign as king has ended. He remarks to his cousin Aumerle, “What must the king do now? Must he submit? / The king shall do it. Must he be deposed? / The king shall be contented” (3.3.143 – 45). For all his faithfulness in the play, though, the real Aumerle was a traitor. The king’s cousin accompanied Richard II to Ireland, delayed his return, and was the one to advise the splitting and dismissal of the army. After effectively diminishing Richard’s strength, Aumerle went to Bolingbroke (Saccio 29).
Moreover, one of the more peripheral figures, Thomas Percy, the brother of Northumberland, never actually appears in Richard II. Rather, he is frequently referenced by other characters, and is said to have defected to Bolingbroke after Northumberland is declared a traitor: “The Earl of Worcester / Hath broken his staff, resigned his stewardship, / And all the household servants fled with him / To Bolingbroke” (2.2.58 – 61). In history, Percy deserts Richard II at the same time as Aumerle (Saccio 30). Each of these changes were calculated in order to influence the audience’s perception of King Richard II.
Shakespeare portrays Richard II as a flowery, luxurious man, with an almost sinister undertone—it is heavily implied that he ordered the death of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester—and a penchant for making bad decisions. Throughout the play Richard has a tendency to rely not on himself, but on his disputed divine right, which in the end falls apart. He attempts to force others to understand his rule is sanctioned by God, and promises divine retribution to those who betray him; however, even Richard has moments of doubt wherein he feels abandoned by God or that his divine rule is nonexistent. He laments, “Throw away respect, / Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty; / For you have but mistook me all this while. / I live with bread like you, feel want, taste grief, / Need friends. Subjected thus, / How can you say to me I am a king?” (3.2.172 – 77). The only one other than Richard, it seems, who advocates the sanctity of God’s chosen king is Carlisle. Both in history and in the play he protests Bolingbroke’s usurpation of the throne, though Shakespeare certainly added his theatrics to the affair. Arguably, either character’s views could be an intimation of Shakespeare’s own views on the subject, though it is more likely that he is not a believer in divine rule.
The fact that Shakespeare modifies history to make Richard II seem less of a victim than he really was is a statement in itself. It presents a more favorable outlook on the deposition of the king, though does not necessarily imply he is sided with Bolingbroke. By making Richard incapable of keeping his crown through his own faults, rather than a combination of those and the betrayals of his friends and family, Shakespeare presents a weak, undeserving king. This also may have been mere tact. Perhaps Richard’s having allies is less upsetting for Shakespeare’s audience, and easier to write. Without a support system, Richard would have been truly alone, and the play might have ended sooner and much more morosely.
The degree of victimization of King Richard II in history and in Shakespeare’s work is a slight factor that changed the overall tone and message of the play. In the play, Richard’s one constant was Aumerle, who outlived him and carried on his stance of loyalty beyond the king’s death. It is largely this dynamic that lessens the severity of Richard’s being betrayed, and warps the audience’s perspective of his deposition. Shakespeare used the power of creative liberty to his advantage in this case.
Saccio, Peter. Shakespeare’s English Kings : History, Chronicle, And Drama. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Shakespeare, William. Richard II. Ed. Frances E. Dolan. New York: Penguin Group, 2000.
Language in Richard II
Richard II by William Shakespeare is a historical play that chronicles part of the rule and eventual downfall of King Richard II of England. Simultaneously, the play also showcases the rise of Henry Bolingbroke to the throne. Shakespeare employs several recurring images relating to breath, speech, tongues, words, and names in his work, all of which contribute to the major political themes that arise through the conflict between Richard and Bolingbroke. Through imagery relating to language and speech, the two main characters are sharply contrasted, as are the ideas of what a successful monarch is. Richard is cast as an ineffective yet poetic ruler, while Bolingbroke is portrayed as a man of swift action. The emphasis on language in the play, which is essentially given as much weight as life itself, helps to establish Shakespeare’s central question of what makes for the ideal English monarch.
Early in the play, Mowbray introduces the importance of language and speech during his interaction with King Richard II. Immediately following his banishment from the kingdom, Mowbray is appalled at his punishment and remarks that his “tongue’s use is to me no more/Than an unstringed viol or a harp” (I.iii.161-2). Without the ability to speak English to those who will hold him captive, Mowbray will essentially have no use for his language anymore, just as one would have no use for an unstringed instrument. His description of his “enjailed” tongue in his mouth parallels his actual imprisonment at the hands of Richard II (I.iii.166). He compares his sentence to a “speechless death/Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath” (I.iii.172-3). This line establishes that language is power in the world of Richard II, and without the ability to communicate, one is symbolically dead. These words from Mowray in the beginning of the play set the tone for how language and speech will be treated throughout the work, and give them a significant and profound weightiness in Richard’s kingdom.
Another way in which words play a role in Richard II entails how they factor into the portrayal of both Henry Bolingbroke’s and Richard II’s characters. Their differences on the basis of word versus action create a visible conflict between the old political system and the evolving monarchy in England at the time. Richard rules on the premise of the divine right of kings, meaning that he believes he was “elected by the Lord,” and therefore is a model and ideal king (III.ii.57). Because of this belief, Richard does not feel the need to actively defend his crown and instead relies on language. It is evident from his numerous soliloquies, and from the dramatic language used by Richard, that he is a king of many words and few actions, something that eventually contributes to his downfall. He makes several bad decisions and falls out of favor among his own people, but still does not take any action to prove himself worthy of the throne. For example, in Act III Scene ii, when Richard learns that Bolingbroke is going to invade, rather than preparing for battle, he says that he and his companions should instead sit down and “tell sad stories of the death of kings” (III.ii.156). Even in a crucial moment such as this, Richard would prefer only to speak about what is going on, rather than to do something to challenge it.
Richard’s belief that his rule is legitimatized by the divine right of kings represents the old view of the monarchy, in which name and title are the determining factors for who will be king, even if that person is not fit to rule. This mentality is especially clear towards the end of the play, once Richard is forced to abdicate the throne. He says “I have no name, no title…and know not what name to call myself,” a statement which demonstrates a complete loss of identity (IV.i.255, 259). Losing the title of king has rendered him unable to recognize himself apart from the position he once held. The importance of name and title to Richard in this scene further emphasizes Richard’s reliance on language and words as his means of power and control. Without them, he is unable to control something as simple as his own personal identity.
In contrast, Henry Bolingbroke, Richard’s successor, rejects the idea that language is power and instead emphasizes that assertive actions are the qualities of a strong English monarch. It is obvious from the play’s first scene, when Bolingbroke challenges Mowbray to a duel, that he is not afraid of physical conflict. He does not speak as often or as poetically as Richard, but instead states, “what my tongue speaks my right-drawn sword may prove” (I.i.46). He also mocks Richard’s way with words in the Act I Scene iii, when he observes that “four lagging winters and four wanton springs/End in a word; such is the breath of kings” (214-15). By saying that Richard’s breath can make time pass, he insinuates that all of his power lies in his speech. Unlike Richard, Bolingbroke believes that words can only be proven by actions that back them up. Bolingbroke’s invasion of England also helps to reinforce this belief, and introduces the idea that selection of the next ruler should not necessarily be limited to the heir to the throne. By taking the crown by force from the weak Richard II, Bolingbroke presents the more democratic idea of a kingship based on the peoples’ needs and the new king’s ability to lead.
Throughout Richard II, William Shakespeare incorporates numerous images relating to speech, breath, tongues, words and names to express a growing conflict between the divine right of kings and principles of effective leadership in England during this time period. Furthermore, the images serve to provide a contrasting view of the play’s two central characters, King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke. Although Richard’s eventual surrender of his crown can be attributed to several different plot points, the root of his downfall lies in his reliance on language as the sole source of control over the kingdom. Bolingbroke’s decisive and forthright actions throughout the play establish him as a worthy and powerful leader who can more successfully rule England than God’s poetic chosen king, Richard II.
The “Sacred” Ordination of Kings and the Abuse of His “Subjects”
What does an author intend to convey when he repeats certain words throughout a novel or a play? William Shakespeare uses this rhetorical strategy in his famous historical play, King Richard II. The two words “sacred” and “subject” are repeated more often in this play than in any of his other works. The connotation that both of these words carry with them underscores the theme of the importance and sacred meaning in being ordained by God to be a king, and of the important duty that this role carries with it, which is to serve the people. These two themes run throughout the play, and the two terms are constantly repeated to remind the audience of their frequent violation. Early on in the play, Richard II repeatedly declares that his subjects are to be loyal and good to him, and that they will all be treated equally regardless of their status. In the first few lines from Richard, he asks John of Gaunt whether his son is coming to settle the matter with Mowbray “as a good subject should/ On some known ground of treachery in him?” (1.1, 10-11) Richard himself, however, does not treat his subjects fairly; moreover, as we later learn, he was involved in the plot to kill his uncle, Duke of Gloucester. Richard’s strong hypocrisy is foreshadowed when he tells Mowbray that even the “nearness to our sacred blood” (1.1,119) will not stop Richard from being fair to both parties. Murdering his uncle appears to stand in total opposition to that promise. Richard’s constant repetition of the word “subject” creates a deep irony, as he makes Bullingbrook and Mowbray promise to not “plot, contrive or complot any ill/ ‘Gainst us, our state, our subjects or our land” (1.3, 198-190). This line once again reminds us of Richard’s own failure to keep promises in his eventual taking of Bullingbrook’s inheritance to use as funding for his war in Ireland. As John of Gaunt prophesizes before he dies, Richard’s “fierce blaze of riot cannot last./ For violent fires soon burn out themselves” (2.1, 33-4). Richard stepped over that line when he took away all of Bullingbrook’s inheritance. Moreover, the word “subject” is used by Bullingbrook in his defense against York’s opposition to his invasion of England. He exclaims, “I am a subject, and I challenge law” (2.3, 132-3). After he finds out that he was robbed of his inheritance by his own king, who was supposed to protect his subjects and their interests, Bullingbrook, before one with a “subject’s love”(1.1, 31) toward Richard, returns to take back what is his and defend himself along with others for the maltreatment that their king is subjecting them to. To Richard, however, Bullingbrook – and possibly all his other subjects – are nothing but “puny subjects” (3.2, 86) incapable of any real damage. Paradoxically, Richard incredulously asks, “Subjected thus,/ How can you say to me I am a king?” (3.2, 175-6), although his subjugation by his own subjects is just an answer to his own abuses of power. In the play, the word “subject” is often placed next to or near the word “sacred”. The main allusion of the latter word is to the ordination of the king by God. Presumably, this was the most sacred tie that the people could have to God. God, they believed, places a king on earth so that he can rule his people by divine right. The theme of God ordaining King Richard II to be the king and Bullingbrook, in his revolt, angering God permeates the play. Richard alludes to this notion of impermeable sacred power that he holds because he has been chosen by God:For well we know no hand of blood and bone,Can gripe the sacred handle of our sceptre,Unless he do profane, steal or usurp…You know: my master, God omnipotent, Is mustering…/armies of pestilence…(3.3, 80-6) This ordination cannot be revoked by anyone but God, and to attempt to usurp the king would invoke His wrath. Another sacred element is the blood ties that hold people together. The importance of heirs and blood relations is constantly spoken of throughout the beginning of the play. The widow of the murdered duke makes an appeal to John of Gaunt based on this sacred tie that, if broken or destroyed, needs to be avenged. She pleads with Gaunt, reminding him that he and her husband were “Edward’s seven sons, whereof thyself art one,/ Were as seven vials of sacred blood,/ Or seven fair branches springing from one root” (1.2, 11-13). She begs him to avenge her husband, but Gaunt is closer in devotion to the sacredness of God’s choice of king and his placement on the throne. If Richard has indeed murdered the duke, God will punish him for it; Gaunt does not feel that it is his right to seek justice against the king. Furthermore, the sacred tie between Richard and his subjects has deteriorated so much that they no longer have any faith in him and instead turn to Bullingbrook as their savior. In this way, Bullingbroke moves from being a subject of a king to being a symbol of justice and order, someone who will treat his subjects with dignity and rule England fairly. As Charles Boyce points out, Richard seizes the inheritance of Bullingbrook, and this “not only stimulates Bullingbroke’s rebellion, but it alarms many other nobles, who fear that their own holdings may similarly be in jeopardy” (535, Shakespeare A-Z). This ties in to the previously mentioned theme of the sacredness of ordination, as the subjects of the king are required to honor this God-ordained individual. While they cannot break this sacred dictate, some revolts may be in themselves God-ordained, just as the first king was put there at the beginning of the tradition of royalty. While it is true that “The breath of worldly men cannot depose/ The deputy elected by the Lord.” (3.2, 56-7), when this holy deputy begins to neglect and misuse the power that was bestowed upon him by God, his subjects may decide to turn away from him. Just as God placed the king on the throne, God may also revoke his rights and send another, more worthy individual to take his place: “The deposed king had failed to serve the people, and the new king had been sent by God to do so” (539, Shakespeare A-Z). These two small words are intertwined throughout the play, underscoring the work’s two predominant themes. The sacred position of the king as the ruler of the people was thought of as a divine ordination made by God. He was not chosen by the people, nor was he approved by them. However, the people took comfort in the belief that God had chosen the king because he was intended to be a good ruler who treated his subjects with fairness and equality. King Richard II, however, proved to be inadequate as a ruler, and Bullingbrook’s rebellion against the king can be looked as something that was sent from above, and was thus not a violation of the sacredness of God’s ordination. As Northumberland says to Bullingbrook, “First, to thy sacred state wish I all happiness” (5.6,6); the lines seem to drip with suspense and ambivalence. Is Bullingbrook’s new crown sanctioned by God? The question remains whether or not this was truly a God-ordained event. Richard points out by the end that this made “Proud majesty a subject, state a peasant” (4.1, 251). This line suggests chaos, as the two roles are not only reversed, but the old king is also murdered. Bullingbrook’s reaction to Richard’s murder is strangely ambivalent, and an ominous feeling seems to hang over the beginning of the reign of Henry IV.