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.
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.
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.