from Niccolo Machiavelli, Il Principe [The Prince] (1532)
CHAPTER II — CONCERNING HEREDITARY PRINCIPALITIES
I say at once there are fewer difficulties in holding
hereditary states, and those long accustomed to the
family of their prince, than new ones; for it is sufficient
only not to transgress the customs of his ancestors, and
to deal prudently with circumstances as they arise, for a
prince of average powers to maintain himself in his state,
unless he be deprived of it by some extraordinary and
excessive force […] For the hereditary prince has less
cause and less necessity to offend; hence it happens that
he will be more loved; and unless extraordinary vices
cause him to be hated, it is reasonable to expect that his
subjects will be naturally well disposed towards him
Richard is either “tyrant” or
Henry “patriot” or “ruthless
Charles R. Forker, Introduction to The Arden
Shakespeare: King Richard II (London:
Bloomsbury, 2002) 1-170:3.
Elizabethan Politics: Flatterers and Taxes
[…] The king is not himself, but basely led
By flatterers; and what they will inform,
Merely in hate, 'gainst any of us all,
That will the king severely prosecute
'Gainst us, our lives, our children, and our heirs.
LORD ROSS The commons hath he pill'd with grievous taxes,
And quite lost their hearts: the nobles hath he fined
For ancient quarrels, and quite lost their hearts.
LORD WILLOUGHBY And daily new exactions are devised,
As blanks, benevolences, and I wot not what:
But what, o' God's name, doth become of this?
Essex’s Rebellion 1601
[T]he very earliest reactions to the event from within
Elizabeth’s court associated the rebellion with the
story of Richard, and it is not impossible that they
were in part stimulated by an awareness of the
performance of the play of Richard II at the Globe the
day before the rebellion [….]
Hugh Grady, Shakespeare, Machiavelli, and Montaigne: Power and
Subjectivity from Richard II to Hamlet (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
“I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?”
cited in Grady, 33
Theory of Divine Right as laid out by Figgis:
1. ‘Monarchy is a divinely ordained institution.’
1. ‘Hereditary right is indefeasible.’ Succession is ‘regulated by the
law of primogeniture. The right acquired by birth cannot be
forfeited through any acts of usurpation’.
1. ‘Kings are accountable to God alone.’ The King’s ‘power is
incapable of legal limitation.’
1. ‘Non-resistance and passive obedience are enjoined by God.’
John Figgis The Divine Right of Kings  (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1914), 5-6
The King’s Two Bodies
The King has two Capacities, for he has two Bodies, the one whereof
is a Body natural, consisting of natural Members as every other Man
has, and in this he is subject to Passions and Death as other Men are;
the other is a Body politic, and the Members thereof are his Subjects,
and he and his Subjects together compose the Corporation, as
Southcote said, and his is incorporated with them, and they with him,
and he is the Head, and they are the Members, and he has the sole
Government of them; and this Body is not subject to Passions as the
other is, nor to Death, for as to this Body the King never dies, and his
natural Death is not called in our Law (as Harper said), the Death of
the King, but the Demise of the King, not signifying by the Word
(Demise) that the Body politic of the King is dead, but that there is a
Separation of the two Bodies, and that the Body politic is transferred
and conveyed over from the Body natural now dead, or now removed
from the Dignity royal, to another Body natural. So that it signifies a
Removal of the Body politic of the King of this Realm from one Body
natural to another.
from Plowden’s Reports, cited in Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: a Study in Mediaeval
Political Theology (Princeton University Press, 1957), 13. You can also see a facsimile of the case that this
excerpt comes from at http://archive.org/stream/commentariesorr00plowgoog#page/n464/mode/2up page
466, or 233a in the original
Detail from frontispiece from Thomas Hobbes Leviathan (1642), depicting
the monarch as the head of the state's corporate body.
BISHOP OF CARLISLE What subject can give sentence on his king?
And who sits here that is not Richard's subject?
Thieves are not judged but they are by to hear,
Although apparent guilt be seen in them;
And shall the figure of God's majesty,
His captain, steward, deputy-elect,
Anointed, crowned, planted many years,
Be judged by subject and inferior breath,
And he himself not present? O, forfend it, God,
That in a Christian climate souls refined
Should show so heinous, black, obscene a deed!
I speak to subjects, and a subject speaks,
Stirr'd up by God, thus boldly for his king. (4.1.122-34)
NORTHUMBERLAND Well have you argued, sir; and, for your pains,
Of capital treason we arrest you here.
My Lord of Westminster, be it your charge
To keep him safely till his day of trial.
May it please you, lords, to grant the commons' suit.
Fetch hither Richard, that in common view
He may surrender; so we shall proceed
Merit vs. Inherit
“Richard, the man of words, postures and ceremonial
dignity is defeated by Bolingbroke, the man of actions
and pragmatic realism” (Forker, 3)
“Assertive individuality” versus “settled harmonies of
medieval tradition and hierarchical order” (Forker 3)
Divine Right of the old order gives way to modern
The Machiavellian World of
From its very opening the world depicted in Richard II is
already a fully fallen, Machiavellian – and to that extent
‘modern’ – world. In this play we are engaged in one of
the crucial dynamics of early modern politics, a
struggle between aristocrats and a centralizing state.
Hugh Grady, Shakespeare, Machiavelli, and Montaigne: Power and
Subjectivity from Richard II to Hamlet. (Oxford University Press, 2002), 67.
Medieval Chivalry to
Pale trembling coward, there I throw my gage,
Disclaiming here the kindred of the king,
And lay aside my high blood's royalty,
Which fear, not reverence, makes thee to except.
If guilty dread have left thee so much strength
As to take up mine honour's pawn, then stoop:
By that and all the rites of knighthood else,
Will I make good against thee, arm to arm,
What I have spoke, or thou canst worse devise.
I take it up; and by that sword I swear
Which gently laid my knighthood on my shoulder,
I'll answer thee in any fair degree,
Or chivalrous design of knightly trial:
And when I mount, alive may I not light,
If I be traitor or unjustly fight!
Act 1, scene 1.
Image and Appearance
[…] our experience has been that those princes who have done great
things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to
circumvent the intellect of men by craft [….] Therefore it is unnecessary
for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very
necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to
have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to
have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious,
upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require
not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.
[…] For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything
slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities,
that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful,
faithful, humane, upright, and religious […] Every one sees what you
appear to be, few really know what you are…
CHAPTER XVIII — CONCERNING THE WAY IN WHICH PRINCES SHOULD KEEP
Closely Guarded Self
Great king, within this coffin I present
Thy buried fear: herein all breathless lies
The mightiest of thy greatest enemies,
Richard of Bordeaux, by me hither brought.
Exton, I thank thee not; for thou hast wrought
A deed of slander with thy fatal hand
Upon my head and all this famous land.
From your own mouth, my lord, did I this deed.
They love not poison that do poison need,
Nor do I thee: though I did wish him dead,
I hate the murderer, love him murdered.
The guilt of conscience take thou for thy labour,
But neither my good word nor princely favour:
With Cain go wander through shades of night,
And never show thy head by day nor light.
Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe,
That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow:
Come, mourn with me for that I do lament,
And put on sullen black incontinent:
I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land,
To wash this blood off from my guilty hand:
March sadly after; grace my mournings here;
In weeping after this untimely bier. (Act 5, scene 6)
The Imprudent King
We will ourself in person to this war:
And, for our coffers, with too great a court
And liberal largess, are grown somewhat light,
We are inforced to farm our royal realm;
The revenue whereof shall furnish us
For our affairs in hand: if that come short,
Our substitutes at home shall have blank charters (Act 1, scene 4)
[…] A thousand flatterers sit within thy crown,
Whose compass is no bigger than thy head;
And yet, incaged in so small a verge,
The waste is no whit lesser than thy land.
[…] Towards our assistance we do seize to us
The plate, corn, revenues and moveables,
Whereof our uncle Gaunt did stand possess'd.
Seek you to seize and gripe into your hands
The royalties and rights of banish'd Hereford?
Is not Gaunt dead, and doth not Hereford live?
Was not Gaunt just, and is not Harry true?
Did not the one deserve to have an heir?
Is not his heir a well-deserving son?
Take Hereford's rights away, and take from Time
His charters and his customary rights;
Let not to-morrow then ensue to-day;
Be not thyself; for how art thou a king
But by fair sequence and succession? (Act 2, scene 1)
It makes him contemptible to be considered fickle, frivolous, effeminate, meanspirited, irresolute […] he should endeavour to show in his actions greatness,
courage, gravity, and fortitude; and in his private dealings with his subjects let him
show that his judgments are irrevocable – is weak in his initial decision about
Mowbray and Bolinbroke’s dispute, and then banishes them
a prince thus inclined [towards being too liberal] will consume in such acts all his
property, and will be compelled in the end, if he wish to maintain the name of
liberal, to unduly weigh down his people, and tax them, and do everything he can
to get money. This will soon make him odious to his subjects – his ‘liberal largesse’
has cost the court too much and now he raises taxes
It makes him hated above all things, as I have said, to be rapacious, and to be a
violator of the property […] of his subjects – he confiscates Gaunt’s ‘plate, corn,
a danger from which princes are with difficulty preserved, unless they are very
careful and discriminating […] is that of flatterers, of whom courts are full – he
takes counsel from flatterers. Bolingbroke accuses Bushy and Green: “You have
misled a prince, a royal king" (3.1.8)
Crisis of Subjectivity
Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented: sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am: then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king'd again: and by and by
Think that I am unking'd by Bolingbroke,
And straight am nothing: but whate'er I be,
Nor I nor any man that but man is
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased
With being nothing. Music do I hear? (5.5)
A Divided Self
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
What must the king do now? must he submit?
The king shall do it: must he be deposed?
The king shall be contented: must he lose
The name of king? o' God's name, let it go:
I'll give my jewels for a set of beads,
My gorgeous palace for a hermitage,
My gay apparel for an almsman's gown,
My figured goblets for a dish of wood,
My sceptre for a palmer's walking staff,
My subjects for a pair of carved saints
And my large kingdom for a little grave,
A little little grave, an obscure grave