2008RichaRd ii: My Essay Efraín Suárez For INGL 4001 (OU1)
Suárez-Arce 2Efraín Suárez ArceProfessor James P. ConlanEnglish 40011 October 2008 Richard II: My Essay Here we have two very different types of men pitted against each other inwhat at seems like a struggle for power. Richard II seems to have all theadvantages over Bolingbroke. He is the rightful king during a time when kingswere believed to rule by divine right. So what caused Richard II’s downfall? twofatal mistakes: the first being the seizing of the Lancastrian estates after John ofGaunts death (a violation of the strongly guarded laws of inheritance in place atthe time) which made an enemy of Henry Bolingbroke, Gaunt’s son and theLancastrian heir, as well as encouraging the nobility to sympathize with him. Andsecond, a badly timed expedition to secure control in Ireland, which enabledBolingbroke to return from exile and find enough support to fight the king whenhe rushed back from Ireland. There’s also his detachment from the common people, his out of controlspending habits, his questionable funding sources, his dependence on ineptcounselors and penchant for war, his lack of a concept of general welfare,making policy to suit him. All these factors in the end lead to his forced abdicationand the founding of the Lancastrian dynasty. When a character such as York orGaunt gives him sound advice, he ignores it.
Suárez-Arce 3Richard has no sense of justice; He is flippant when he remarks that he has“plucked four away” from Bolingbroke’s sentence, and then he tells Gaunt that hestill has many years to live. Perhaps he’s not totally evil, but he’s so full of himself that he doesn’tnotice the impact of his actions upon those around him. This same attitude will, ofcourse, later lead to his downfall. We see that as soon as Bolingbroke is gone,Richard starts. in an effort to get money to prepare for a war with Ireland, whichis in revolt he chooses to sell the kings right to tax as well as write blankcharters, or forced loans. After making these decisions, Richard is informed thatJohn of Gaunt, broken down by advancing age and the banishment of his son(Bolingbroke), has fallen ill and will likely die soon. Richard immediatelyexpresses his intention to confiscate Gaunts estate, which would technicallybecome Bolingbrokes land and money. Now put it, God, in the physician’s mind To help him [Gaunt] to his grave immediately! The lining of his coffers shall make coats To deck our soldiers for these Irish wars. (1. 4. 62)1 The social order of the time rested in part on the correct, legaltransmission of titles and property. When Richard violates this, he disrupts thesocial order. Richard is mainly concerned with raising money for a war in Ireland.But when he is faced with a crisis, Richard becomes weak and passive. Facedwith the threat from Bolingbroke, he goes to pieces, as far as taking effective1 All quotes from the play are taken from The Norton Shakespeare, Second Edition, Harvard University Press, 2008
Suárez-Arce 4action is concerned. His only weapons are poetic words, which he uses first tocall up his belief in the divine right of kings and later, when he is overthrown, todramatize his grief and sorrow. One of the ironies of Richard II is that Richard is in a way lost from the getgo, unable to fix the opening dispute since he is himself guilty of the crime.Mowbray cannot accuse the true culprit, and his understandably outraged atbeing called a traitor. This conflict, which opens the play, serves as a directchallenge to Richards power, a challenge which will build throughout the play.Mowbray and Bolingbroke become so impassioned at one point that Richardorders them, Wrath kindled gentlemen, be ruled by me (1.1.152).He then commands the two men to forget the entire affair and to go home. They,however, refuse to obey Richard. The result is that the King accepts a trial bycombat, At Coventry, upon Saint Lambert’s day: There shall your swords and lances arbitrate The swelling difference of your settled hate. (1. 1. 204-206)A “swelling difference” that in spite of being lord and sovereign to both parties inthe dispute, he seems powerless to resolve. Here we see Richard as an impotentking. Richard sees this quite clearly himself, saying
Suárez-Arce 5 We were not born to sue, but to command; Which since we cannot do... (1.1.196-197).This is a mark of resignation, of defeat for Richard, who cannot control his ownsubjects. Bolingbroke is Richards opposite. He seems to be a practical politicianof few words, who knows to seize power when the opportunity presents itself.Bolingbroke does not reveal his thoughts or his motives. He never states overtlythat he seeks the crown, but it is he who ends up as king. Is a king’s authority inviolable? The play also shows the conflict betweenthe legal and divine right to rule, weighted against the competency and/oreffectiveness of the ruler. We see the disparity between the king’s unprincipledactions and what he and many other characters in the play see as his divine togovern. The big question here is whether the subjects of a king have a right tooverthrow and replace him if he is weak, unwise, or unfair. Richard is believed tobe the legal, rightful ruler of England, ordained by God. Richard himself statesthat his authority comes from God himself; The breath of worldly men cannot depose The deputy elected by the Lord: For every man that Bolingbroke hath press’d To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown, God for his Richard hath in heavenly pay A glorious angel: then, if angels fight, Weak men must fall, for heaven still guards the right. (3. 2. 58-64)
Suárez-Arce 6Ergo, he has a “divine right” to rule. John of Gaunt and the Duke of York supportthis view even though Richard had shown himself to be a weak and ineffectiveking who focuses more upon the appearances, rather than the responsibilities, ofkingship. Bolingbroke, on the other hand, believes the people have the right todepose the king if he does not act in the best interests of the realm. Many noblessupport this view and help Bolingbroke unseat Richard. Bolingbroke actsdecisively and, arguably, with moral justification. He also is backed by thesupport of the people. This also brings us to the conflict between personal loyaltyand loyalty to the crown, as shown by John of Gaunt, the Duke of York and theDuke of Amerle. Harold Bloom, in his 1998 book “Shakespeare: The Invention of theHuman,” writes,2 Since we are not meant to like Richard, and no one could like the usurper Bolingbroke, Shakespeare has little trouble distancing us from the only actions of the play, abdication and murder.In his article for The New Yorker, Hilton Als3 states that by the time Bolingbrokegathers his forces, ousts the King, and claims the throne, it hardly matters to theviewer. He alleges that Richard II is not part of the drama; he is just theintermittent cause of it, peripheral to our experience of the play—until, that is, heloses everything, and begins his transformation from spoiled monarch tosensitive, imaginative poet/philosopher. Well, in the soliloquies of Acts III and V,Richard does seem to become more human, or, at least, more of someone with2 As cited by Hilton Als in his 2006 New Yorker article, “Kingdom Come: Michael Cumpsty reinterpretsthe downfall of Richard I”3 “Kingdom Come: Michael Cumpsty reinterprets the downfall of Richard I”<http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/10/02/061002crth_theatre?currentPage=1>
Suárez-Arce 7whom we can identify. I think that he has simply acquired a painful awareness ofhis misdeeds and their consequences.BibliographyAls, Hilton - Kingdom Come: Michael Cumpsty reinterprets the downfall of Richard I, The New Yorker, 2006, <http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/10/02/061002crth_theatre? currentPage=1>Gibaldi, Joseph, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition the Modern Language Association of America 2003“The Norton Shakespeare”, Second Edition – Stephen Greenblatt (General Editor), Harvard University Press, 2008