Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Two Different Kind of Harry's

From the beginning of this play i found it interesting that two of the main characters are named Harry. Harry Percy, also known as Hotspur, and Prince Harry son of Henry IV are complete opposites of each other. While Hotspur is outgoing and has achieved military success, Prince Harry is busy playing pranks on his friends and aiding his friends to commit crimes. It is interesting to see how Shakespeare has juxtaposed these two characters because it brings out their differences a lot more clearer. Since Hotspur is successful it makes Prince Harry seem even more like an unresponsible character who doesn't care about his responsibilities in the government. Prince Harry's father, Henry IV even wishes that Hotspur was his son instead of Prince Harry because he is embarrassed by the fact that Prince Harry has not achieved any military glory and does not seem interested in politics.

I am interested to see how Prince Harry's character will develop further on in the play because Shakespeare lets the reader know that Prince Harry is just bidding his time. In ACT I, Prince Harry thinks aloud how he is just pretending to be a low life in order to impress everyone later. Prince Harry is setting up the stage for people to be impressed when he begins to act more like a royal prince. I wonder whether this plan is going to actually work or if Prince Harry is just ruining his chance of inheriting the crown by sitting around pretending to not have a clue.

Hotspur on the other hand is a man of action and already it can be seen that he is going to cause turmoil in this kingdom. A plan has already been set in motion to overthrow Henry IV because of his lack of respect for the Percy family. Will Prince Harry finally stop messing around and actually step up to help his father in his time of need or is he just going to stand aside and let Hotspur take the throne?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Prince Harry: Henry's Punishment?

In Act 3, scene 2, King Henry finally confronts Prince Harry about the way Harry has been behaving and reveals his dissatisfaction to his son. Interestingly, King Henry elucidates that he believes Prince Harry is “the hot vengeance of and the rod of heaven / to punish my mistreadings”. In King Henry’s mind, having a son as dishonorable as Harry, is God’s “secret doom out of my blood” and revenge for “some displeasing service I have done” (3.2. 4-7). Most likely, Henry has developed a guilty conscience for overthrowing Richard and catalyzing his assassination. Now, King Henry worries that his Harry is divine retribution, a rather cruel (though slightly humorous) assertion for a parent to make. However, one has to wonder if King Henry is correct in assuming his son is a curse from god, and Hotspur , whom Henry see’s as the magnificent “infant warrior” the added insult to his injury (3.2.113). As Hotspur’s character develops we see that he may be more infant-like than warrior-like. Notably in 3.1 (which importantly directly proceeds King Henry’s expression of dissatisfaction with his son and his comparison of Harry to Hotspur’s greatness in 3.2), Hotspur offends his powerful ally Glendower my mocking his cultural traditions of magic and paganism. For example, Hotspur challenges Glendower to “raise” the “devil” if he have the” power” to (3.1.56-7). Hotspur also often ridicules Glendower for speaking Welsh, insultingly saying, “I think there’s no man speaketh better Welsh” (3.1.48). Moreover, Hotspur complains about the way the river runs through his portion of the land, insisting it be straightened while Glendower insists that “[He’ll] not have it altered” (3.1.112). As if dealing with an unruly child, Worchester reprimands Hotspur for being too stubborn, a “fault” that “oftentimes” reveals “harsh rage / Defect of manners, want of government, / Pride, haughtiness, opinion, and disdain,” traits which all “Loseth men’s hearts, and leaves behind a stain / Upon the beauty of all parts besides” (3.1.179-84). Indeed, Hotspurs stubborn and rude nature, like Prince Harry’s mingling with commoners, may ultimately be his form of the “contagious clouds” which, like Prince Harry, “smother up his beauty from the world” (1.3 .176-7). I think however it can be argued that Hotspur’s appetite for petty arguments and his lack of political decorum reveals a person whose characteristics make him less fit for the throne than Prince Harry with his “flaw” of participating with the commoners and the lowly lives they lead. Is King Henry really correct in assuming that Prince Harry’s sociable and down to earth nature is really his downfall, especially considering how important dealing with different types of people is in the political sphere? After all, a parallel can be drawn between the Welsh and the English commoners, as both are seen as barbaric in the haughty eyes of the English Royalty. One need only to recall in Act 1 how King Henry disgustingly mused on the alleged practices of “Welshwomen” in the “beastly, shameless transformation” of the dead English soldiers , and how he described Glendower as being “irregular and wild” (1.1.40-6). King Henry and Hotspur both seem to lack the political art of dealing with people outside of their own group and transmit a condescending attitude toward those they deem they are above. Where Hotspur lacks all the social graces of a good politician, Harry seems to have the social training to excel. It will be interesting to see if Prince Harry really does cast off his former ways and abandon the attitudes and friends of his youth and adopt a persona more like his fathers. I am curious to see how such a transition in personality would ultimately affect him in his role as leader and in the eyes of his subjects. Last, I feel that Shakespeare is exploring the nature of divine retribution. How does divine retribution take form? Is it through bad heirs, as King Henry seems to think? Or is it targeted very directly to the individual who has committed the offense? Perhaps depending upon how the play ends (for example, if Prince Harry fails and breaks his oath to his father, or if King Henry perishes, but his son succeeds the throne in glory) will reveal what Shakespeare thought about the nature of divine retribution. And if nothing ostensibly bad happens to Richard or Harry, then what might Shakespeare be saying about the existence of divine retribution in general?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Signifying Nothing

The struggle for the throne is focused on by each character's mind. The men of Henry IV, more than in Richard II, have become monomaniacal and see only one purpose: either to become king or to have a hand in facilitating the next king's reign. Why is this? These men are all royalty, having both money and power, and they are all family- having grown up together. What are the perks of being king, or being amiably affiliated with the King can be so great that risking life is worth? Is it merely a set of ideals that the characters feel a king should have? Is it principle? Is it full faith in divine right and fear of England's fate in god's hands? I attempted to view this as the scramble for presidency in our country. Do our politicians fight for presidency because they have a concept of government that they wish to instate, or because they have a lust for power? Is the fight for kingship a lust for power, or is it out of fear that the men of Henry IV commit such foul deeds? I suppose the desire to be in the king's good graces (or to be the king) may be out of a fear of death or banishment. If one is not in good favor with the king, he may be sentenced to unjust punishment. Disloyalty is also punished, which only shows that the kingdom is not a just one and the laws established may crumble to dust at the will of the ruler. Do we, as Americans, have a policy for punishing disloyalty?
In the theme of divine right, which consumes the play, the sun is mentioned yet again. If we look back, we see Prince Harry stating that he will imitate the sun, and in Act 3 we see King Henry speaking to his son Harry about his transgressions using the sun as a metaphor again.
King Henry says, ..."Afford no extraordinary gaze/ Such as is bent on sun-like majesty/ When it shines seldom in admiring eyes,/ But rather drowsed and hung their eyelids down,/ Slept in his face and rendered such aspect/ As cloudy men use to their adversaries,/ being with his presence glutted, gorged, and full" (3.2.78-84).
Henry's disappointment in his son are summed up here as he explains Harry's behavior to be undesirably in a prince, and that he should not be treated as a prince if he cannot act like one. This form of speech is still prevalent with parents to their teens, "If you want to be treated like an adult, then act like one." The importance of his behavior is augmented by his royal position. Henry sees his son as shining brightly, but in an unfavorable light. The attention of the people is caught by his actions, but not the sort of attention that elicits a positive view of Harry. Is Henry's disappointment in Harry out of a desire for his son to be a better person? I don't think this is Henry's concern, but that a child that is not his has the attention of his people, and also that the throne will be overthrown if Harry is king.

Shakespeare Would Have Done Well On Any Job Interview

I remembered something Professor Mulready said about Shakespeare knowing the vocabulary of a multitude of professions as I was reading Act 2, Scene 1 the other day. I think in particular the dialogue in this scene is a great example of that point. Here Shakespeare is talking about the profession of being a carrier, or one who transports goods from one place to another, and a lot of unfamiliar terms are used throughout the scene. I found myself constantly looking back to the footnotes to see just what the hell Shakespeare was talking about. For example, in the very beginning of the scene the first carrier cries out "What, ostler!" (2.1.3). Now I'd never heard the term ostler before (maybe that's ignorance on my part, but I don't think I've ever been in a situation where it has been needed to be used), and the Norton had a footnote for it which read "One who attends to horses at an inn". Certainly that would be a familiar term to a carrier. I further looked it up in the OED to see if the term is still being used. The last usage they had of it was in 1992, but they noted that it's primarily a historical term, and for the most part obsolete (not much need for ostlers nowadays). Interestingly the Oxford also listed as one of it's quotations for the word this scene, but that's not surprising; Shakespeare is the most commonly cited author in the OED with over 33,300 quotations (he knew 25,000 words, go figure). Ostler is not so bad though, compared with the next speech by the first carrier: "I prithee, Tom, beat cut's saddle, put a few flocks in the point. Poor jade is wrung in the withers, out of all cess." (2.1.5-7) I was left saying "Excuse me?" and referring back to the footnotes. This speech required three footnotes to explain what he was talking about. "Beat cut's saddle" just means to soften it, "put a few flocks in the point" is to "put a few tufts of wood in the saddle's pommel" i.e. to soften it, and "Poor jade is wrung in the withers" means the horse is sore behind the shoulders. Shakespeare perfectly captures how a carrier would actually speak in this scene, and, being unfamiliar with the profession and the terms I was naturally a little confused at first. I tried to imagine the impact this would have on his audience. I'm sure most people at the time were more familiar with horses than most people are now, so I'm betting the majority of the audience would know what he was referring to, just as now even if you don't know what it does you know that a spark plug is part of a car, and most people today would know how to change a tire (I would hope). I imagine though that it would make even more sense to those members of his audience that were ostlers or carriers. They might think "hey, that's me up there" or "that's what I do". He includes everyone in his plays, and when he does they speak the common language of their profession. It's a truly remarkable feat. He speaks the language of the court, the language of merchants (think Merchant of Venice), and here even the language of the common ostler and carrier. He even uses other languages to his advantage at times, such as in 3.1 with the placement of a character who only speaks Welsh. This dramatic portrayal of love's unspoken language sufficing where words cannot is truly moving, though I was left wondering a little how they fell so deeply in love with each other if they can't understand one another (and why they didn't just learn each other's language), but then I remembered that they're gentlemen and women who may have been set up to marry each other, and also that sex is a universal language so maybe it's not so strange after all.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Like Father, Like Son

King Henry and Hal seem to have a great deal in common, especially with regard to how they acquire and maintain power. The main action of Richard II, which immediately preceded this play chronologically, was the current King Henry (then called Bolingbroke) battling against the then-King Richard for control of the English throne. This was quite shocking to the people of the time, as the monarch rules by divine right, basically meaning that he is God's general on Earth. For Bolingbroke to rise so far above himself as to battle against that king is not just treason, it is heresy. However, in spite of everything, he proves victorious and takes the crown from Richard's own hand. This undoubtedly caused a great deal of upset among the English, and so Henry IV was forced into a war to defend the country he seized by force. He makes great efforts to seem like a proper king, perhaps hoping that his previous status as exile and traitor will make his current status seem even greater by comparison.

Hal also leaves his "proper" social sphere as his father did, but he goes in the other direction. Rather than rising above himself and engaging a divine monarch in battle, he instead descends to the lowest taverns and brothels to associate with drunks and bawds. His logic is, similar to my above hypothesis, that when his time to rule arrives he will make such a startling transformation in behavior that he will seem to shine the brighter for having once been so sunk in gloom and scum. Moreover, just as we learned near the end of Richard II that Henry IV is a very charismatic man, who won the throne because he already had much of England behind him, we learn that even the despicable things Hal does (robbing a merchant train, for instance) are all part of one plan or another to win over the populace and secure his rule when his own time comes. By daring to leave their "proper" positions, and by garnering the support of those below them, both father and son lay the groundwork for what will (they hope) be a long and successful rule.

Progress and Cycles

Because both Richard II and Henry IV document and dramatize events in English history I found myself questioning whether the history that Shakespeare presents is progressive or cyclical. There is evidence to support both positions in each of the plays. The plot of Richard II is progressive in that the old is constantly being swapped for the new: Richard is the “old” king – he adheres strictly to the belief in divine right (which interestingly is in itself a kind of cycle) and thinks that his power is absolute, regardless of whether or not he is an effective ruler. Bolingbroke/Henry is the “new” king in that he understands that his power can depend on the will of the people (the “reverence” that he “throws away on slaves” in 1.4) as well as from inheritance; he is shrewd and manipulative (as can be seen from the way he tries to get Richard to give up his title so that his reign will seem more legitimate); and he is political in a way that Richard never was (Richard is kind of this traditional, monolithic entity while Henry brings in an opposition that never existed before, he brings in new subjectivities.) The characterizations, however, are cyclical: King Henry mimics King Richard in that he has someone who represents a political threat killed, and then banishes the man he had commit the murder. In Henry IV (so far) the plot is cyclical, with Northumberland and Hotspur trying to overthrow a King, just as Henry himself had done. The only (kind of) progressive thing I noticed was Henry’s desire to go to the “Holy Land” for war: it’s progressive in that he sees the war as an advancement, as something that will improve Christian life in general, as something that will move history forward.
The plays illustrate both positions, so I would have to say that Shakespeare doesn’t necessarily support either. I think that he presents history as something that is in constant flux, something that is a site of perpetual contention, with forces on a multiplicity of sides vying with one another to advance their own agendas. Most of the characters, (Richard vs. Henry, Henry vs. Hotspur, etc.) think that they are righting a wrong, that they are fighting for something that is better than what is present, but really they are too obtuse to see past their own objectives.

Henry, the Prince of Thieves

When I began reading I Henry IV, I found it slightly ironic that King Henry was in the east fighting in a Holy war while Prince Harry was back at home hanging out with less than reputable men. As king, he and those that are to be his heirs should be very moral. When you consider how he became king in the last play, this isn’t as surprising. In fact, one of the first thing Falstaff says about himself is he’s a thief, though he dresses up the fact in 1.2.20-26. I got the sense that Prince Harry is one as well based on the next two lines: “for the/ fortune of us that are the moon’s men...” The fact that the king’s son admits to, or at least openly associates with, theft seems to amplify the fact that the crown was, bluntly, stolen in the past. At this point, my guess is the royal line will either be hurt or shamed sometime down the line as a result of the prince’s friends in this part of society.

In Act 2, I really wonder if Prince Harry is thinking about the future at all. Sure, Falstaff calls attention to his title quite often, with possibly more of a familiar air than a respectful one, but is he really considering how his actions will be perceived down the line? Scene 2 he, Falstaff and Poins basically let innocent travelers get robbed and then steal from the thieves in the following scene. The only explanation I can think of is he has been doing this for a very long time, maybe too long to quit easily. It’s not as if he needs to anymore. HE’S ROYALTY. I don’t think the financial situation in England is so bad that he has no other choice.

He treats his actions as if they can be so easily fixed that none of his current deeds will matter Act 1 scene 2 from line 173 on. Again we see the analogy of the king being like the sun in this passage. In lines 175 through 181 he claims that he can simply rise above any immorality around him like a warm sun dissipating the clouds around it. Again, the line in the next act about him being one of the moon’s men comes to mind to clash with this plan. This is similar to the plan in Measure for Measure by the Duke, except for one, ‘minor’ detail: The Duke made someone else the bad guy so he could look good in comparison. I would really like to see what triumphant deed Prince Harry can do to make everyone think he’s so great, assuming he gets the chance.

The Most Unsavory Similes

Shakespeare's comedic influence crept deep into the bones of British comedy, making up its skeleton. This is especially obvious in his word play, including puns and metaphors, and his quick, laugh inducing wit. From Oscar Wilde to Monty Python to Eddie Izzard, British comedy can take its hat off to Shakespeare. In Henry IV, Prince Harry is the perfect vessel for Shakespeare's harsh tongued back handed comments. While it is amusing, the sexual innuendos still entertaining after hundreds of years, there is an unparalleled genius in his turns of phrase. This is especially apparent in Prince Harry's conversations with Falstaff and Poins. Falstaff notes on Prince Harry's character in saying, "Thou hast the most unsavory similes, and art indeed the most comparaive, rascalliest sweet young Prince" (1.2.70-71). Prince Harry's clever speeches seem to be a branch from the fool and a branch from a newly developing evil villian- one who relishes in bad deeds where before bad men did bad deeds in order to obtain a desire.
Prince Harry's speech about the nature of men, and how they view properties of the natural world in one another is a brilliant use of metaphor. He compares himself to the sun (which he has done before in Romeo and Juliet), for future imitation, and then to the routines and vacations of life. He says, "If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work; but when they seldom come, they wished-for to come, and nothing pleaseth but rare accidents" (1.2.182-5). He is referring to the dichotomy of good and bad, or evil, to create balance in the world. Psychological balance, if everything is good then nothing would be because there is nothing by which to measure it in comparison. He is talking about himself, if he is always good it's little appreciated, as his cousin Harry Percy, but if he is good for a moment in his wickedness, it is all the more noticed.
In this speech, Prince Harry moves from the jokester, a bit of the fool who, as Falstaff cleverly says, "Camest not of the blood royal, if thou darest stand for ten shillings" (1.2.125), to a less humorous, more sage character. He is the unlikely prophet.
The English have certainly perfected Shakespeare's humor into all aspects of media and moving into nearly all western culture. As Falstaff misuses the Bible, "Tis no sin for a man to labour in his vocation" (1.2.91-92).

Prince Harry

Prince Harry is quite the interesting character. While his father, King Henry IV, thinks ill of him and even wishes Hotspur to be his son instead of Harry, the reader learns at the end of Act 1 Scene 2 that this is all a part of Harry’s plan.

Harry associates himself with the ruffians of London, the highwaymen and thieves playing along with their antics and gaining a bad reputation for himself – one his father greatly disapproves of, but Harry sees it differently. According to Harry, if he has a bad reputation beforehand then when it is his time to shine his drastic change will stun everyone and make him seem even better than he is. He states, “my reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,/ shall show more goodly and attract more eyes / than that which hath no foil to set if off” (lines 191-3) which means that when he reveals himself to be a great person/leader everyone would be so amazed at his turn around that they would appreciate him more than if he performed these same tactics as an ordinary, upstanding man from the beginning. Like the idea, also mentioned in his speech, that if there are always holidays, having fun would become tedious because it’s all you do. I find this both very intelligent and interesting. While this is a great idea, it makes me wonder about politics. When we elect a president, I feel like we look at EVERYTHING that person has done throughout their life and condemn them for the bad, but here, Harry would be rewarded for getting passed his bad side. Perhaps that’s because the people have no choice or electing vote?

It’s also amusing how King Henry IV mentions preferring Hotspur because he is the more upstanding man when he is the one plotting; meanwhile his son is pretending to be a lowlife while plotting on how to make a better leader.

I also wonder if Harry is Henry V or not. I recall watching the film with Kenneth Branagh and thinking that Henry V is this great guy and leader (though it was so long ago I can’t remember if that’s true) and comparing him to Harry seems rather unlikely because of his deceiving plans, but does that make him really smart or sneaky? Maybe because I couldn’t see the character I watched doing something as vile as hanging around highwaymen, but I could be wrong! I’m interested to see where that goes.

There are many characters in this play but I feel as if Prince Harry’s role takes on many aspects of it. He is both smart and fun (so far). When his highwaymen friends set up the theft that they want Harry to join in, he is at first hesitant but when one of them turns it into a game against each other, he decides to join. It is as if he knows just how far he can go and what he can get away with.

Henry IV Acts I & II

I have to say before anything that the history plays have proven to be some of my favorite pieces of writing. I like that they mix all the fun and drama of Shakespeare’s imagination with the actual history of England. Reading Richard II and now Henry IV is just as addicting and entertaining as watching daytime drama.
My first observation while reading, however, is that there is not one genuinely likeable person in this whole cast of characters. And if there is (for instance, I liked York in Richard II) they are not particularly important characters with smaller parts. Is this really necessary? Does all of the aristocracy have to be so terrible? Is there a reason for this? Was the aristocracy really just a group of bad people? I was wondering if Shakespeare was making the rulers look bad so that he could write in a hero later, when Elizabeth takes over the crown.
In the meantime, I find King Henry particularly unlikable. I remember the prophecy of Carlisle’s from Richard II and I have a feeling that Henry’s reign will come to a violent end at the close of this play. I guess Shakespeare is taking this opportunity to really make a point about divine rule- King Richard may not have been a great guy, but he was the one anointed by God, thus Henry could be a better ruler, but will not be given much of a chance because he was not pre-determined by God.
The Prince is also extremely unlikable. Of all the characters of the play, I think I dislike the Prince the most. How old is he supposed to be? He seems like a very stupid teenager, in which case I suppose his behavior could be excused or at least better understood, but if he is supposed to be any older than about 20 he’s really just spoiled and stupid. His great plan to make himself “-imitate the sun, /who doth permit the base contagious clouds/ to smother up his beauty from the world (1.3.175-177)-” so that he can eventually act like a civilized, princely human being and be praised for it sounds like the plan of a badly behaved six year old.
All that being said, I have to discuss Lady Percy. I find her to be the most likeable character so far. I always try to pay careful attention to the women in Shakespeare’s plays, and particularly in the three history plays I have read. I remember last semester reading Richard III, Queen Margaret, whom the people cast off as mad, prophesized Richard’s doom and proved herself quite wise. In both Richard II and Richard III, women play a relatively small role, and are used mostly by men to propel themselves to higher social ranks. In this case, however, Hotspur and Lady Percy are already married. I find the nature of this relationship to be slightly confusing. In 2.4, she seems to already have a more important role as a stronger woman than the women in the aforementioned plays, and it is not really her that I am interested in so much as him. Hotspur generally is rude and dismissive toward his wife, and I certainly don’t like him but there are parts of this interaction that make me wonder if he really means what he says? If in fact he doesn’t, then he might prove to be more likable by the end of the play. I’m interested to see if she plays a bigger role in the play as it progresses.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Role of Blank Verse in Shakespeare

I was giving some thought to the way Shakespeare uses language while reading 1 Henry IV and I noticed something a bit unusual. If my memory is serving me correctly through most of the plays in which there is a king present the royal family almost always speaks in blank verse. It gives a certain air of formality to their speech, and elevates them among the common people. It is usually the fool, or common people who speak in normal prose. For example in Richard III there are hardly any common people in the play, and no fool. It's a very serious play about the lives of kings, dukes, and other noblemen and women, and as I was scanning it over I noticed that (I think) the entire play is written in blank verse. In Hamlet it is only when Hamlet starts pretending to go (or perhaps just has gone) insane that he starts talking in normal prose. I believe up until that point he talks in blank verse, which adds to his royal status. In fact, as I was scanning over the play a little more I noticed that it is only when he is acting insane that he talks in normal prose. When he is talking to Horatio, or even berating his mother, or when he is giving one of his famous soliloquies it is in blank verse. This is because Shakespeare is using normal prose as the language of common people and fools, and it is only when Hamlet wants to be considered a fool that he talks like one (though this is only one of the tactics he uses; his incessant wordplay is also typical of the language of fools). Knowing this I started to pay close attention to who uses blank verse and who uses normal prose in 1 Henry IV and I was surprised by the results. Obviously King Henry and his noblemen use blank verse (that is to be expected), but it is the fact that his son Prince Harry uses plain ol' normal prose that is most surprising. Being a member of the royal family one would expect that he should use royal language, that is blank verse. He doesn't. Shakespeare obviously did this intentionally, and I think he was giving one hell of a political statement by doing so: he's insinuating that Prince Harry is fraternizing with the common folk too much, and is a drunkard and a fool. That's not too much of a shocker, considering what Prince Harry is portrayed like, but Shakespeare doesn't even have him talk like a member of the royal family. Prince Harry is treated by Shakespeare as just an everyday, average, layperson instead of as nobility. The heir to the throne is nothing but a fool.

King Henry the Vicious Cycle...

As I was reading Act One and Two, I was noticing that Shakespeare references things from the play Richard II. I'm assuming that Shakespeare assumed his audience knew the details from the Richard play while watching this one. In the beginning of this play it mentioned that Henry has been planning crusades to the Holy Land for a long time. This makes me wonder, did Henry have this plan to go to the Holy Land way before the end of Richard II? It does not reference him going to the Holy Land to "save" himself for what happen to Richard. This makes me think that perhaps during the Richard play, Henry was planning on becoming king and going to the Holy Land way before we the reader, knew Henry wanted to become king and that he was truly evil.

I also noticed some comparisons to Richard II when it came to King Henry and Hotspur. When Henry came back to the kingdom after being banished by Richard, in Richard II, he said he was just coming back for his property and title, yet we the reader soon found out that was not the whole truth. Henry was really looking to gain power and eventually did overthrow Richard. Now in the play Henry IV, Hotspur refuses to give his prisoners to the King. When King Henry asks Hotspur why he will not give up the prisoners, Hotsput says that in the heat of the moment he got angry with the messenger and refused to give up the prisoners. Then we find out that Hotspur still won't give up the prisoners until King Henry pays the ransom to release Hotspur's brother-in-law. Then we find out that Hotspur is angry with Henry and we get the vibe he possibly wants to overthrow him. In Act 2, we find out that he definitely wants to overthrow Henry so that his brother-in-law gets justice. Henry trusts Hotspur just like Richard trusted Henry. Hotspur has other motives, just like Henry did in Richard II. Although we find out Hotspurs feelings and plan, unlike in Richard II, when the reader had no idea what to think of Henry. At least I was uncertain of Henry's motives until he truly overthrew Richard. All of these characters end up being evil and corrupt. We can also see that nobody not even, family or friends can be trusted. No matter what, some people are not going to like the King and are going to think of ways and reasons to overthrown him. We saw this pattern in Richard II, we see it now here and I'm sure it happens in many other Shakespeare plays. I do not know why people try to overthrown the King, do they not realize that sooner or later somebody is going to try to overthrow or perhaps kill them? It's a very vicious, unending cycle.

~ Julie

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Prince Harry the "Player"

Like father, like son: Prince Harry is quite the politician. Unlike Hotspur, whose bravery in plotting the king's overthrow stems from his compassion for his brother-in-law Mortimer and the responsibility of kinship, Hal manufactures the illusion of greatness by way of negative example. As his concluding speech in 1.2 explains, he only consorts with Falstaff and company in neglect of his princely duties so that, when his father and the court have nearly lost all faith in him, he can wow them by actually meeting a few of their expectations. In a sense, he is doing exactly what Bolingbroke does in Richard II when he does favor's for common-folk upon exile: he is "falsify[ing] men's hopes" (1.2.189), manipulating their emotions for his own political ends. It is understandable, if only slightly hypocritical, that King Henry would regard Hal as an embarrassment.

At first, I thought that Hal's dismissal of the "unyoked humour" of the thieves' "idleness" (1.2.174) was meant only toward's Falstaff's plan to rob the pilgrims and that his and Pons' plot to rob the robbers was going to serve as Hal's astonishing "reformation." But, upon re-reading, it seems Hal is dismissing Pons as petty as well. Why did Prince Harry ever begin wasting his time with these people? Where is his self-respect?

Perhaps Shakespeare attempts to answer some of these questions in the quasi-play-within-a-play scene at the end of 2.5. After discussing the robbery, Falstaff brings Hal news of the Welsh conflict and asks him, "art not thou horrible afeard?"--is he not afraid to face his father's foes? Moreover, is he not afraid to face his father after such a prolonged absence? The two then take turns playing Hal and the king to "practise an answer" to King Henry's anticipated inquisition. Here again Hal is practicing deceit, but it is Falstaff who suggests the exercise. Unsurprisingly, their mock interviews deal with the question of Falstaff's moral fortitude more than Hal's. It seems both understand that King Henry will be more willing to blame his son's irresponsible behavior on "that villainous, abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff" (2.5.421) than to associate it with Hal, his blood, and by proxy, himself.

It is interesting that "misleader of youth" recalls an epithet once used to describe Socrates, corrupter of youth, especially in a scene that somewhat mimics Socratic dialogue. Is Shakespeare drawing a comparison here? Will Falstaff's idle amusements in any way teach young Hal something about one day being king? Is he teaching Hal how to be a politician by encouraging duplicity? It certainly seems so, because at the end of 2.5, it Hal's plan is to turn Falstaff over to the sheriff and then go to war on behalf of the crown. Perhaps betraying Falstaff is his reformation. Ironic, no? I'm interested to see what will become of ol' Prince Hal in these wars. Will he prove a coward, or will we see a warrior's wisdom shine through those metaphorical clouds?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is a good ruler possible?

As I read Henry IV, I realize I have been introduced to three consecutive kings, the past, present, and future Kings. To begin I have to return to Richard II. We probably all can agree that Richard II was not a good king. He was indecisive and showed bias when making decisions; as seen in the opening of the play when he banishes Mowbray forever, and only banishes his cousin Boilingbrooke for 10 which is reduced to 6 years. One aspect I did notice, which probably gave him the reputation of a weak king is he tended to solve disputes peacefully, without blood. There are two obvious examples, first at the beginning he stops the dual between Mowbray and Boilingbrooke. Secondly, when Boilingbrooke returns, he does not fight or resist or have him executed by a hit man, instead he gives up his crown. By attempting to maintain peace he ended up causing civil unrest, as Bishop Carlisle predicted. I feel Richard gave away his crown without much resistance for the betterment of his country. Richard was hoping to keep peace and he himself felt he was unfit to be a king. In 3.2, Richard speaks "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 king?"(170-173). Kings were suppose to be God like, higher than the common people, but Richard did not feel this way as shown by the quote. He states how similar he is to his subject, and more importantly he believes he is his subjects equal. An act later, he officially passes the crown to Bolingbrooke.

Before Bolingbrooke becomes King Henry IV, he seems to have the qualities a king should have. He is well respected and liked by his countrymen, and appears to be quite charismatic. I base this on the fact that he had the entire country turn against Richard when he makes his return to England. Additionally he was able to get an army together to bring back to England. He should make a good leader, but that may change when he gets the crown. As Henry IV opens, King Henry IV now has to deal with the country's issues. He does realize his own character and how kings should act when he states, "I will from henceforth rather be myself(royal,/ Mighty and to be feared, than my condition,/ Which hath been smooth as oil, soft as young down,/And therefore lost that title of respect/Which the proud soul ne' er pays but to be proud" (1.3,5-9). In this speech King Henry IV, realizes he needs to act like a king if he is going to get any respect as king. In his speech he says he has to go against his normal self or temperament to be a king. We will have to keep reading to see how this all turns for him. It is still to early to label HenryIV as a good or poor king yet.

Finally, the play Henry IV, introduces us to Prince Harry, his son and future Henry V. The play thusfar seems to focus more on Prince Harry than on the king in which the play is named after. I realize that Prince Harry is young at this point, but he does not seem like he will make a good King. I assume Prince Harry is between 16 and like 28 at this point based on his lifestyle. He is currently living it up; he is all about alcohol, sex and money. Prince Harry would fit in perfectly with the hip-hop culture that dominates youth culture today.He has surrounded himself with some shady friends and does not even seem to be the leader of his crew. Poins appears to be the leader of the group, and it is Poins who convinces Harry to participate in the robbery. Harry by agreeing shows to be more of a follower, rather than a leader. I feel that is the most important aspect when studying Prince Harry's character. Additionally, how can he punish theft or sexual activity such as prostitution without being a hypocrite. At this point, I would not think Prince Harry will make a good king. I think Prince Harry as king would be equivalent to having Lil Wayne as the United States president. Of course, he still has time to change and grow up. He probably will have to drop the friends he hangs with now to be king. Falstaff brings out this point in the role play conversation he and Prince Harry have. Falstaff posses as Harry's father King Henry, where Prince Harry plays himself. Falstaff role playing as King Henry IV states "Shall the /son of England prove a thief, and take purses? (2.5, 373-374) and "So doth/ the company that thou keepest" (2.5, 377-378). The later line refers to Prince Harry's friends and the disapproval the king has with his friends. It is to be determined what Prince Harry will do and become on his road to the throne. He has time to change, mature, and drop his friends.

On a side note, I think Shakespeare would enjoy Fox's show 24. Similar to his plays 24 is all about double crossing, inside jobs, killing family members, and all this is done for money. $$$$$$$ RULES THE WORLD!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Divine RIght of Kings

One thing that really interested me in our class discussions of Richard II was the concept of divine right of kings. I knew I had studied it in previous classes but I wanted to find out more on the tradition- how it come about, how it evolved, etc.

The concept comes from the ancient belief that shaman, or medicine man, had a direct line of communication with god and tribes slowly evolved so that they would become the "king priest of the community" (Nicolson 188). Although it took centuries for the system of primogeniture to be widely accepted, "the theory remained that the magica communication between the king and the gods... was in some manner hereditary and transmitted from generation to generation. The royal family became in this manner sacred and even divine... and that if a king were to be elected, he must at least pretend to be descended from royal ancestors" (Nicolson 188). The phrase "Divine Right of Kings" came about because of a power struggle between Popes, who believed they were supreme ruler over both religious and secular worlds, and emperors and kings, who believed they had control of the lay world. Because of this power struggle, the emperors and kings came out with this phrase.

As primogeniture came to the forefront, it was protected because it "was believed to possess some sacred sanction as implied in the motto 'only God can make an heir'" (Nicolson 194). It was debated if whether a son succeeded his father as king as soon as the father died or if the son must first be anointed with holy oil. it was contended by many theologians that a "king could not become the 'Vicar of God' unless he had received unction and that his anointing rendered his sovereignty indefeasible" (Nicolson 194). Richard II, according to Nicolson, was overtly influenced by John Wycliff's De Offico Regis in which he argued the idea that "the king was superior to the Church since he reflected the godhead of the Church, whereas the priest reflected His manhood only" (Nicolson 195). According to Wycliff, the king was above the law causing Richard to assert "'that the laws were in his mouth or in his breast and he alone could change the statutes of the realm'" (Nicolson 195). When Bolingbroke assumed power as Henry IV, Parliament was "careful to maintain the fiction of Divine RIght by asserting that he had succeeded 'through the right God had given him by conquest'" (Nicolson 195).

Nicolson, Harold. Monarchy. Weidenfeld and Nicolson: Italy, 1962.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Historical fiction with some background knowledge on the side

I'm not quite ready to forgive Richard II. The man was an incompetent ruler and a tyrant. It's easy to come to terms with what a bad king (as well as individual) you were when you've already lost everything. I wonder if he would have felt same under any other circumstance. Had none of this happened, would he have cared? I don't see him as someone who would have ever been jarred by reality and gotten better. He just seems small to me. I do agree with the general consensus that Bolingbroke is slimy, but I guess I just don't see Richard as redeeming himself.

Of course, one thing I wonder while reading this play is the audience Shakespeare was writing for. Shakespeare's histories seem to expect the reader to already know a little bit about the story, because some of the play is a little hard to understand without some background. While reading this play, I did come to a point where I felt that I needed to do a little research on the subject matter to really understand the whole situation. After doing said research, Bolingbroke's character did make me feel a little uneasy throughout the play. It turns out that England wasn't a better place once Richard II was gone. Bolingbroke's reign wasn't exactly one of piece and prosperity; in fact, Bolingbroke's time as ruler is better known for being full of rebellions and attempted assassinations than baby kissing political charisma.

Did Shakespeare expect his audience to know that? I obviously couldn't say for sure, but it does seem that way to me. There was always something about Bolingbroke's character that seemed a little hard to relate to, as if Shakespeare didn't expect or want his audience to be fully willing to take his side. Perhaps Shakespeare's audiences were more interested in history than contemporary audiences seem to be; this would certainly explain why he had so many historical plays.

Whatever the case be, I find it hard to pick a side between the two characters as I find them both so hard to trust. Richard never quite made me sympathize with him the way he seemed to be trying to, and Bolingbroke seems to be getting off to a bad start in what will prove to be another bad political reign.

Richard vs. Bolingbroke

*This has probably been said before, but just as a forewarning, don't ever try to edit these posts in Microsoft Word first. The HTML won't let you post your blog until you go back and delete all the unnecessary formatting. It's extremely annoying.*

From the very beginnings of the play, it’s clear that tensions are high and not all is well in the world of Richard II. Subjects are feuding regularly, the king’s relatives are being mysteriously assassinated, and the king himself is as wishy-washy and vein as his kinsmen make him out to be behind his back (and in some cases, directly to his face). And in light of all this dysfunction, Shakespeare has included a character that initially seems to embody the ideal disposition of a successful monarch: Henry Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke is Richard’s cousin through his uncle, John of Gaunt, and though he’s not technically the heir to the throne of England, he is set to inherit much property and money upon his father’s death. Shakespeare juxtaposes these two characters in every way possible, through the eyes of the people, through exertions of power, and in conflict with each other.

In the first and second acts, we see many examples of the ways in which Richard rules over his kingdom. He goes back on his word, abuses his powers, and squanders much of the country’s money for his own gain. He also seems to have difficulty handling compromising situations without losing his temper. Moreover, in a familial sense, Richard barely acknowledges his relatives behind what he believes they can do for him. There is even significant implication that he may have been involved with the plot to murder his uncle, Thomas of Gloucester. Bolingbroke, on the other hand, is a much different yet equally complex character. He is well-known and respected by both the common people of England and the court (his family) alike; he seems to react well under pressure, and his abilities as a politician are unrivaled.

In Act I, Richard stops a duel between Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, though he had previously given permission for it to occur. Here, in this very pivotal interaction between the cousins, Richard inadvertently sets the stage for the play’s main conflict. He goes back on his word, banishes his cousin, and in Bolingbroke, creates a clever enemy. Though we are not given any real evidence of where Bolingbroke’s true intentions lie thus far, I believe it is safe to say that Shakespeare wishes us to consider these two characters, and what they lend to the monarchy, to England, and to each of their own fates.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

King Richard II Act IV

Within Act 4 of King Richard II, Bolingbroke and his officers, Aumerle, Bagot, Fitzwalter, and Surrey all get into a heated argument over the conspiracy to kill with Richard to kill Thomas Mowbray. As they argue each individual successively 'throws down his gage' (which I assumed meant a glove based on the wild west duels I saw on cartoons growing up) to duel each other. This scene came off as pretty funny to me picturing each man throwing down his glove to make a statement especially when Aumerle throws down a second gage after he's already thrown his. The actions here reminded me of Act 1 scene 1 in which Bolingbroke and Mowbray challenge each other to a duel only to result in both of their banishment by King Richard.

Not only does this scene recall the duel challenge of scene 1 act 1 between Bolingbroke and Mowbray but it also foreshadows what is to come in scene 5. It is in scene 5 that Bolingbroke re-enacts Richards crime resulting in the murder of King Richard himself.

Later on in scene 4 I was surprised when Richard gives up his crown to Bolingbroke. It seems as though Richard parts with the crown almost too easily. I would have expected him to put up a much greater fight than he does when he parts with it. All it takes is a fairly straightforward request from Bolingbroke. As he gives up the crown, Richard goes off on a long speech to Bolingbroke. This speech made my like Richard a little bit more. I imagine this was Shakespeare's goal as he gives Richard an elegant step down from the thrown as he delivers his wordy speech full of imagery.

Poor, Poor Richard

So sorry this is late!
Upon finishing Richard II, the question of who's really the good guy and who's really the bad guy has an unclear answer. Is it fair to say that Richard has redeemed himself for being such a horrible king by realizing that he is no better than the commoners? Or is this "woe is me" act just that? Is Bolingbroke still the better man for punishing Richard's killer and leaving on a pilgrimage? Or is this, too an act? In my opinion, it's hard to like either of these men when looking at their actions throughout the play.

Richard is the easiest of the two men to rip apart because of his indecision and cruelty. He reminds me of a less loony but still annoyingly stupid Hamlet, except Hamlet always sounded like a teenager to me so I had a tendency to forgive him. Richard, on the other hand and especially in his final scene, sounds older and older and older. By the time he has his final speech, I had to keep reminding myself that he was thirty and not fifty. This slow slump into misery and recognition of his own failures led Richard to grow up a bit and take responsibility. This does not absolve him of those failures but it leaves the audience with a different, more sympathetic picture of Richard after he is killed. Perhaps it is because he is alone in the castle, away from the "riffraff" he surrounded himself with. After calling Bolingbroke out for treating commoners as equals, he tells a Groomer that they are worth the same amount. Richard is teeth-grindingly insufferable until the final act, when his humanity and humility finally shine through. Is it all an act? Why would he fake it? He has nothing left. I like to think it truly is a revelation.

Bolingbroke, on the other hand, seems to remain the same from beginning to end: he is the sweet, sweet lemondrop on top of Richard's melting ice cream...on the surface. I found a very interesting argument from Irving Ribner that states Bolingbroke's ascension to the throne is a pure demonstration of Machiavellian philosophy. Bolingbroke causes internal unrest among Richard's followers, he takes power in a time of turmoil, he makes Richard give up power instead of simply taking it himself, he kills many of those faithful to Richard after he receives the crown, and he has Richard killed at the end of the play. Even his trip to the Holy Land is Machiavellian because the philosophy states that rulers must appear pious. Bolingbroke is the real wolf of the play, choosing to hide in sheep's clothing, while Richard was the coyote, scrounging around trying to find something to latch onto.

If I had to choose which man to support, I would choose Richard. It's hard to read the first few acts of this play and like Richard and even harder to predict that one would by the end. Bolingbroke is, on the surface the better man. He does everything right to win the support of the audience. However, once his actions are given a good twice-over, his boy scout persona quickly falls apart. He wanted Richard killed and punished Exton to save face. That's the bottom line. Richard may not be the picture of a good Englishman, but at least he was honest and open with his failures and bad deeds. Bolingbroke will sit on his thrown with the Cheshire Cat smile, knowing he tricked everyone.

Sarah Bras

Shakespeare and the Monarchy

As we get further into Richard II, I can't shake this very odd feeling I've been getting from the beginning. This strange feeling that Richard is very much like another one of Shakespeare's shady kings, Macbeth. With all the plotting, and the gossip and the underlying tensions between everyone, I feel like I'm reading Macbeth again, except without the witches.
Both Richard and Macbeth are giving the crown, but not without some seriously speculation. In Richard's case it's because he might have had a hand in his own uncle's death, and Macbeth, well he killed the king to get the crown. Both seem to be very deceitful people, aided by even more mischievous comrades. Macbeth's wife stokes the fire of treason so that she and her husband can have the ultimate power. Richard is aided by his other uncles, and used as a pawn to possibly cover up the murder.
Not only are Richard and Macbeth poor rulers, but it seems to be a patter of Shakespeare's that he does not have the desire to make the Kings in his plays the heros. I can't think of one work where the King ended up being the man with the most moral compass and always strived to do what is right. On the contrary, they're mostly devious tricksters who work on their own schedules to fulfill their own selfish desires, rather than doing what is best for their country. Or if they were good kings, they're killed off either before the play even begins, or within the first act or so. Richard is raising the taxes to get more land in Ireland, meanwhile his country is not in a place to be giving him more money, nor does he need more land. Macbeth did not have any desire to help the country, he just wanted power for power's sake. Shakespeare does not seem to have a lot of faith in the monarchy.

Irony in Richard's Speech and Ability as a King

It is very interesting to me why Richard II acts as such a weak, inconsistent king, yet he speaks poetically and beautifully, delivering (arguably) some of the plays most eloquent speeches. He frequently cites anecdotal analogies and using other metaphors and symbols that are made because of his extensive knowledge of history and mythology. I'm aware that articulate speech and being a good king are different, but I think there's a definite reason as to why Shakespeare would implant such an odd irony in the play's central character.

His most recent, captivating speech occurs at the end of Act III scene ii, where he is expressing his feelings of death to Aumerle. It states, "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 disposed,/ Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed,/ All murdered" (ln. 151-156). His sorrow is articulated very poetically, and it makes me wonder why he makes some horrible decisions yet can recollect on his mistakes in a profound way.

Perhaps is it simply to show what truly makes a good person and a good king. Simple articulation doesn't equate to good kingship. It could also be a critique on kings by Shakespeare, the opinion that politicians and kings speak poetically to create a facade; under all these flowery language lies dimwitted decision making and ill-favored fortunes. I'm assuming that this trend continues through the end of the play, and the two concluding acts may serve as more evidence for this particular aspect of the play.

Bolingbroke: A Class Act.

Act 3 of Richard II shows us an interesting side of character development for Bolingbroke. As Richard continues to hope to shut down the rebellion through force, Bolingbroke seems to win people over simply by his will and his personality. More people are siding with Bolingbroke, abandoning their king for the interloper. It is hard to disagree with their choice, however, especially when we see how Bolingbroke acts towards his enemy. He doesn’t necessarily consider Richard II an enemy, and acknowledges that he is King. He claims to have no goals of taking the throne, and only wants the justice he believes he deserves, to recover the land taken from John of Gaunt’s will. In 3.3.194, Bolingbroke says “My gracious lord, I come but for mine own.” He is not a menacing figure, and he even seems to be bowing in Richard’s presence, showing all the respect that one would normally give to a king, despite the fact that he is currently overthrowing his empire, whether intentionally or otherwise.

The third act even opens with a rather surprising scene, in which Bolingbroke executes men who he claims dishonored the very king he is fighting against. If Bolingbroke is going so far to rebel against the king and take back what he believes is rightfully his, why is he showing so much respect and allegiance to him? He even takes the care to make sure the Queen is treated well during his battle against the King in 3.1.36-40: “Uncle, you say the Queen is at your house./For God’s sake, fairly let her be intreated./Tell her I send to her my kind commends./Take special care my greetings be delivered.” It is interesting that Bolingbroke uses the term “For God’s sake,” because Richard II is referenced several times as a ruler with the right of God watching over him. This time in English history relied on what was known as divine rule, the belief that the king was king because God deemed it to be so. Anyone who went against the king was seen to be therefore going against the will of God.

Bolingbroke seems to be a very moral character, and this could be attributed to a fear of God in him. His religion and his faith in God could mean that he still believes that Richard II is the true King. This ties into how he claims to not wish to take the throne, but simply his land. Bolingbroke could be seen as the antagonist of the story, simply because the eponymous protagonist of Richard II is facing against him, but he is clearly not a villain. Bolingbroke is more likeable than the king, and although he battles the man that he gives so much respect to, it’s easy to see that he has no interest in vengeance and seeks no pleasure from fighting Richard, but that he is primarily a man concerned with justice and fairness. It will be interesting to see how Bolingbroke treats Richard now that he is in Bolingbroke’s custody at the end of the act.

Monday, March 8, 2010

History Plays

So far, Richard II has been an interesting read. I find it to be far denser and involved than the comedies we’ve read thus far, but that is only to be expected, seeing as it is a history play. It is also far more involved in political details and information than most of the tragedies I have read so far—Hamlet and Macbeth come easily to mind. I believe that this—this (at times exhaustive) focus and attention to detail and complicated politics that separates history plays from Shakespeare’s tragedies. True, all of his plays contain complex plots and involve in-depth glimpses into disparate politics, but none have focused entirely upon the politics involved—there are deeper themes, to which the politics take a background position. Tragedies are, in essence, focused on the tragedy—the personal tragedy, the inner anguish of the tragic characters and their falls, from grace or from happiness (often both.) There is more of a personal element to the story, more exploration of the characters, due to this focus.

Histories, on the other hand, are entirely built around the shifting and changing of political alliances and strengths, more concerned with the moving of the outside world than with the shifts and changes within a character’s inner world. Richard II basically swamps the audience with information about the political power-structure of the time, and how this structure changes; what events occur to cause this change and why being the main concern of the play thus far. There are fleeting personal glimpses into the characters’ lives, the most prominent being the Queen’s scenes—her stake in the actions of the play are represented as purely personal, purely emotional, perhaps as a relief or counterpoint to the main thrust of the play, much like the comedic scenes found throughout Shakespeare’s tragedies. This is another difference between this history and the other plays we have read—usually there are figures used solely for comedic relief, some rough humour to tide the audience over before delving back into the meat of the play. In Richard II, the only scenes that differ from the dense political action are those of the Queen, in that they are driven purely by emotion, and not the political powers and motivations that drive every other character in the play. She, then, is the relief, the counter-point, the break in the action to give the audiences a breather, perhaps underlining the serious matter of the play that it possesses no rude clowns or jesters—simply the young, pure Queen to take our minds, however briefly, off of the dire circumstances portrayed in the rest of the play.

the divine light and our richard

(Posted for Tyler)

Shakespeare loves to create and display his idea of the true villain.  He creates characters that are, with little exception, completely self-interested.  These figures are skeletons, in the sense that they are not well rounded.  These characters will step on anyone they need to in order to get what they want.  These folks don't even try to justify themselves unless they are accused , and most likely offer no apologizes when finally exposed.  These  characters call into question almost everything surrounding them, even the divine.
Being crowned under such shaky circumstances, it really doesn't seem like the current king was actually fully expecting himself to become the ruler as quickly as he did.  here doesn't seem to be any development in Richard as a person or a ruler.  Richard seems to be another victim of his creator's real villain hang-up.  Being somewhat pampered and taken care of, as the king, there really has been no need for him to step up and actually act.  he knows the lush life now and he wants to hold on to it for as long as he can.
It's a fairly obvious observation to make, but Richard has missed the point.  That point being that someone isn't king to "be king."  A good ruler needs experience, knowledge, solid judgment skills, and, at the very least, passion.  A king should be passionate about the land which he is in charge of.  That passion should be what drives him to become a better person, a better ruler.  None of these necessary skills exist within Richard.  Experience, knowledge, judgment; these things aren't allowed to develop.  Something is holding these things far off, a villainous something which the reader can only classify as a lack of concern on the character's part.  So no, not much of a chance.  He doesn't seem to be running toward any kind of responsibility which would force him to realize where he is and what he should be because of it.  The land, the people the crown, all seem like a given for Richard.  All there is is the power, something he doesn't work with, but for.  Nothing of a king exists in our boy.
Within Richard II there is a strong kind of underlying contrast.  Richard (along with many other Shakespeare plays) is heavily motivated by the idea of power.  The contrast is lying in the lead man himself.  The idea during the time this play takes place is that the king is king.  He is the next in line as far as he is concerned, this family being backed by the clouds; the king has the support of the man in the sky.  With someone like Richard, there doesn't seem to be anything in him.  He's a shell.
Where's god in all of this?  The undeniable is sending us, as Richard's people, backwards.  The power that is given is being used for only his benefit.  Selling land, making use of whatever he needs to get what he wants.  No pride for himself, not to mention the land of which he rules over.  Could all of those involved and surrounding think for one second that he is there (or god's) man?

Thoughts on Richard II

Sorry this is a little late (I got stuck at work!) So far, after only reading the first few scenes of Richard II, I found that I am having a pretty hard time understanding it. I find it pretty confusing and not very entertaining so far. As a reader, we begin with King Richard II disputing with John of Gaunt and Henry Bolingbroke. It seems that they are arguing over one of them being accused of treachery. As it continues, we find out that the accuser is the King's cousin, Henry Bolingbroke. "Namley to appeal each other of high treason. Cousin of Hereford, what dost thou object against the Duke of Norfolk". Right off the bat, it is really hard to understand much of what is going on between John of Gaunt, King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke. There is much discussion and debate about the treachery that has been committed. I do however understand that King Richard II decided to set a date for the noblemen to duel out their differences on their own. "Be ready, as your lives shall answer it, at Conventry, upon Saint Lambert's Day: there shall your swords and lances arbitrate the swelling difference of your settled hate." I understand this part, but would like to know further what more the treachery is about.

Scene 2 continues with the introduction of the Duchess. This is the Duchess of Gloucester and is a widow. Her husband Thomas was murdered; "What shall I say ? to safeguard thine own life, the best way is to venge my Gloucester's death." It's not really clear though as to how he was murdered, nor by who, by my understanding. Scene 2 is very short and doesn't really describe much of anything except to discuss the Duchess really. I feel like it is only a little incerpt of what is going on with the Duchess and John of Gaunt. I have to further read on to see if I can understand it a little more clearly, because at this point I am not enjoying it much either.

Richard II

So far I’ve enjoyed the first three acts of Richard II, and feel that they are a nice change of pace from the comedies we’ve read up until this point. At this point, however, I’ve still not been able to choose a side to root for, and the various family connections of people on both sides don’t make anything easier. I seem to be more inclined to be on Richard’s side, although it’s very possible that this is only because the play is named after him and he is the main character of the play. His character, however, does not seem to be the greatest person, as he openly admits that, should he need to, he has no problem filling out blank bank charters with a rich person’s name and collecting the money from them. He also takes inheritance that is not rightfully his from Bolingbroke after John of Gaunt dies.

One thing that surprised me a little in Act 3.2 was how nonchalantly women were put down. I always seem to forget how poorly women were treated throughout history and often get surprised when reading things such as this. Scrope even goes so far as to use the word “female” in place of “weak.” He also insults the men who would fight against the king by insinuating that they are young and girly by saying; “Boys with women’s voices/ strive to speak big” (3.2.109-110).

Something I’m becoming concerned with so far, though, is the amount of characters who keep coming about and their various titles. It seems like every time I get used to the character names, they either change or another character is thrown into the mix. I find it especially frustrating when there are characters such as “First Lady” and “Second Lady” or “Gardiner” (3.4) because we never get their names and they only have brief appearances in the play, at least so far. I find myself wondering whether or not characters such as these, and even some of the more prominent characters, are needed. Couldn’t Shakespeare have found some way around using so many characters? Especially characters that serve little to no purpose? We are told at the beginning of the Norton (the family tree) that Shakespeare combines certain characters, etc. so I would think that he put a fair amount of thought into which characters should be in the play, and which should be left out, so I guess it’s safe to assume that any characters in the play are there because Shakespeare wanted them to be. Sometimes it just seems slightly overwhelming.

Why Does Richard Give Up So Easily?

While reading act three of Shakespeare’s Richard II what really jumped out at me was how easily Richard seemed to give up and surrender to Bolingbroke. It seemed to me that while reading the first few acts of this play that Richard was a very strong willed king who believed in the divine right of kings-which therefore assumes that Richard would see himself as an extension of god and god’s power. Based on this fact I assumed that there was no way that Richard was going to peacefully hand over his crown to Bolingbroke. I would think that Richard would see himself as all powerful, and that therefore there could be no possible way that Bolingbroke could seize the throne from him. But it seems that Richard doesn’t believe he is so powerful at all because at the end of act three he just simply gives up all hope and decides to go to see Bolingbroke, where eventually he will surrender his crown. I ultimately found Richard’s acts at the end of this scene quite confusing and quite contradictory to what he says/does earlier on in the play or even scene.

Richard says earlier on in Act three, scene two before he gives up all hope, “Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm from an anointed king. / The breath of worldly men cannot depose / The deputy elected by the Lord.” (50-53). What Richard is saying here is that he himself is the rightful god chosen king, and with god on his side there is no way that Bolingbroke stands a chance against him. This is a statement that I was not surprised to see Richard make and it is one that I thought fit his character very well. Richard here is explicitly stating that because of the divine right of kings, Bolingbroke cannot possibly become king. But then later on in this scene after Richard finds out that his loyal followers have been executed and his army and uncle have deserted him, he completely contradicts his previous statement by giving up hope and deciding to go see/surrender to Bolingbroke.

Richard simply giving up hope really bothered me and I really thought it went against his character. I was seriously preparing myself for an epic battle during act four between Bolingbroke and Richard, because I thought that Richard would never surrender peacefully, but in the end Richard just simply gave up his crown. I’m not sure what to make of this yet because I still haven’t finished act five, but the Richard who I once saw as a strong willed king, who wouldn’t even dream of giving up his throne, now just seems to be a coward…

Richard or Henry? That is the question

I think that this play really allows the reader think about the essential question, “What makes a good ruler?” Even nowadays, if you were to ask someone, “What are some qualities and characteristics of a good ruler?” I’m sure there would be answers such as: intelligent, personable, fair, consistent, mature, connected to his country, and capable of taking on the monstrous task of ruling a country. If keeping these virtues in mind and comparing them to Richard as a ruler, he does not live up to these foundational attributes. This boils down to, is Richard a sufficient ruler? Would Bolingbrook be a good ruler? Are either of them suitable to rule England?

Richard proves to be an inconsistent, wishy-washy, and unfair character. We can see all of these traits in this exchange with Bolingbroke. At first, Richard banished Bolingbroke for 10 years. So after, he changes his mind and decides that he banishment will only last for six years. This change of heart clearly illustrates how he is inconsistent. Richard had made a ruling, but with little notice, he went back on his word and changed his verdict. This change shows that Richard cannot stick to the decisions he makes. Not only is he inconsistent with his ruling, he is unfair. Bolingbroke receives 10 years; however, Mowbray is banished of life. His ruling is obviously unfair, especially that both committed the same “crime.”

All of these troubling traits that Richard embodies, may make the reader question Richard’s title as King. It also may spark thinking that Bolingbrook is a better candidate for King. In one of Richard’s rants he explains how the people of the country like Bolingbrook. He is more appealing to them. Bolingbrook appears to relate to them more so than Richard and acknowledge their existence. But does this make him a better ruler?

It is obvious that this play brings up the validity of a ruler, and asks the read to consider the qualities that make for the best King. It makes us question: Is Richard a good ruler? Would Bolingbrook be better? Perhaps someone else entirely would do a better job at being the King of England than either one of them could possibly do? The text asks us to reflect on this proposition, and calls upon us to look at the evidence the text presents and make a decision for ourselves.

Identity and Divine Right

After reading Act 3, I am still unsure of how I feel about the character of Richard. Most of the time I feel bad for him, but once and a while he'll do something that bothers me. I'm curious to see what happens in the next act, and particularly, if he will be killed, or at least removed from the throne by Bolingbroke. I think he will be removed from the throne in the next act, as act 3 seemed to be moving towards that fate for Richard, but like all Shakespeare plays I'm sure there could be some crazy plot twist I wasn't expecting that changes everything.

Something I thought to be interesting while reading this play was the idea of divine right. I know we talked about this a little bit in class Friday, but reading Act 3 really got me thinking about it a bit more. I knew from history class that monarchs often got their power from the belief that they were chosen by God to be rulers, but I had never really thought about how important that may be. Richard says that "Not all the water in the rough rude sea/Can wash the balm from an anointed king./The Breath of worldly men cannot depose/ The deputy elected by the Lord" (3.2.50-53), and this really reveals how much faith is put into the belief of divine right, and that a ruler is a ruler not only because they are a part of the royal family, but also because they have been chosen by God to rule.

Another thing I found to be interesting was the continued discussion of honor and familial bonds, which we talked about for a while in class. Bolingbroke talks about his banishment in Act 3.1, and says "From my own windows torn my household coat,/ Razed out my imprese, leaving me no sign,/ Save men's opinions and my living blood,/ To show the world I am a gentlemen" (3.1.24-27). These lines show us just how important Bolingbroke's lineage is to him, as well as his honor. This also reveals how these things contribute hugely to constructing his identity. The loss of these things devastated him, and I think that he wants revenge for the theft of his honor.

Richard's Doubts?

My views of Richard seemed to change a couple of times as I was reading through Act 3. At one point I felt as if he was still the greedy king from the first two acts. Yet, as the act went on, I almost felt sympathy for him.
Throughout scene two my views of Richard stayed the same. As Aumerle reminds him that as they waste time, Bolingbroke grows stronger as rules, Richard tells us that we have nothing to worry about. Through divine right he is still meant to be on the throne. Richard tells Aumerle "Bolingbroke, / Who all this while has revelled in the night / Whilst we were wand'ring with the Antipodes, / Shall see us rising in our thrown, the east / His treasons will sit blushing in his face, / Not able to endure the sight of day, / But, self-affrighted, tremble at his sin" (3.2.43-49). Although Bolingbroke is basking in his power, Richard will get his back. Richard goes on to say that "The breath of worldly men cannot depose / The deputy elected by the Lord" and "Weak men must fall; for heaven still guards the right"(3.2.52-53,58). I think I mistook Richard's belief in divine right as greed. I guess, may, I don't see how he can believe that the throne is solely meant for him and that he will definitely be able to regain it. I also believe that at this moment, Richard seems very sure of himself, yet by the end of the scene he’s doubting himself.
So soon after I felt that greed, I felt sympathy for him in that same scene when he says "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 poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed, / All murdered" (3.2.151-156). Right away, the words "all murdered" stuck out. I felt as though Richard was seeming insecure at this point...he goes on to say "How can you say to me I am a king?" (3.2.173) I felt sympathy for Richard...would he get murdered too? Yet, would that be a bad thing? At the same time, is he foreshadowing his own murder/death? As Richard began to give up home, I thought maybe he was giving in too easily...How could Richard walk away from it all? It reminded me of the earlier scene where he was originally going to have Bolingbroke and Mowbray duel or fight but then simple banished them both.
I think writing this response has raised many more questions for me than before I wrote it. I wonder how Richard believes in divine right but seems to doubt himself as king and be indecisive. I look forward to seeing how Richard develops further as a character and also how the belief of divine right gets played out.

the fallacy of a ruling system

Throughout reading this play it has become more and more evident that King Richard is not a good king. At first I am not sure what to think about Richard, but once Gaunt is dying, I see a whole new side of Richard. At first we find out that Richard needs money to go to Ireland to see what is going on with the war. Then we find out that he is planning to take money from the rich people to fund his trip. He then finds out his Uncle Gaunt is dying. Richard then plans to take money from his dying uncle. Through this, the reader sees that Richard has no compassion for family or for the people he rules over. York gives a long speech to Richard stating how he cannot take money from his dying uncle. York states, “is not Gaunt dead? And doth not Hereford live? /Was not Gaunt just? And is not Harry true?/ Did he not deserve to have an heir?/ Is not his heir a well-deserving son? (2.1.195-199). This speech was very moving and I think was created to show the extent to how uncompassionate Richard is. Richard’s response to this moving speech is, “think what you will, we seize into our hands/his plate, his goods, his money, and his land” (2.1.210). He disregards everything that York has stated and plans to take all of Gaunt’s money, land, and belongings. This heir is rightfully Gaunt’s son, but Richard does not care. He doesn’t think Bolingbroke is going to come back after his banishment from England. And even if he did think he was coming back, Richard did not care. He does not respect the heir or people’s rights, not even in his own family. Richard inherited his thrown through the heir that was left him and the people respected that, but Richard does not give the same respect to the heir of his uncle.

So the question that comes to mind is why would Shakespeare make Richard appear to be a horrible king and leader? I feel as though Richard represents the fallacy with the ruling system that was in England at the time. It is clear that inheriting a thrown at the age of twelve, just because of last name and family rights, does not make a good ruling system for any society. Richard is not a good leader and this is clear throughout the play. Shakespeare is making fun of the ruling class? That is how I see it. Shakespeare see’s the issues and problems with the ruling class and Richard’s actions as king shows how that system clearly does not work.

At the end of Act III when Richard gets his thrown taken from him shows that wrong can be made right. Everyone liked Bolingbroke better than Richard, and the thrown being taken from Richard shows that justice can be made and change can happen

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fair? I think not.

As I read through act three of Richard the Second I noticed that multiple times actions (such as executions and the placing of curses) were taken on what seem like innocent people. I’m having a hard time understanding why this would happen? Why would innocent people be punished for thing they had no control over?

The first time in act three I saw this kind of treatment being played out was in the beginning of act three, scene one. When Bolingbroke returns to England, he already has a strong army. We find out later on that even Richard’s army has left him and joined the army of Bolingbroke. When he enters, he already has Bushy and Green in his custody. He blames the two of them for Richard’s bad ruling and for the reason he was previously banished. He declares that these two men are going to be executed. What I feel this boils down to is that Bushy and Green are being executed for staying loyal to the king. What makes me feel like this is so ironic is that Bolingbroke was the one who accusing Mowbary or not being loyal to the king in the beginning of the play. It seems like Bolingbroke can not make up his mind. One must take into account that Bolingbroke is angry at Richard for not giving him what is his—the property and title of his now deceased father—but how can one’s morals switch like this? How can one go from willing to duel with a man over not being loyal to executing other man for being loyal?

The second account I saw of this kind of unfair punishment was in act three, scene four when the queen curses the gardeners for informing her of bad news. To me, this is completely unfair. To start, when the two gardeners entered the garden, they had no idea that the queen and her two ladies were there. It was the Queens suggestion to hide so that the gardeners did not know they were there. I believe that if the gardeners knew that they were in the presence of the Queen, they wouldn’t of spoke so freely of the things that were happening to Richard. Secondly, the gardeners have no power over what happens to Richard or who hold the thrown. They are just gardeners with no real amount of power. I can understand that the Queen was upset—the king was captured by Bolingbroke and she must of known what was going to happen with the thrown—but why did she curse the gardeners? When reading the conversation between the older gardener and the queen, I didn’t feel as if he was rude to her—I felt that he was sympathetic about what was happening to Richard.

I guess things will never truly be fair, especially in the word of Shakespeare, but these two accounts really bothered me in this reading. I’m hoping in the following readings, some sense of this will be made.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

To Measure a Ruler

Richard II seems at first to be a fair ruler. He tries to rule fairly, and exempts blood line from having an influence on his ruling, he says, "Such neighboring nearness to our sacred blood should nothing privilege him, nor partialize the unstooping firmness of my upright soul. He is our subject, Mowbray; so art thou. Free speech and fearless I to thee allow" (1.1.119-123). Perhaps the king only appears to be fair at first because he is proclaiming his own fairness. With little spoken evidence on the case of either Mowbray or Bolingbroke, Bolingbroke (his cousin) is given far softer a punishment, being a mere six years of banishment while Mowbray is banished forever. The king is by no means impartial. His uncle, John of Gaunt, gives his fair warning of his rulings in a classic deathbed foreshadowing. While Gaunt is biased because the king banished his son, he still speaks truth. He says, "Ill in myself to see, and in thee seeing ill. Thy deathbed is no lesser than thy land, wherein thou liest in reputation sick; And thou, too careless patient as thou art...a thousand flatterers sit within thy crown, who compass is no bigger than thy head" (999). Gaunt's speech here is less straight forward than his more lucid one on the king given to York, but still it serves as a warning on the state of the kingdom. When he says that he sees Richard is ill, Richard argues his health, but what Gaunt is cleverly saying is that Richard is morally ill and his kingdom is sick with poor rulings.
An aspect of the Kingdom and its current ruler are interestingly still relevant today. In act II Ross, Willoughby, and Northumberland converse on the state of things and the state of the King, noting that a lack of finance has made "reproach and dissolution hangeth over him" (2.1.259). It is also reflected on by other characters that the taxing of the people to afford a war on another nation (or part of the current nation?) will only further remove the people from their loyalties to the king.
A punishment that is too harsh for the crime, or supposed crime, committed will also bring revolt, and there seems to be some foreshadowing early in the play. Bolingbroke's banishment, as seen by many as too harsh, serves as an example where he is assumed to take revenge later in the play. Many times in history we have seen this same occurance: punish a man too harshly and it leaves him seeking revenge, a man, or a country. WWI and WWII are good examples of this, as Germany's desperation in economic failure and national embarrassment led to further destruction of a continent. Surely, King Richard will reap what he sows, as Shakespeare almost always makes sure his characters do.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Measure for Measure, Disceit for Honesty?

Sorry it's late. I was ULTRA tired last week and couldn't do much school work.

The end of Measure for Measure leaves the audience with a question: How does Isabella respond to the duke’s marriage demand? One rigid interpretation would be to assume that she agrees, whether she wants to or not, simply because a man of such high social stature asked her to. That notion would only work in a perfect world where subjects never question an order from authority. Seeing as this play is full of characters that bend and break the law, the above assumption then proves to be quite flawed.

True, Isabella has two options as far as the audience can see. She can either go with the Duke’s desire and get married or she can complete her vows and become a full nun. Even though the answer is not clearly defined, Isabella would probably do whatever she could to become a nun, only yielding to the Duke under some extreme circumstance. Part of my reasoning comes from the Duke himself and part comes from Isabella.

First, we have the Duke. The very first official act we see him do is give his power to Angelo under the pretense of going away. Once it is revealed that he was the Friar the whole time, the whole city will know that there was something strange going on, even if they can’t discern his entire plot. Second, he tells his guards to arrest Isabella when she’s trying to testify. Finally he reveals that he was actually lying when she thought that Claudio was dead. To an outsider, some of the events in the play may be at least partially admirable. For Isabella, however, none of the above would make the Duke any more appealing to her as an individual. In fact, she may be a tad ticked off at a few of these. Add that to the fact that he says “Give me your hand, and say you will be mine” (5.1.486) and she has plenty of reason to refuse. This is a man that is willing to do anything to make sure that he socially looks good and then asks her to do something that, by the definition of her chosen lifestyle, means that he can’t possibly value her beliefs. I don’t even think these two have any history together outside of the whole executing Claudio fiasco.

Next, we have Isabella herself. We get no background information suggesting that there was a reason she is becoming a nun, so we can assume that this is purely her desire. This notion is strengthened as the play goes on. She does not make any statement that make it appear that she wants to repeal her vows in terms of striking up a relationship with anyone. In her conversations with the Duke in the guise of the Friar, she is very focused in her words; all she wants to do is free her brother. It can be understandable why the Duke may find this virtue charming but she does absolutely nothing to lead him on. Even though she does want Claudio to live, she is not willing to do anything to compromise her vows. She plainly tells Angelo that, if she has to lose her virginity to save her brother, it wasn’t worth it. She has absolutely no desire to be intimate with a man.

If this woman would rather let her own relations die than be with a man, I’m sure she’d rather die herself than marry the Duke. Opposites may attract, but mis-matched pairs simply won’t mesh.

Isabella: Possessed?

*Sorry this is late. I missed this and class due to a Benadryl induced coma. It won't happen again!*

The character of Isabella has really interested me in "Measure for Measure". There was a post last week questioning the reason that Isabella would have listened to the idea the Duke gave her while he was disguised as the Friar. I had first commented that it was because of the fact that the Friar was a part of the clergy and therefore, in her mind, would not be giving her bad advice. I still believe this is true, but I have also come up with another idea.

I think that maybe, though this could be a stretch, that Isabella's morals are also being tested here. Even though it was a member of the clergy that was telling her this scheme, shouldn't she have realized that it was still wrong? I suppose that this argument could go on forever, but I think this is a convention of Shakespeare's comedy in a way: the questioning of morals.

What led me to this is the idea of Satan and deception. Not only is the Duke deceiving Isabella by putting on a disguise (of a Friar, no less) but Isabella, by listening to this proposition is going to deceive Angelo by having Mariana meet him instead of herself. Even though this is all to save her brother and expose Angelo for something good, it still goes against Christian morals.

Ultimately, I think that Isabella is definitely a wholesome character with just as many flaws as anyone else, and maybe I'm just pulling the Satan idea from thin air, but I did think it was important to the understanding of the law and the characters in the play as a whole.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bias and Self-Interest in “Richard II”

The first two acts of Richard II have proven just how complicated things can get when family and politics interweave. A concept which I found of particular interest was how bias unavoidably contributes to the decisions one makes. When the argument arises between Mowbray and Bolingbroke, Richard claims that he is “impartial” and “vow[s]” that the “the neighbor nearness to [their] sacred blood” will not “privilege” Bolingbroke in his eyes or “partialize” him to Richards “upright soul”. Richard explains that like Mowbray, Bolingbroke is his “subject,” a status which Richard claims puts both Bolingbroke and Mowbray on equal ground and allows Richard to be objective. However in Act 1, scene 3, Richard seemingly contradicts this statement by giving Bolingbroke a much less severe sentence than he does Mowbray: ten years in exile in comparison to the life banishment Mowbray receives. Richard gives no real reason for this decision, and from an outside perspective it seems unjust, after all it was Bolingbroke who started the dispute by first accusing Mowbray of treason causing Mowbray to cry slander. Moreover, after Mowbray leaves, King Richard further reduces his sentence to six years after seeing the “sad aspect” of Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt. What has motivated Richard to be so lenient on Bolingbroke? At first it seems that Richard has taken pity on his cousin and has quickly gone back on his claim of being an impartial ruler. Richard seems to have been biased by his familial attachment to Bolingbroke, perhaps suggesting that it is impossible to be unbiased when dealing with family. This interpretation seems to be validated by John of Gaunt in 1.3, lines 229-35.4, whose decision is also colored by his bias as family relative. The saddened John of Gaunt wishes he could have “argue[d] like a father” but instead was forced to be “as a judge”. Although this at first seems to imply that he acted unbiased, he goes on to explain that he could not separate being a judge and father because fear of “slander” caused him to give his son a harsher sentence than he would a “stranger”. Thus, his attachment to Bolingbroke as is his son biased John of Gaunt to agree to a sentence he felt was too harsh for anyone. Perhaps Shakespeare is trying to demonstrate that is impossible for people to separate biases, be objective, and thus act completely just. Instead, Shakespeare may be illustrating that people unavoidably act self-interestedly. We fine that Richard is also not impartial. He gives Bolingbroke the sentence he did for very calculated political reasons which biased the way he handled the dispute. In 1.4 we learn that Richard fears that Bolingbroke is after his thrown and cites Bolingbroke’s “courtship to the common people” as reason for concern. Whereas Richard views his people “as slaves” it is clear that Bolingbroke respects and even loves the people of England. For these reasons, Richard postulates that Bolingbroke thinks that “England” is by “revision his” and that he is the “subjects next degree in hope”. Perhaps Richard sentenced Bolingbroke the way he did in order to balance not upsetting the people of England as well as the rest of the royal family (who show favoritism toward Bolingbroke) while still being able to get Bolingbroke out of his way. Richard seems to be constantly biased by his own political self-interest which keeps him from acting as a just ruler (other examples might be his plan to tax the poor to fund his war in Ireland, or his involvement in the murder of the Duke of Gloucester’s death). Any thoughts about what Shakespeare might be saying about the role of bias and self-interest in decision making?

The Private, the Public, & Legitimate Violence

Two things struck me about Measure For Measure. The first is that the words “public” and “private” are used several times throughout the course of the play, like in 5.1.72 when Lucio says “I think if you handled her privately, she would sooner confess; perchance publicly she’ll be ashamed,” in 4.6.26 when Angelo’s use of the word “particular” actually means “private,” and in 5.1.452 when the Provost says “It was by private message.” Each time “public” is used it is referring to Antonio’s position of power both as a man and as a member of the state: his decree that Claudio should be executed, his well known precision, his “unsoiled name”, and his position as lawful leader of Vienna in the absence of the Duke are all “public.” “Private,” however, is used when referring to the women — Isabella and Mariana – and Antonio’s dealings with them. Angelo's promise to Isabella to spare her brother is made in the private, so he doesn’t actually have to keep it; Isabella and Mariana are accused of hatching a plan to destroy Angelo's reputation in the “private” with the friar; Angelo's sexual acts with Isabella/Mariana are also in the private as there is no scene of the encounter (which I was anticipating, probably because of our previous reading of Lucrece.) The Duke operates in both spheres (as himself in the public and as a friar in the private,) so he is able to subvert and reverse the power relations of the two, making what is done in the private supersede what is declared in the public. (Or maybe he simply makes the private public?) All Isabella’s and Marianna’s actions take place in the private: all the characters who interact with them have to enter the private (like when Lucio went to see Isabella at the convent) except for in scene five when the Duke, who permeates both worlds, manipulates them and brings them into the public.
The second is the way in which the play functions as a kind of microcosm of how the state employs its legitimate use of violence to police its subjects. As a document of the early modern era it foreshadows the ways in which violence is legally and legitimately used by governments in the modern era operating within the nation-state paradigm. Just as later 20th century governments could exercise violence over their own subjects (policing) and against other nation-states (war) Angelo and the Duke are allowed to execute criminals. There is nothing that determines when then can and cannot execute people, they can just do it whenever they deem it necessary. No one questions the legitimacy of their actions: Claudio’s punishment is rejected not because it is an execution in and of itself, but because it seems too severe, and ultimately because it is hypocritical of Angelo. I can’t help but ask if Angelo hadn’t lusted after Isabella, if he remained precise, would the execution have gone through? This is very different from today, where the very existence of the term “cruel and unusual punishment” shows a radical shift in the perception of how much power the state should be allowed to have and how it can or cannot use that power. The most interesting thing, though, was that the head of the state, the Duke, starts to question the legitimacy himself, and starts to base legitimacy not on law, but on morality. Claudio’s execution is wrong not because it is against the law, but because it is immoral. This is being mirrored in today's society in the way that WWII is called a "just war." It's justness (legitimacy) comes from morality. The same argument could be made for the war on terrorism (though not by me.)