Thursday, March 15, 2012


John Falstaff was the character that interested me the most while reading Henry the Fourth. There is just something about the character that appeals to people.
Falstaff is the exact opposite of the type of character you would think a prince should be associating with. He is a fat, sloppy, drunk. He is a thief and a liar, who will do whatever he can to make an extra buck. Normally Shakespeare would encourage the crowd to hate a character like this, but you just can't help but love him. He is the embodiment of Dionysus. I just want to sit in a tavern buying him drinks and listen to his puns. It is clear why Hal would choose him to be one of his closest associates. He demonstrates to Hal a different type of life then he would ever have seen with other members of the court.
Falstaff also seems to play a father figure to Hal. He is his partner in crime while dwelling in the taverns, and even plays Hal while Hal pretends to be his father at the end of act. 2. Here Hal seems to act out a conversation he has had with his father a number of times. Hal lists a number of reasons why he should not be associated with Falstaff. He says, "Wherein is he good, but to taste sack and drink? Wherein neat and cleanly, but to carve a capon and eat it? Wherein cunning, but in craft? Wherein crafty, but in villainy? Wherein villainous, but in all things? Wherein worthy, but in nothing?" (act. 2 scene line 414). Hal taunts Falstaff by stating all his faults, but also seems to reveal his fathers true feelings about the people his son associates himself with. Falstaff defends himself from these accusations, flipping the accusations by associating them with different sorts of people and biblical events. This interaction demonstrates Falstaff's wit, but also what Hal has gained from spending time with people form the lower class. It demonstrates that Hal has a sense of humor, and how he relied upon his past to make him a better ruler. As we talked about in class, Shakespeare wanted to use this plan to show how Hal's redemption from a tavern dweller to a great king, but also how he used his experience from his past to be a better king.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

All in the Family

As I read the third act of Henry IV I was struck by the dynamics of the two main relationships in Prince Harry’s life. In the 2nd scene Harry is summoned by his father King Henry and their meeting is hardly one that would indicate they are father and son. In the opening line of the scene King Henry refers to Harry by his title, “Lords give us leave—the Prince of Wales and I/ Must have some private conference” (1-2). He does not say leave me with my son; instead it feels like a professional political meeting. Henry then goes on to list Harry’s faults, and how he is really nothing but a disappointment at this point. Henry wonders if God is punishing him for disposing of Richard. Harry responds in the same formal tone as he tries to combat his father’s opinion. He says, “So please your majesty, I would I could/Quit all offences with as clear excuse” (3.2.18-19). I was surprised that Harry remained so formal; he seems to be the type to forget about such formalities. It is an interesting exchange because you would think that there would be more emotion involved with such a heavy discussion. A father is basically telling his son that he is disappointed in him, even ashamed. That is hard to hear, but Harry remains just as clinical sounding as his father. He uses the formal title for his king, emphasizing the subject sovereign relationship over the father son bond. It is not until Harry promises to redeem himself that Henry even refers to him by name. Harry must shape up before Henry will acknowledge any deeper bond to him.

In the very next scene, 3.3 Shakespeare contrasts this with Harry’s relationship to his friend Falstaff. Their relationship is playful and extremely informal. Falstaff does not care that Harry is the Prince of Wales, he teasingly accuses Harry of owing him money and picking his pocket, even calling him by a nickname, “Sirrah, do I owe you a thousand pound?/ A thousand pound, Hal? A million! Thy love is worth/a million; thou owest me thy love” (123-126). Falstaff reveres Harry’s friendship, and maybe enjoys the free ride that comes along with the Prince’s friend, but I think he really does care for Harry and is more eager to show him that than his father seems to be. Falstaff even goes on to tell Harry that he does not care about his title at all. He respects Harry as a man and a friend but the title of ‘Prince’ does not affect how he sees him, “but as thou art prince, I fear thee as I fear the roaring of the lion’s whelp…The king himself is to be feared as the lion. Dost thou think I’ll fear thee as I fear thy father?” (3.3.134-139). The outright lack of formality is a stark contrast to the exchange between Henry and Harry. While father and son interact as if they were merely ruler and subject Falstaff (who really is Harry’s subject) and Harry act more as equals who show a genuine concern for each other.

Shakespeare’s portrayal of these 2 different relationships raises important questions in this play; which is more important family or the crown? We encountered this same question in Richard II; the crown was more important than family in that play, I wonder if the outcome will be different in this play? Will Henry and Harry prove that a real royal family dynamic can exist?

Heated in the Spur of the Moment

In Act 3 for Henry the Fourth, Hotspur reveals a different side of his character than what we can observe at first. Originally we know of him as someone ideal for the role of leadership, a man who has the outstanding ability to outmaneuver most in his military regime. However, when he is seen in closer contact with those whose loyalty and companionship he requires, he is unable to connect in a proper way. Even the coining of his name represents how Shakespeare is playing around with his audience, when Hotspur can mean only that he is someone who is “hot” tempered in the “spur of the moment”without any rational reasoning behind it.

When Hotspur argues with one of his allies, Glendower, he explains to Lord Mortimer his justification for quarreling with him because he would,”rather live / With cheese and garlic in a windmill, far, / Than feed on cates and have him talk to me” (865) only for the reason that Glendower did not think like him about changing the course of the river to his liking. He asserts that Glendower is a mystical person and therefore not worthy of his friendship. What Hotspur fails to realize is that Glendower is a valuable asset to his campaign as is any help in the position that Hotspur is in (as a rebel) and that in the long run his pride and his assumptions of Glendower are miniscule compared to the benefit he could get by putting up with Glendower. Hotspur lacks the ability to be diplomatic and therefore his worthiness to hold a role of kingship is questioned. One would think to be an ideal king in his society, you must have some sense of manipulation and diplomacy as well as the ability to suck up your pride when it comes to the well-being of his country and its people.

Hotspur’s immatureness in his dealings with Glendower are a striking difference from his keen sense of military conduct and the bravery he displays in the battlefield so much so that King Henry wishes that it was Hotspur that was his son and not Prince Harry. Nevertheless, Prince Harry surpasses Hotspur where he lacks in “kingly” characteristics.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cultural Divides

The rejection of other culture’s the English had at this time period is touched upon in every play we have read thus far, and Henry IV is no different. In Act 3, Hotspur and Glyndwr are finally introduced to one another. The Welsh rebel leader, Glyndwr, is more than just a man. Besides being an important character in the play, as well as in history, he also plays an iconic role in Welsh culture; Glyndwr is a symbol of nationalism for the Welsh people. The Welsh certainly had a distinct and unique culture. Their religion consisted of many pagan rituals regarded as barbaric or evil by many Englishmen at this time. Glyndwr proclaims repeatedly that he is capable of summoning the dead and that he has some kind of supernatural powers: “These signs have marked me extraordinary,/And all the courses o f my life do show/I am not in the roll of common men” (3.1.39-40). This certainly would have been viewed as strange and sacrilegious to many Christian Englishmen at this time; many of the English felt that the Welsh were merely barbaric heathens. Hotspur, personifying this belief, immediately disregards all of Glyndwr’s behavior, mockingly stating, “I think there’s no man speaketh better Welsh.”(3.1.48) Hotspur’s tone of Glyndwr perfectly embodies the feelings the English had towards the Welsh of that time. Despite often being regarded as heathens by the English, the Welsh were actually quite the opposite. In the Middle Ages, many Welsh writers emerged as prolific poets, musicians and bards. There were also systems of government, religion, and education comparable to the systems of the English at this time. Mortimer, although portrayed as merely being under the spell of love, tries to speak to Hotspur of his ignorance towards Glyndwr: “In faith, he is a worth gentleman,/Exceedingly well read, and profited/In strange concealments, valiant as a lion.” (3.1.162-163). This quote is commenting on the fact that despite the two cultures having some obvious differences, that this foreign culture has created an intelligent, well read, wealthy man. Shakespeare is surely saying that this rich Welsh culture surely has created other intelligent men as well.
Shakespeare further comments on the divide between Welsh and English culture by making Mortimer and his wife unable to communicate with one another. “This is the deadly spite that angers me:/My wife can speak no English, I no Welsh.” (3.1.188-189). This is an obvious commentary on the distance between these two cultures. Furthermore, it is important that these two characters are married; implying the possibility that these two cultures possess to overcome their differences and begin to communicate with one another effectively, much like in a marriage.  Shakespeare further comments on the power of empathy and the universality of human emotion in order to demonstrate this point in the following quote made by Mortimer to his wife: “I understand thy kisses, and thou mine,/And that’s a feeling disputation;/But I will never be a truant, love/Till I have learnt thy language.”(3.1.200-204).This is commenting on the power of love and the necessity for these two cultures to embrace each other’s different lifestyles or “languages” in order to achieve peace. Clearly Shakespeare saw the differences, divides, and the need for unification between these two cultures. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Like Bright Metal on a Sullen Ground

Henry IV opens with a country on the brink of political turmoil. The order of things has been completely disrupted by the death of Richard II and it seems that all of England has been turned on its head. Class distinctions are blurred and we see characters cross over from courtly life into the lives of commoners.

Primarily, we see a question of what makes a ruler legitimate. Certainly King Henry is not a legitimate ruler, he overthrew Richard II and took his place as King. Now, in the wake of this violent upset of the norm, we are introduced to new characters who are planning yet another overthrow. The thing is though, the norm has already been disrupted, things have already begun to change, and as a result, we see marked examples of increasing disregard of traditional conduct and behavior.

In a way, not unlike his father, Prince Harry has a knack for interacting with the common people. He likes to be out amongst them. He too may tip "his bonnet to an oyster-wench." But unlike his father, Harry has a penchant for frequenting taverns and engaging in other more unscrupulous acts unfitting of a future king. We see Prince Harry speak, in Act I Scene III, of making amends for his undignified behavior whenever he chooses.

"And like bright metal on a sullen ground, my reformation, glitt'ring o'er my fault. Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes than that which hath no foil to set it off. I'll so offend to make offense a skill, redeeming time when men think least I will."

Perhaps Harry is overly confident in his ability to win people over, in his ability to control a situation. Or perhaps he is on to something. Unlike his father, Harry truly does win the trust of both commoners and noblemen alike. He has the unique ability to understand the way people communicate with one another and adopt his mannerisms accordingly. He can speak passionately and emphatically before a King, while still being able to banter with a bartender in the local dialects. Harry is more of a man of the people than his father ever could have been. And while his father's "right" to the throne is questionable, and his place was certainly not got through ethical means, we can't help but question whether or not Harry might have a viable and rightful place on the throne simply because he can relate to the people with greater ease and understanding than any who have gone before him.

Comedy vs Revenge

Falstaff is an interesting man in this play. He is what makes this play a comedy. In the beginning when he was robbed by Hal and Poins, he lied and said he fought at least fifty men during the fighting. When Hal reveals that it was himself and Poins to robbed Falstaff, Falstaff admits that he knew all along that it was Hal and he said that he ran away to avoid hurting Hal. In Act 3 Scene 3, again we see Falstaff trying to make himself look better than he really is. He accuses the Hostess of picking his pockets. He claims that he had money and a valuable ring but Hal reveals that he was the one who really picked Falstaff’s pockets. Hal says that tavern bills, candy and receipts from whorehouses were what were really in his pockets. In Act 4, again we see Falstaff trying to make things better for him. Hal asked him to recruit an army, but instead he asks wealthy men and men who are in love to join, but instead they give him money because they don’t want to leave their lives behind, which is exactly what Falstaff wanted. He instead recruits prisoners and poor men to become part of his poorly organized army.
On the opposite side is the revenge of story. Hotspur wants revenge on King Henry for not releasing his brother-in-law. He plots to overthrow the King and take over his throne. He makes allies with the Scots and Welsh to make war against the king. He works alongside Mortimer’s father-in-law Glyndwr to use his troops to go to war against the king. When he overthrows the king, Hotspur will become the new king. This reminds us of Richard II, when Bolingbroke forces Richard to give up the throne and Bolingbroke takes over. Not only does Hotspur want revenge on the king, but Hal also wants revenge on Hotspur. He wants to prove to his father that he is worthy of the throne and prove he can defeat Hotspur in the battle that is coming their way. He swears he will take revenge on Hotspur for everything that Hotspur has done against Henry.  He believes that when he defeats Hotspurs all of Hotspur’s achievements and glories will become his and he will gain respect from his people.
Again we hardly see women in this play. In Act 3 we see Lady Mortimer, Mortimer’s wife who doesn’t speak English. She weeps for him and he speaks loving towards her. Glyndwr has to translate between his daughter and son-in-law. She sings him a song in Welsh to everyone. While Lady Percy bids her husband farewell in a half-affectionate, half-fighting manner.

Telling the Devil the Truth

In act two, we hear about Hotspur’s plans—which seem to be far more complex than they need to be really—to dethrone King Henry the fourth, which include getting the Scottish help and the like. In the beginning of Act three these conspirators which includes Mortimer and Glyndwr among its midst, meet to begin their actual planning.  Glyndwr is one of the Scottish and Mortimer’s father in law, who appears to have agreed to help him. Glyndwr reveals that he has sent back and beaten the army that Henry has sent against him a total of three times before, which makes him a good ally for them to have to over throw Henry.

At any rate, to say that Glyndwr and Hotspur do not get along upon first meeting would be one heck of an understatement. It begins with them seeming to attempt to flatter each other by saying that King Henry both wishes them dead, however, when Glyndwr mentions that the earth shook when he was born, among other cosmic events such as the shooting stars and the heavens being on fire, it seems to cause a bit of that old game “my horse is bigger than your horse” to occur. Glyndwr offers up more events that occurred on the day of his birth, and each time Hotspur denies the truth of these events or offers up other reasons for these events occurring. “O, then the earth shook to see the heavens on fire,/ And not in fear of your nativity” (3.1.23-24). He also insults Glyndwr to say that the other man speaks the best Welsh, implying that he is a barbarian and that he speaks in nonsense. Despite the fact that Mortimer tries to stop this boasting match, both men seem to ignore the warnings and will not take peace.

Hotspur implies that Glyndwr is crazy, and that he can do something that everyone can do and seem crazy when he says that anyone can attempt to call spirits but that doesn’t mean they’ll call, which appears to be him calling the Scot ineffectual, and that he doesn’t need the help.

Though the men eventually do get themselves on track—with Hotspur and Glyndwr constantly clashing throughout—this first meeting could be seen as foreshadowing in a certain respect. If these two allies cannot keep themselves on track and keep from fighting each other when they are simply planning what they are to do next, how can they possibly hope to keep themselves on track when they are banding together to go against Henry?  Hotspur certainly lives up to his name in this moment, being hot tempered and constantly lashing out, even after Glyndwr has left them to go get the ladies. Both other men blame Hotspur for his temper, which is something we do see time and time again how Shakespeare plays on the name that the character has.

Will Hotspur be the outdoing of his own plan? It seems so if his temper would keep going at the rate that it is. It was his temper that caused him to create this plan, and it could be his temper that causes him to break from his allies or make them angry in turn with him and have it fall apart.

What makes a King?

In Act III of this play we see a lot of action involving Hotspur. At the meeting of the rebel leaders there is an immediate clash between Hotspur and Glyndwyr during which Hotspur argues Glyndwyr's claim that the Earth shook and the heavens rained down fire on the day of his birth. Glyndwyr is a believer in magic and claims to have supernatural powers which casts him as a confident yet extremely pompous leader and Hotspur's attempts to disprove his claims reinforces him as short-tempered and bold, especially to challenge someone as powerful as Glyndwyr.

After reading this scene and especially noting these two character's behavior, it brings to mind the question we discussed in our last class about power, corruption, and what traits make a king. It seems that all of these leaders are extremely flawed in some way or another and they are all thirsty for more power which makes them extremely dangerous. Thinking about any of these men as King of England is a scary thought, all of them could rule as tyrants unchecked by anyone they rule.

What is especially notable is the contrast between Hotspur and Henry. Hotspur is an immature, quick tempered, and bold person who speaks his mind without fear of consequences. He is a brilliant military strategist because of this but is also a terrible diplomat who can easily get himself in hot water and cut important ties. Henry on the other hand is a cunning diplomat yet seems to be slightly corrupted by the amount of power he has. Henry and Hotspur are in a few ways contrasted with each other yet neither of them make particularly good kings.

Bringing back the question about what characteristics make a good king, it would seem that none of the people fighting for the crown would make "good" kings. I would argue that Prince Harry is the only character would be fit to rule. In the beginning of the play he is immature and would rather bum about and play pranks with his friends than take any real responsibility although he privately reveals his true intentions to act foolishly and lower people's expectations of him and then surprise them when he does an adequate job. In this act though we see Harry beginning to take a real interest in the events going on around him, realizing that only one side will be victorious. Additionally, he returns the money that he stole earlier in the play, partially motivated by fear of punishment, but still, it is a step in the right direction. Harry is a clever person, he might be slightly lazy but I think that is just a characteristic of his immaturity and that as time goes on Harry will be able to use his strategic and manipulative abilities in the favor of the crown.

The Unruly Son

We learned that the word “blood” appears more than fifty times in Richard II.  We find this word again in Henry IV several times, which strengthens the connection between these two plays even further.  In 3.2, King Henry mentions the importance of blood when talking to Prince Harry.  He’s disappointed that his son has not followed in his footsteps because he has royal blood and should hold himself a certain way in front of the public eye.  Harry has been hanging around commoners and is not showing an interest in becoming king, and Henry believes that he is being punished by God for having such a difficult son.  “I know not whether God will have it so for some displeasing service I have done, that in his secret doom out of my blood he’ll breed revengement and a scourge for me” (4-6).  This is a typical example of the common parent-disappointed-in-child storyline where the young son is not meeting the expectations of his proud father.  This is seen all over the place in books, movies, and television shows and we have to ask ourselves – who is right?  Personally, I understand King Henry’s motives in getting his son to accept that he is of royal blood, but he does it in a very harsh way.  If I were Harry, I would have a lot of trouble hearing my father speak to me the way that Henry does.

                What is also very important about the word “blood” making an appearance here is that it is not only alluding to Richard II, but Henry even brings him up when speaking to his son.  He tells Harry that Richard “mingled his royalty with cap’ring fools”  and that he was “being daily swallowed by men’s eyes, they surfeited with honey, and began to loathe the taste of sweetness” (63, 70-73).  After explaining everything that Richard had done wrong during his rule, he tells his son, “And in that very line, Harry, standest thou” (84).  It’s very interesting and shocking that Henry compares Harry to Richard.  He is telling him that he is doing everything wrong, which is setting himself up to become a bad king, like Richard was.  This is slightly ironic, because Henry was the one who de-throned Richard and indirectly was the reason that he was killed.  And now there is already a group of rebels who believe that Henry is a bad king, so should Harry even be taking Henry’s advice?  Also, we have to wonder if the vast amounts of pressure that Henry is putting on Harry will ultimately kill him, just like he killed Richard.

Appearance Vs Reality

   One of the most important aspects of the first part of Henry IV lies in the conflict between appearance and reality. In this play the fact is that how characters appear to others can be very different from how they really are, as can be seen with the character Hotspur and most especially with the character Prince Harry. It is through these characters that the audience can see how people can use appearance for their own needs, and in certain cases in order to gain more power. This can be seen in several characters such as Hotspur, who use appearances in order to either maintain their standing or reclaim power that was lost. Then there is Prince Harry who is the most obvious example of someone who uses appearances in the pursuit of power.
   There are several characters in this play that use appearance to cover up reality in order to fulfill their own needs and desires. This is seen in the opening of the play when Hotspur is forced to face the king concerning the prisoners that he was supposed to give to the king but did not. It is very difficult to determine what exactly happened that led to this decision, whether Hotspur actively chose to insult the king or not. Hotspur is one of the only witnesses to the actual decision and at the end of the day it is his word against the word of the other lord. This is seen in Hotspur's explanation. "when the fight was done,/ when I was dry with rage and extreme toil . . . came there a certain lord, neat and trimly dressed,/ Fresh as a a bridegroom, and his chin, new-reaped . . . amongst the rest demanded/ my prisoners in your majesty's behalf." (1.3.29-46). It is clear from Hotspur's explanation of his actions that he is being show in the best presentable light given the potentially treasonous actions he made in not giving over the prisoners of war. Because of the difficulty in determining the reality of what Hotspur's actual actions or intentions the only real credible source of information on the matter lies with Hotspur himself and as such he has the power to create the appearance of what happened and thus ensure he retains his power and suffer no lasting consequences, because this action.
   Then there is the character of Prince Harry, there is no other character in this play that further shows that difference between appearance and reality and how this difference can be used in order to suit his own needs and get power for himself. This seen most often in the way that Harry acts like a drunk, thief, and basically an incompetent person. This is all done in order for people to underestimate him and thus be even more impressed when he turns out to be an incredible king. This is seen Harry's speech "So when this loose behaviour I throw off/ and pay the debt I never promised." (1.2.186-187). It is clear that Harry is not nearly as incompetent as he pretends that he is, merely using the appearance of incompetence in order to for people to underestimate him. This would eventually help to convince people that he is much more than what he appears to be thus ensuring that he is looked upon with much more respect and loyalty than he would normally have been. Finally there is the fact that Harry is aware of the power that appearances have in this world. This is seen in "Yet herein will I imitate the Sun." (1.3.175). Unlike others before him, Harry realizes in order to have power he need not actually be as powerful as the sun but appear to be like the sun. Through this appearance that he has power will eventually lead to him actually have power.
   In the play Henry IV, the two characters of Hotspur and Prince Harry use appearances in order to manipulate power for their own needs. With Hotspur it is by manipulating the appearance of what happened in order to make himself look as good as possible in the current circumstances. With Prince Harry it is through the appearance of incompetency that he will become even more powerful with the revelation of his better qualities. Both of these characters follow the belief that the appearance of power will lead to the reality of power.

Equally Divided?

    So right dab in the the first scene of act three, I'm faced with something I feel the need to discuss about something that has come about. After Glyndwr and Hotspur argue and continue to mock each other, the men take out a map of Britain and decide to divide up the land among them. The men plan to split up the land (England and Wales), when and if their plan to overtake King Henry IV comes about. Glyndwr will be granted the western England and all of Wales; Mortimer will get the southeast section of England; and Hotspur will get the northern part of England.
     After all the arguing that we see between Hotspur and Glyndwr I could not see this plan happening, especially as easy as they make it seem. I feel as if they are counting their chickens before they hatch as an understatement. I was really questioning these men's sanity as I was reading. Hotspur and Glyndwr argue the whole time and not even Mortimer can control Hotspur's agitating mouth. Call me crazy but if they are arguing this much already about how to divide the land up among them, how is it they they think they will be able to run their lands in the same country differently? This just seems like a recipe for disaster and a lot more war and bloodshed. All that was running through my mind is the picture of the snake that is split into pieces that we learn about in US history in the seventh grade. "A house divided cannot stand" as Lincoln put it. If only Lincoln was around earlier on to warn these men of the mistake they are about to make.
      I feel as if the arguing between Hotspur and Glydwr should be an omen to Mortimer and the rebels. They should be able to see that they will not be able to work together to get the job done, or if they do get it done that they would never be able to divide up and run the different parts of the same land without a large amount of arguing, or even an eventual war between them. It should be obvious that with the selfishness that is apparent between men that eventually someone will want more than they have received and another battle will begin. Also Hotspur begins to argue as soon as the land is divided up. Hotspur complains about the land he is to receive because there is a river in a part of it that he does not like. Hotspur argues that he will change the shape of the river when he attains his land. Sounds to me like Hotspur is a real pain that the other men should have thought to leave out of this major plan to overthrow the king. All Hotspur really does is continue to create problems, not to mention he seems extremely immature. At this point Hotspur reminds me of Prince Harry. Neither of these boys show much potential in running anything on their own, or even going through and executing a plan of action.
     I just do not see how any plan between these men will work. They do not share the same points other than wanting to get rid of King Henry IV. Hotspur even goes as far to make fun of Glyndwr's pagin beliefs. I just do not think these men thought this plan through. It seems as if they are just looking to the reward of getting rid of Henry rather than all that would go into the motion. The men seem to unorganized to be able to achieve this big goal that they have set for themselves and I don not see any of their plans working out for them, and if they do there is no way that it will all work out in the end without another overthrow, or fight for more than what they have. I have already learned enough from Shakespeare to know that greed gets the best of just about everyone.

Friday, March 9, 2012

**This was supposed to be posted Feb 27th**
Richard II seems like every other Shakespeare’s play about a king or a man wanting power. In an effort to gain power he decides to send away two people, Mowbray and Bolingbroke. Richard makes a decision to banish both men. Mowbray is banished forever from England while Bolingbroke is banished for ten years. John of Gaunt is not happy to see his son banished because he knows that he will die and never see his son again. The king reduces Mowbray banishment to only six years. When they are sent away, Richard thinks he will be able to gain Bolingbroke’s land and get money for it. John of Gaunt, while dying, accuses Richard of destroying England with his mismanagement. Richard is not listening to what John of Gaunt and threatens him by telling him if he was not already sick, he would have his head chopped off. Gaunt continues telling Richard that he is running England. The Bolingbroke’s land is seized by Richard’s men so that he pays for the war in Ireland. Also Gaunt’s dying curse upon Richard is a bad omen for his future. “Live in thy shame, but die not shame with thee. These words hereafter thy tormentors be.” (2.1 135-137). We’ve seen in other plays, where the main actors have been cursed upon and in the end something bad has happened to them.
We hardly see women in this play, while in the past two plays women were the main focus. The Duchess of Gloucester wants revenge for her husband’s death and that Mowbray should be killed immediately during the duel with Bolingbroke. John of Gaunt tells her to pray to God for her revenge. The second time we see a woman in this play is in Act 2.2, but we hardly hear from her. The Queen is upset that Richard has been forced to go to Ireland and she misses him. There is a lot of male dominance in this play.
Bolingbroke puts together an army and invades through the North to come back to land that is now legally his because the John of Gaunt has died. York, who is taking place for Richard while he is in Ireland, punishes Bolingbroke for illegally entering England and makes his nephew stand instead of kneel. Someone would think that because they are family, York wouldn’t treat him so harshly, but he does. Bolingbroke said that he only came back to rightfully claim land that is his. York remains neutral, offering help to both sides. Bolingbroke is going to Bristol where he thinks Bushy and Bagot are hiding so that he can remove them from power. Again we see that power is the most important factor is in this play. Everyone is trying to gain power and take over land. 

Characterizing the King

King Richard is portrayed in almost every circumstance imaginable: in full power to order the lives of others, and in complete dissaray and loss of position. At the beginning of the play, Richard is as powerful as kings can be. He orders the banishment of Bolingbroke and Mowbray. He has been king since the early age of ten, and he's just learning how to assert his powers, which is why, I personally believe, he ordered the banishment. The two disputers could've settled the matter there and then, but Richard had to step in and postpone the duel to a later date. The fact that he's still unsure of how to use his power properly, he lowered the banishment years for Bolingbroke from ten to six. This gives off the sense that he is experimenting with his power, rather than being stubborn about it and sticking to his original decision. This decision does barely any good to anyone, especially none to Bolingbroke's father, who won't ever be able to see his son again, be it ten years or six, since he is so close to death as it is.

There's also the question as to Richard's intentions and his past. There is uncertainty if he has killed the Duke of Woodstock and if that was so, if this murder was for the good of the people and the land, or for selfish intentions. This matter was introduced very early in the play, which is normally unusual to do, as the play is long and the characterization of a person can be easily revealed over time and pages. The fact that so many characteristics and facts/rumors are thrown at the king so suddenly shows that, especially as the play progresses, that there is more to Richard than meets the eye. At the beginning, he seems like a poor excuse for a king, who still doesn't know how to use his power rightfully. Later on, however, Shakespeare begins to slowly strip Richard of his power, his status, and his sense of self. It's his way of saying, "if this man didn't have his crown and sceptre, would he be anybody at all?"

In the video version of 3.2, King Richard is being shown as being stripped of his power and his inner struggle to maintain his sense of self as he realizes he's losing everything. This is a fascinating representation of him as a man, as he was being played by a woman. I believe this sex-exchange role is significant and shows a different side to the king which wouldn't be apparant if his role was played by a man. The woman shows his feminine side, as well as the fact that despite his power or loss of it, he's a human being all in all. Despite his actions and his past and his inevitable future, he is a man who's trying to do the right thing, despite his failures. He is also a man of feelings and fear and every human emotion that would be more obviously present if he weren't king in the first place. This representation of him helps the readers/viewers connect with him on a deeper level, because who on this earth hasn't lost something (or everything) dear to him? This personification kind of takes away from the idea that the king was given his role by God which makes him appear more realistic in our eyes, as well as help us draw a deeper connection to him.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pruning Politics

The Garden in Act 3 scene 4 enters us into a feminine realm, as seen by its occupants the Queen and first lady. This environment provides a relief from the masculine politics seen in the pervious scene, when Bolingbroke returns to the court with treasonous intentions. The garden is not so much a direct escape from affairs of state, but provides a different lens to view the events through.

The Gardener and his assistant step into the scene as the first commoners of the play, giving their two cents about the change in power. Using gardening discourse to explicate metaphor of the Richards place on the throne, the Gardner says, “Go, bind thou up young dangling apricots/ which, like unruly children, make their sire/ stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight./ Give some supportance to the bending twigs.” (3.4.30-33). The apricots in this quotation represent the fruits of King Richards rule, made heavy through the treasonous contempt of the court. Likewise the fruits need to be supported, which the Gardener tends to. “Go thou, and like an executioner/Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,/That look too lofty in our commonwealth:/All must be even in our government." (33-36) We can see how the gardener represents the “natural” sense of order in royal power. His pruning and tending of the garden is an allegory for maintaining political sanctity in an otherwise chaotic wildness (anarchy).

This notion is continued with: “noisome weeds which without profit suck the soils fertility from whole flowers” (3.4.39-40). The weeds are Bolingbroke and his men, who are invasive species endangering the “whole flowers”. The mentioning of “soils fertility” connects the idea of Land explore in class, that England is a holy place that nourishes the royal lineage. In replying to the request to de-weed the garden, the First man pans out enlarge the frame of the subject: “Why should we in the compass of a pale/ Keep law and form and due proportion/…When our sea-walled garden, the whole land,/ Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up” (3.4.41-45) The “sea-walled garden” alludes to England, likewise bordered by the oceans. This quotation calls to question why should they put effort in taming nature that’s so easily corrupted. The names “Bushy” and “Greene” are too relevant in the discourse of nature, and they’re deaths suggest the end of fecundity in Richard reign. The Gardener provides a seasonal metaphor of Richard: “He that hath suffered this disordered spring/Hath now himself met with the fall of leaf” (3.4.50-51). The tree’s experience with a “disordered spring” leads to “fall of leaf”, foreshadows the inevitable winter (death) to come for Richard.

The Gardner provides an idealistic notion of how power should be monitored: “We at time of year/ Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit-trees,/ Lest, being over-proud in sap and blood,/ With too much riches it confound itself” (3.4.60-63) The “over-proud in sap and blood” is Richard, who is too confident in his inherited role as King. This idea that the shedding of blood, in both a literal and familial sense– is all apart of maintaining the balance of a garden (or England). The Gardener’s paradoxical view on “the order of nature” vs. “tending to nature” provides a different means to understand the politics of the play through.

Darkness cannot survive in the light

Richard had to be killed. If he wasn’t dead he couldn’t truly hand over all his power. Like we discussed in class, this surrendering of power was not something that ever happened. The fact that there were two kings for a brief time is almost like having two Gods. This goes against one of the commandments. It is not for either of the men to decide who has the power as king. It is no one but Gods place to decide. Richard and Henry are terrible examples for the country and drastic action must take place. The satanic ritual that strips Richard is a foreshadowing of what his fate brings. He goes from being closest to God as king, to turning to darkness completely.
 Earlier in the play we see Richard hesitant to give up the thrown. In 4.1.195 Richard goes through the motions of stripping himself of his kingdom. To strip himself of power, he goes through the ceremony of becoming king backwards. This is very satanic. These two kings are supposedly ordained by the Lord, yet they are involved in a very dark ceremony. They are going against God by taking it upon themselves to change power. The satanic ceremony assures us that what they are doing is very much man-made and not involved with any holy order. The ceremony is disrespectful and leads to fatality and darkness for Richard. It also puts Henrys faith to the test. As king, Henry has a very important decision to make. Life versus death.
 Richard really struggles with the exchange of power. After his dark ritual he laments that he doesn’t know who he is. He has lost his title and he has lost God. In 4.1.257, Richard asks for a looking-glass, or a mirror. He wants to see his reflection and hopefully figure out who he is if he isn’t king. His ego is huge in this scene and he couldn’t be any farther from God. He doesn’t mention got at all between 4.1.265 and 4.1.290.
Richards’ true colors are reveled after he looses his title. Richard was able to hide behind his title of king and after he was stripped of his title we can see his true intentions. If Richard wasn’t killed in the end of the play then the darkness would have remained. Henry received the power from Richard and was able to make the decision to have him killed. Henry knew there couldn’t be two kings.
In the last scene of the play we see King Henry describing how he feels about his cousins death. We are never told if Henry definitely has Richard killed, but we do see the way Henry deals with it. He never lashes out at Exton he simply shows concern and dismisses him and his men. It is clear that Henry takes blame for the death, “To wash this blood off of my guilty hand” (5.6.50). Even if it wasn’t he who actually killed Richard he is still guilty. He wanted Richard dead to restore the order. The play gets very dark before this scene. Henry restores hope when he introduces God back in in 5.6.45-52. He speaks directly to God in the last lines of the play. Richard also speaks in verse which places more power behind his words and the message the audience receives.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Disorder Ensues

Acts IV and V of Richard II are saturated with foreboding warnings. They are rich with imagery of disorder and chaos, which lead to the murder of Richard at the end of Act V. To begin, the Bishop of Carlisle states: “And, if you crown [Bolingbroke], let me prophesy/ The blood of English shall manure the ground,” as well as, “And in this seat of peace tumultuous wars/ Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound” (4.1.127-132). This is the ultimate image of society caving in on itself, literally falling to disgrace with noble British blood turning to manure on a once solid ground. It depicts family and countrymen at war with each other with nothing to unite them. It is utter chaos; it would confound the common people who have lived their lives guided by tradition –the tradition of the King’s divine right. The instability depicted in the Bishop’s warning prevails as the scene continues. In lines 176-179 Richard states, that he and Bolingbroke are like two buckets…“The emptier ever dancing in the air,/ the other down, unseen, full of water… Drinking my griefs, whilst you mount up on high.” Richard compares his and Bolingbroke’s desire for the crown to a well of water. Bolingbroke is the bucket that has risen, while Richard is the bucket sinking heavily toward the ground. However, despite the fact that Bolingbroke is mounted “up on high,” he is described as “The emptier ever dancing in the air,” which does not sound promising. He is empty –light-weight and dangling—as well as “dancing in the air” as if there is nothing to ground him; he could be knocked down at any moment. In both quotes, the English people's relationship with the physical land is deteriorating with manure and the image of the new king dangling up in the air, far from the land he rules over. These ominous quotes come right before the crown is handed over to Bolingbroke.

Once the crown is handed over, we begin to see disorder actually ensue. Richard breaks a mirror right after parting with the crown. The glass shatters violently as he no longer recognizes his face; he feels instability and disruption internally. This parallels the disruption of order in the nation. In Act V, Richard and the Queen are separated and the tradition of marriage violated. The Queen inquires: “Must we be divided? Must we part?” (5.1. 81) while Richard exclaims in anger at this violation. Immediately following, the Duke of York’s family is broken apart by disagreement about allegiance to the king. York, whose son has conspired to kill Bolingbroke, says, “Mine honor lives when his dishonor dies” (5.3.68); meanwhile, the Duchess of York pleads for her son's pardon. The scene is chaotic and the family burdened with dysfunction, no longer strong with loyalty and shared blood. York goes so far as to say, “Against them both my true joints bended be.” (5.3.96). A final piece of evidence for the disruption of order is the murder of Richard due to a convoluted exchange between Bolingbroke and a servant. Bolingbroke’s actions parallel those of Richard’s, and now we must question whether or not Bolingbroke was actually justified in taking the crown from a divinely chosen king. The disruption of order has begun on a small scale, within the royal family, but it's implied that it will spread throughout the nation with the new King’s immediate involvement in murder (whether it was his intention or not).

Richard & Water

I’m interested in the way Richard uses water images in his deposition towards the end of 4.1. First, from 172-179, Richard describes the “golden crown,” or the throne, as “like a deep well/That owes two buckets filling one another,/the emptier ever dancing in the air,/The other down, unseen, and full of water./That bucket down and full of tears am I,/Drinking my griefs, whilst you mount up on high.” This image took me by surprise—I assumed the “emptier ever dancing” bucket was supposed to be a representation of Richard, because he is losing his control and has nothing to keep him grounded. By my logic, Bolingbroke would be the full bucket, weighed down with the burden of being a king, and of being a part of Richard’s dubious legacy. Reversed, the way Richard intends it, the images do make sense—Bolingbroke now holds the highest rank possible in his country and has a great deal of freedom along with it (“the emptier ever dancing in the air,” again), and Richard is weighed down with disappointment, guilt, and any other emotions to which he ambiguously pretends.
To me, the two images are interchangeable. I think this is indicative of Richard’s ambiguous characterization. I should preface: I am pretty suspicious of Richard at this point (maybe because I’m looking for some excitement in this play!). Is he remorseful? Is he deceptive? The interchangeability, and I would argue, instability, of Richard’s language in this passage is open to interpretation. I have two guesses: his language is contrived, because his expression of emotion lacks truth or hides truth, or his language is the result of just not having a way with words.
Northumberland interrupts Richard’s speech three times, to ask him to read aloud the articles about his crimes. Richard responds with water images in lines 227-231, 233-236, and 247-252: (1) “…Though some of you, with Pilate, wash your hands,/Showing an outward pity, yet you Pilates/Have here delivered me to my sour cross,/And water cannot wash away your sin.” (2) “Mine eyes are full of tears; I cannot see./And yet salt water blinds them not so much/But they can see a sort of traitors here….” (3) “…But ‘tis usurped. Alack the heavy day,/That I have worn so many winters out/And know not now what name to call myself/O, that I were a mockery of snow,/Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke/To melt myself away in water-drops!...”
In these three passages, Richard is using water images to: compare the act of washing one’s hands to being a (his) traitor; describe the clarity with which he see his traitors despite his tears; and express a desire—that he be “a mockery of snow,” able to melt away. Richard is using water images rather arbitrarily in these passages, and they lack the emotive, sympathetic effect that Richard intends for them. Water can be used to paint Richard’s comrades in a poor light and to paint Richard in a sympathetic light. But since its meaning is inconsistent in these passages, the water image means nothing at all. Richard’s use of the water image is more important, because it is consistent with his character: he makes everything, even language, work for him—or, at least, he tries.

King of Discontent

In Act five, scene five, Richard II, imprisoned and no longer king, is alone onstage. His soliloquy in the beginning of the scene expresses his loneliness and his reflections on how he spent his life. The most important element of his reflection is his understanding of his own thoughts and his sense of self. He uses the term thought (or thoughts) is eight times in lines 1 to 66 alone. He describes the creation of his thoughts through his “brain” being “the female to [his] soul” which is “the father” (lines 6-7). His brain and soul mate and “beget/ A generation of still-breeding thoughts” and that “these same thoughts people” the world (lines 7-9). It is interesting that Richard II uses a metaphor of thoughts being birthed by his mind, because these thoughts become both his only heir and the only thing he leaves behind after death because Bolingbroke took his title, freedom, crown, and any chance of a legacy.
Richard II speech continues discussing thoughts, and the evils inherent in them. He explains that “no thought is contented” like that “the people of [the] world” are not content (lines 10-11). He also states that good thoughts, or “thoughts of things divine” are corrupted by “scruples” and contradict themselves (lines 12-13). Richard uses the discontent in the being of thoughts to introduce and explain the discontent within him. He describes himself as “sometimes…king,” then a “beggar,” and then “king’d again” (lines 32-36). All of this by means of his own brain and thoughts, and then he is finally “unking’d by Bolingbroke” (line 37). This way he is as confused and separated as his thoughts were earlier in the speech. After all of this, he declares himself to be “nothing,” and his discontent shall continue until man is capable of being content “with being nothing” (lines 38-41). The entire speech becomes a discussion of his grief at losing his crown, which made him everything he was. By being forced to give his crown away, Richard made himself nothing, which he cannot be content with. His own thoughts are at war with his pride, vanity, and idea of self because they point out what he has lost.
The music that Richard hears leads him into a discussion of keeping time, which is Richard’s way of coming to terms with the time he wasted while he was king, and now imprisoned, sees the time wasting him. After describing himself as a clock, depicts Bolingbroke as being the “Jack of the clock” which strikes his “heart, which is the bell,” and that Richard’s “time/ runs posting on in Bolingbroke’s proud joy” (line56-60). The metaphor of the clock and time reveal Richard’s understanding that he is subjected under Bolingbroke” This also, in the action of Bolingbroke striking Richard’s heart like a bell, shows that Richard is pained by Bolingbroke’s position over him.

Blood Versus Justice

In scene five, act three of Richard II we witness Bolingbroke, now King Henry, make his first difficult decision as King.
Prior to this scene, we learn than Aumerle, now named “Rutland” has committed a horrible crime. Aumerle’s father, the Duke of York, discovers a letter adorning Aumerle’s neck. Although Aumerle attempts to hid the note from his father, York eventually reads it. After retrieving the note, York learns that Aumerle is among a group of individuals who are planning the assassination of King Henry.
York’s reaction to Aumerle’s action struck me as very peculiar. As a present day reader, I would expect York’s loyalty to be to his son rather than to the King. However, we do not see this. York responds to the letter saying “Treason, foul treason! Villain, traitor, slave” (5.2 72). 
The Duke of York completely ignores the familial ties that he has to his son. This scene directly influences the argument of blood versus justice, and which is more important. It is clear that the Duke of York finds it more important to remain loyal to one’s leader, rather than one’s kin. These values completely contrast the values of the Duchess of York. She begs the Duke of York to not tell the King of Aumerle’s unlawful actions. The Duchess of York’s plea to maintain her son’s innocence can be seen when she says: “Why York, what whilt thou do?/ Will thou not hid the trespass of thine own?/ Have we more sons? Or are we like to have”? (5.2 88-90). 
It is obvious after reading this passage of what the Duchess of York palces importance on. Although she may have a great deal of admiration and respect for her leader, King Henry, it is clear that her loyalty belongs to her son. This idea of unconditional love for one’s child, regardless of their actions, greatly contradicts the opinion of the Duke of York. 
Regardless of the pleas of his wife, York decides to take immediate action and report Aumerle’s crime to the King at once. In order to attempt to save his life, both Aumerle and the Duchess of York flee to visit King Henry as well. It is here that the Duke of York begs King Henry to execute Aumerle for the crime of plotting the assassination of the King. At the same time, the Duchess of York is begging the King to spare her son’s life. Once again, the struggle between blood versus justice is clearly illustrated in this passage. Ultimately, King Henry chooses to spare Aumerle’s life, but decides the other individuals involved in the crime will be executed. This decision brings up the question, which is more important to King Henry, blood or justice? 

Do Kings Cry?

While reading the fourth act of this play I am struck with several uncertainties. First of all, we are brought, again, to the ongoing debate of Divine King vs. “Elected King”. Bolingbroke is once again attempting to take Richard off of the throne and deem himself as rightful King of England. We understand that during this time period, the King was seen as the agent for God, someone who is easily accessible to the deity so that the subjects can have one line connecting them to the man above. Bolingbroke is attempting to break this long known tradition and within this scene we understand that to justify his reasons for taking Richard off of the throne include a list of crimes against the kingdom “That by confessing them, the souls of men/ May deem that you are worthily deposed.” (line 216-217) Richard at this point says that his eyes are full of tears and he cannot possibly read this list of crimes that he has so committed. He gives endless reasons for why he should not read this list, however his reasons are met by Bolingbroke.

A looking-glass is called for so that Richard may “see” himself. This is where I am faced with another uncertainty. While, I am not sure as to whether or not it would be proper for Richard to have the crown taken away from him due to the long standing Divine tradition; I am also unsure as to whether or not Richard is right for the thrown at all, and if not maybe he should have the crown taken away from him. He gives excuse after excuse that he cannot read this list, which would make it seem that he does want to keep the crown/his kingdom. However, when he looks into the glass he is ashamed by what he sees and upon shattering that glass, I can assume, gives up the throne. There seems to be little fight within Richard and that concerns me. A king requires one to be strong, specifically strong-willed. For most of the back-half of this play Richard has seemed more of a weak character and his kingdom seems to be easily ripped of his hands, regardless of the Divine right that he supposedly has. Reading towards the end of this play and seeing Bolingbroke, aka King Henry IV take the crown. I am still uncertain as to whether or not I am upset by this long standing tradition being so easily broken. While I do understand that tradition is important, specifically religious tradition within that time period, I did not seem to root for Richard as I believe I should have. So I pose the question to the class: Do you think Richard deserved to have his crown taken away from him (aka he should have fought more) or perhaps was this out of his power and we do not blame Richard for the rise of King Henry IV?

Bolingbroke v. Richard: How should we feel?

      Throughout the play, I wasn't sure how to feel about Bolingbroke. In the beginning of the play, he is returning from a six year exile that Richard sentenced him to after an argument between him and Mowbray. When he is gone, his father passes away. Richard uses Bolingbroke's inheritance for the impending war on the Irish. When Richard leaves his land due to the war, Bolingbroke assembles an army and takes over a portion of Richards land. The people of England are angry at the way Richard is running the country, and as a result are loyal to Bolingbroke; "The King's grown bankrupt like a broken man" (2.1.258). Upon Richards return he learns that he has few followers left. When Richard realizes this, he knows that there could be a battle and in an effort to avoid it, promises Bolingbroke the throne; "Cousin, I am too young to be your father, Though you are old enough to be my heir. What you will have I'll give, and willing too; For do we must what force will have us do" (3.4.202-206). Shortly after Bolingbroke claims the throne, he forces King Richard to separate his wife; "Queen: And must we be divided? Must we part? Richard: Ay, hand from hand, my love, and heart from heart" (5.1.81-82). While being held prisoner, Exton, a man very loyal to the King, murders Richard; "Hath with the kings blood stained the King's own land. Mount, mount, my soul; thy seat is up on high, Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die" (5.5.110-112). Exton kills Richard without King Henry ordering him to because he knew the King's hatred for Richard; "Exton, I thank thee not, for thou hast wrought A deed of slander with thy fatal hand...Though I did wish him dead, I hate the murderer, love him murdered. The guilt of conscience take thou for thy labour" (5.6.34-41). Even though King Henry feels guilty that Richard was murdered he is still happy he is dead.
         Throughout the play, it is evident that readers may not have a clear understanding of the two characters. Richard has done wrong to his country and to Bolingbroke by stealing money that was not his to have. Bolingbroke, however, practically forced Richard into giving him the thrown, just to force him to leave his wife and keep him prisoner. How are readers supposed to feel towards Richard and Bolingbroke? Both men have done horrible things to other people, especially to each other (Arguably one more than the other). I, for one, am still not set on how I feel about the two men. Both have done wrong, and as we all know too well- two wrongs don't make a right!

The Duel of Morality

Rirchard the 2nd seems to mediate on the power of the duel.  Two people have a disagreement and figure it out by putting their lives on the line for what they believe.  And the argument is usually about which moral values hold more weight: Law or Religion.  While one thrives the other diminishes causing this interesting battle in Richard.  In the first act we see Richard have to deal with the duel of Bolingbroke and Mowbray.  The confrontation rises from Bolingbroke knowing that Mowbray had a part in the murder of the Kings uncle.  The King himself interferes with their dispute because he has broken both the law and the religious aspect of morality by being apart of the plan to kill his uncle, banishing two noblemen because they know about his underlying tie to the murder, and his lack of care for the law to be acted out on these two noblemen.  He is above the law but he is also trying to be above God.  And at that point he has a "duel with God", because his beliefs are based in Religion but he goes against his ideas to keep himself in power.  But obviously this backfires.

So to bring it back to Act 4 and 5, when Bolingbroke brings Richard in for trial and the barrage of gages are thrown the real purpose of the duel is shown.  And that is that they don't have much of a purpose they are more symbolic than actual.  The duel is a simple one on one showdown but here everyone throws their gauges at once vying for power and attention.  They are like small dogs barking very loudly and are trying to look very scary but everyone knows they wouldn't burst a grape in a food fight.  Also Shakespeare has it so none of them ever duel and both duels are reflections upon the Kings.  Richard is hiding from his past and uses the duel to procrastinate his demise.  While on the other hand Bolingbroke uses this duel to set the tone for his reign by not allowing it to have the weight it should.  He just puts off all their duels because he wants Mobray to come and give his account but Mobray is dead and Shakespeare doesn’t even have the King give his sentencing about why he stopped the duels and what shall become of these arguments.  But later on in Act 5 scene 2, we see the son of the Duke of York and he lost his title seemingly due to King Henry's judgment.  He as a King seems much more prepared and at ease with power while we see Richard decay quicker and quicker as his whole identity was King.  The duel is supposed to be law but it is dealing with religious values here so it's power demises.  Shakespeare does this to question society at this time and to wonder why everyone follows and no one leads, except for maybe Bolingbroke, but we shall see how much of a leader he is coming up in the next play.   

Divine Right in Act 4

In class, the idea of whether Bolingbroke breaks with divine right or if he is nobly protecting his country has been much discussed.  I think this is an interesting problem that the play presents so the reader is conflicted as to what side of the argument they find themselves on.  The last two acts of Richard II include support for Richard’s divine right to the throne.  Bolingbroke and his men are all traitors towards God according to supportive lines in the text.  In Act 4, the Bishop of Carlisle, a religious figure whom the audience can assume as a man of God, opposes Bolingbroke becoming King.  He knows, or has a vision, of the fateful events that are to come: “My lord of Hereford here, whom you call king,/ Is a foul traitor to proud Hereford’s king;/ And, if you crown him, let me prophesy/ The blood of English shall manure the ground,/ And future ages groan for this foul act”(4.1.125-129).  Shakespeare obviously knew of the Wars of the Roses and could write Carlisle as a sort of prophetic figure.  The reader sees a person associated with God foretelling negative events that the Kingship of Bolingbroke will arise.  This all stems from the Duke not following with England’s method of divine right. Richard II may not have been the best King for England, but according to the bishop, King Henry will not be any better for the country. 
                Shakespeare cleverly gives Richard lines that connect to Christ and his traitor/disciple Judas.  This religious subject would have been known to the majority of Shakespeare’s audience and is something that further conveys the severity of Bolingbroke’s usurpation.  Shakespeare essentially implies that, by knocking Richard off the throne, it is akin to Judas giving Jesus to the Romans.  The religious theme of divine right, something that Jesus epitomizes as he was sent from God to do a mission, is further supported by instances in the acts.  “Yet I well remember/ The favours of these men.  Were they not mine?/ Did they not sometime cry ‘All hail!’ to me?/ So Judas did to Christ.  But He in twelve/ Found truth in all but one; I, in twelve thousand, none” reveals how Richard associates Bolingbroke and his company as primary traitors to his divine kingship, just as the betrayal of Christ was a divine moment (4.1.158-162).  Another biblical association made by Richard occurs later in the same act.  He associates his usurpers to that of Pilate, the judge of Christ, who stated that he was not responsible for Christ’s death, even though he enabled it to occur.  That is exactly how Richard views his foes acting:  “Though some of you, with Pilate, wash your hands,/ Showing an outward pity, yet you Pilates/ Have here deliver me to my sour cross,/ And water cannot wash away your sin” (4.1.229-232).  Richard believes that something as sacred as divine right cannot merely be taken away and the opposition have their sins forgiven.  The severity of disorder in the customary, religious based practice of Kings is not a thing to be trifled with, according to the religious Carlisle and kingly Richard II. 

Finally a HAPPY woman in Richard II

While reading Richard II, it became evident to me that this was a male dominant play.  Unlike the last two plays we’d read, the women character’s appearances were few and far between.  In addition, when the women in this play were highlighted, they never accomplished their objectives or achieved what they set out for.    

For example, in 1.2, we meet our first female character, The Duchess of Gloucester.  In this scene she is trying to persuade John of Gaunt to avenge his brother’s death.  “In suff’ring thus thy brother to be slaughtered/Thou show’st the naked pathway to thy life,/Teaching stern murder how to butcher thee./That which in mean men we entitle patience/Is pale cold cowardice in noble breasts./What shall I say? To safeguard thine own life/The best way is to venge my Gloucester’s death” (1.2.30-36) Clearly, she is going through great pains to gain justice for her murdered husband.  Despite her efforts, John of Gaunt refuses to help her in her quest for revenge.  Defeated, she leaves with these final words: “Desolate, Desolate will I hence and die./The last leave of thee takes my weeping eye” (1.2.73-74).  After her failed objective, The Duchess of Gloucester gives up on life and retires to die.

Similarly, Queen Isabel tragically does not obtain what she wishes for.  In 3.4, The Queen eneters the garden in an effort to cheer up and find peace of mind.  Despite her attendants’ efforts at distracting her, she cannot take her mind off of her woes.  Then, instead of finding a remedy, she overhears the fate of her husband, which sends her even further into despair: “What, was I born to this, that my sad look/Should grace the triumph of great Bolingbroke?/Gard’ner, for telling me these news of woe,/Pray God the plants thou graft’st may never grow” (3.4.99-102).  In 5.1, The Queen suggests anything she can so that she and Richard can remain together.  This too, however, is to no avail.  Our last image of the Queen is a banished and devastated wife saying a final goodbye to her fallen husband.  Needless to say, things did not go according to her wishes.

Finally, in 5.2, we meet the one female in this play who valiantly succeeds in her mission: The Duchess of York.  After discovering that Aumerle is involved in an assassination plot against King Henry, Duke of York is adament about turning his son into the authorites.  Dutchess of York makes it her mission to do everything in her power to save her only son and bloodline.  In doing so, she abandons her husband’s side and, at one point, even orders her son to “Strike him [York]” (5.2.87).  At the end of the scene, she exclaims with extreme confidence: “Spur, post, and get before him to the King,/And beg thy pardon ere he do accuse thee./I’ll not be long behind—though I be old,/I doubt not but to ride as fast as York—/And never will I rise up from the ground/Till Bolingbroke have pardoned thee” (5.2.112-17).  When King Henry is confronted with both York and the Duchess, he is ultimately moved by The Duchess’ relentless pleads for her son’s pardon.  Her success in achieving her goal marks her as the only successful female in this play—a feat that I consider worth noting!     

Richard, A Weak King?

Sam Montagna
Shakespeare II
Professor Mulready
5 March 2012

Richard, A Weak King?

A typical king is supposed to be strong enough to be able to handle the struggles of his people. The king is divinely chosen and has the ultimate power over his people. To go against the king was to go against God. However, what if the king is not right for the job? Is overthrowing him going against God? Or is God appointing a new king in favor of the old one? It is clear that Richard has power, but is he necessarily cut out for his job? Richard has ultimate power but does he cross the line when he aims to seize Hereford's inheritance to pay for the war in Ireland? Does it make him a coward to banish the two men who may know the truth about the Duke of Gloucester's death? Or is he just protecting himself in the only way he can? A king and leader should be clear about his motives to keep the loyalty of his people. After his plan to fight Ireland failed and his power and faith in himself dwindled quickly after banishing Bolingbroke and Mowbray. Bolingbroke comes back to England after being exiled to reclaim his inheritance and Richard does nothing about it. He, instead, names Bolingbroke his heir. Richard then makes a speech similar to Shylock's speech from The Merchant of Venice. Richard declares himself no different than any other man even though he is king. Richard states “I live with bread, like you; feel want, taste grief, need friends. Subjected thus, how can you say to me I am a king?” (1016.171-173). This statement is true for every king but Richard admits it. In other people's or other kings' eyes, that confession may make him less of a king. Richard's humanity can be viewed as a weakness and it can justify why he is, in fact, weak. Richard gives up his throne without any fight. History states that a king will typically defend his throne to the death. Richard hands it over and wishes Bolingbroke “many years of sunshine days” (1028.211). These actions mean that either Richard was not a good king, realized that his time was up and went gracefully or he simply did not want to fight for his throne, especially since Bolingbroke was gaining so much leverage. This event reminds me of the Glorious Revolution which occurs in England. The crown changes hand without bloodshed. This behavior is far from king-like, however. Richard can be considered the King of England who did not act like a king.