King Richard II is a philosophical and political exploration of the sacred right of kings. When the main character, the king, experiences his untimely death, it evokes a sense of sorrow that is impossible to convey directly. Via its theme and characters, the historical overview of politics, traditions, and religion is portrayed as the most important issue that people face in their everyday lives. Richard is not the typical monarch, since kings are supposed to have exceptional good qualities. He is a little, quite an ordinary person perhaps to show that though anointed, the guilt of killing his uncle lowers him “among the kings. The drama focuses on the dethronement of King Richard II and the usurpation of his throne by Henry Bolingbroke.
To begin with, the play covers a period around 1398 to 1400 when Richard II son of Edward ascends the throne at the age of eleven years. Guided by his inexperience in leadership, the new king imposes heavy taxes on people and attracts discontent among many. Favoritism and the arbitrary rule also characterize his ruling. After falling out with the people, Richard died mysteriously. This period in history was marked by assassination and dethronement of kings as it happened to Richard. Shakespeare intended to show that the repercussion of bad leadership is the falling out with the subjects. In the modern world, the same happens as ruling class, or political leaders end up evicted from office because of such conducts.
Furthermore, the historical overview of the text plays an important role in the understanding of the book since Richard II is historically based. It was during the medieval period when faith in kingship was very high as presented in the text. However, Shakespeare modified the material to feature the interest of the play through creatively reimagining the history. In history, the queen is a mere girl of 14 years, but Shakespeare presents her as a grown woman. When the Queen meets with the King, she loves and pities him. When they part, a gentle is love felt and the king appears as kind. This was intentionally created by Shakespeare to create emotional appeal in the audience as the plot progresses to the death of the king.
Additionally, Shakespeare represents a re-imagined history and contextually puts it in the play. Although he changed some few aspects for the purpose of dramatization, he was still able to retain the historical context and the meaning. He depicts the importance of political leadership that focused towards the well-being of the people. Order and discipline are given key priority as Shakespeare shows that leaders should discern the truth from flattery and keep order in the country by all means. On the other hand, subjects should obey the rules or suffer from nemesis or famine, epidemic or warfare.
In characterization, King Richard II is the lead character and the king of England at the beginning of the play. He ascends to the throne at a young age, but he shows immaturity in his actions. He enjoys the kingship, and he is an extraordinary poet. Shakespeare portrays him as divine and powerful but owing to his mortal status he still has some weaknesses. His age as depicted in the story perhaps is intends to show that he is not mature or fit enough to take on the throne. He makes stupid mistakes because of “adolescent” like mind. His decisions are entirely irrational and fail to listen to the wise advice of the old Gaunt. He takes on wealth belonging to his subjects which contribute to him falling out with the people.
Moreover, Richard showed great strength when he imprisoned and during his deposition perhaps with the intention of demonstrating the dramatic figure of a king. However, he still shows some instances of self-pity perhaps to denote that despite his positions and stature he is still a human with flaws like any other person. It is also evident that this lack of self-completion is what led him to make the mistake that saw him dethrone from his position. He sometimes seems to enjoy or mock those who have succeeded him because of the trials they face. He had God-given mandate to rule, but they took away from him; hence, he takes pleasure in seeing the ironies and absurdities in the structure of power under what was initially his kingship.
Richard further displays a hero who enchants everybody with poetic speeches. Richard is full of lyrics poetry, and despite his mistakes, he is still a likable character. His suffering in prison and his death heightens the tragic grandeur, and the audience forgets his crimes. His talk with the gloom depicts his gentle nature and his ability to arouse affection from the public. At the end of the story, the audience forgets the weaknesses and the blunder that Richard committed and feels hatred against the killer. He becomes more of a tragedy of circumstances. Furthermore, when admits the limits of his power, the limits his subjects and audiences must clearly sense already, he attracts sympathy from the audience.
On the other hand, John is King Edward’s III son, uncle to Richard II and also the father to Henry Bolingbroke. He is an old man perhaps used by Shakespeare to represent ancient wisdom. He like his son represents the solid qualities of the English character. He also represents some spiritual touchstone for the play and owing to his age; he is not quick to anger. Despite Richard taking away his wealth and the reason why Henry plots to overthrow Richard, he (Gaunt) is still merciful to Richard. Ideally, Grant is a representation of wisdom and kindness that people should seek to have in their lives.
Bolingbroke is a complete contrast of Richard in different ways such as having a practical mind, honest, and sensitive and to some extent “natural” as a king. At the beginning of the play, Bolingbroke seems reluctant to rebel against the king until he feels pushed to react after his father’s wealth is ceased by Richard. Aware of the magnitude of the crime he about to commit, Bolingbroke represents a strong will character who does not give up regardless of the consequences he anticipates in case things go wrong. He is focused and the peer pressure supported by the insult to him, and his father drives him to dethrone the king. At the end despite the challenges that he encounters he proves more pragmatic and capable leader than his poetic cousin Richard.
In addition, other minor characters include Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Aumerle, Bushy, Green, Henry Percy, Duchess of York, Duchess of Gloucester, Queen Isabel, and Thomas Percy among others. All these characters serve the role of advancing the plot and driving the theme of the play.
Again, Rackin argues that Shakespeare represents a conflict between two opposing worlds- the ceremonial world of Richard’s medieval period and the current modern world of Henry Bolingbroke (99). The corollary of this proposition is that the audience must recount the historical point of view and the dramatic perspective of the play to get its true meaning. In this case, Richard II appears to the auditorium in two dimensions that opposed each other. Richard says it would appear as a tale “of woeful ages long ago betid” (Shakespeare, Stanley, and Paul V. i. 42). Again the play is also represented as the current action to that the audience is experiencing live. The Queen is quoted commenting, “I am Richard II, know ye not that?” Therefore, the role of the public in the theater plays an important role in the interpretation of the play because it represents the history and current world through the audience and Henry Bolingbroke.
In addition to characters, the play employs different style. For example, soliloquy is a common style employed by Shakespeare in most of his plays. This technique entails a character speaking his or her thoughts loudly regardless of whether or not others can hear. In Richard II soliloquy is evident in many scenes as Richard speaks his thoughts loudly. It is evident in the poem as Richard speaks to himself. “My brain I’ll provide females…a generation to breeding thought.” He further laments that his sweet music has turned sour to him upon losing his title. The role of this style as applied by Shakespeare is to make the audience understand and sympathize with the Richard.
Poetry is another common style that is evident in the play as Richard is poetic in nature. From his young age, Richard liked poems, and he develops to become a very effective poet. Shakespeare presents the conflict of what is morally right and wrong with the poem of Richard. From the beginning and to the end poetry is the primary style used. The play itself is poetic in nature and showcases players in the process of speaking poetry. But as the story progresses the use of rhythm becomes odd “wrath-kindled gentlemen, be ruled by me…” (Shakespeare, Stanley, and Paul 1.1.152-59). This also supports the use of poetry as a style in the play.
Furthermore, the theme of power and political struggles. The play juxtaposes two different characters and worlds to represent what seems like the struggle for power. The loss of power on the side of Richard, emphasizes that the play focuses much on the exploration of character rather than political intrigue. Richard does not put a fight when he is being overthrown but uses his poetic words as his sole weapon perhaps because he believed in the divine right of the king. However, the play signifies political divides as one the themes through Henry Bolingbroke who is not reluctant to over through his cousin. In the end, the play shows that the political leadership and understanding of the old world and the modern world are different. Richard accepts defeat to represent to Henry Bolingbroke, and this depicts that the old ways should give way to modernity.
In addition, Shakespeare brings out the theme of family struggles through showing different complications that exist. Richard and Henry Bolingbroke are a family, but Henry does collaborate with his peers to overthrow Richard. On the other hand, Richard is inconsiderate when he decides to take away the wealth of his uncle a situation that escalates his rivalry with his cousin. Nevertheless, Shakespeare shows that there is the possibility of bringing the families together through the old Gaunt. Despite Richard taking his material possession, he still offers his advice to him, and he is not happy about him his dethronement. Gaunt believes it is wrong to have a Godly chosen leader being withdrawn from his position unceremoniously.
The central theme of the play is that of kingship and whether it is morally right to overthrow a king. Shakespeare depicts kingships as divine, and the king is ordained by God to become the king. That is why whoever overthrows the king stands a chance to faces calamities as the wrath of God befalls on him or her. Although Richard does not put a fight to resist his dethronement he still fights through his poetic words. He says that it is wrong to remove a person that God has chosen to lead people for no reason. That is why he is happy to see those who challenged and removed him from his position face challenges as they try to run the throne. He mocks them because he believes that God is against them and they are facing his wrath.
In conclusion, Richard II represents conflicting worlds through two conflicting people. The play questions the sanity of overthrowing the rightfully crowned king to replace him with a person who overthrows him. Furthermore, the play tries to question the moral authority of religion in matters to do with politics. Shakespeare shows that leadership is something that can corrupt people because of the power it comes with. People rejected Richard because of making poor decisions without much consultation. He is overthrown because of such poor decisions. The characters of the play support its theme in different ways. At the end, they show that kingship has nothing to do with divine rights as anyone can ascend to the position regardless of the means used. However, once in power, the king should be able to control his subjects and ensure they are disciplined enough so that they do not rebel as t happened with Richard and his cousin in support of his peers.
Farzana, Shamsi. “”Kingship as Divine Right in Shakespeare’s King Richard II.”” European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies 4.2 (2016): 40-49. Print.
Shakespeare, William, Stanley Wells, and Paul Edmondson. Richard II. London: Penguin, 2008. Print.
Rackin, Phyllis. “The Role of the Audience in Shakespeare’s Richard II.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 3, 1985, pp. 262–281.
Shewring, Margaret. King Richard Ii. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996. Print.