RICHARD II- (1377-1399)
The most lyrical of Shakespeare's History plays, being written entirely in verse with a heavy use of rhyme, which makes it recognizably akin to Romeo and Juliet. Among the portraits of English kings in Shakespeare's history plays, perhaps none searches more deeply into a monarchs soul than that of Richard II. The wild expenditures that conceal a lack of drive, and the lending of his ear to every flatterer, cause those around to grow weary of his rule. The seizing of Gaunt's lands after his death and the exiling of his son Bolingbroke cause Richard to lose the one thing that make his entire identity: the crown.
The synopsis: King Richard is overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke, a Lancastrian. Though a sympathetic character, Richard is a poor king. The shrewd, even Machiavellian, Bolingbroke is clearly better equipped to be a ruler: yet his usurpation of the throne is equally clearly-- at least in the view of Tudor historians from whom Shakespeare drew his material-- an offense against God's law, by which monarchs are divinely appointed. The result, played out in the rest of the saga, is several generations of civil unrest, ending only with the ascension of Henry VII, the first Tudor king.
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-1399)
(in foreground, played by John Gielgud)
Historical figure, King Richard II's uncle and father of Henry Bolingbroke.
Though he dies in 2.1, he is an important figure. He represents a grand tradition of statesmanlike patriotism and honor, encouraging Bolingbroke towards the ideal of obedience to the King, whom he believes rules by divine right. On the same grounds, he resists the Duchess of Gloucester's demands for vengeance against the King for the murder of her husband, Gaunt's brother, Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester. Yet, he is aware of Richard's failings, and, before dying, he chastises the King severely for ruining the country through over-taxation and self-indulgence.
Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV
Son to John of Gaunt, favorite of the people and one of the leaders of the Lord Appelant, formed in 1588.
The usurper of the throne from Richard II. Bolingbroke's rise to the throne balances Richard's fall, and Bolingbroke, like Richard, undergoes personal change. It is clear from the very beginning that Bolingbroke is hostile to Richard and that the King has no effective response. Bolingbroke's triumph can already be forseen, and thus he appears as an unscrupulous schemer from the beginning.
General Patriotic Purposes
The praise made by John of Gaunt toward England-- a speech given shortly before he dies, was often heard, in its entirety, on British radio during World War II.
Richard's soliloquy on the death of Kings:
As stated by William Bliss in The Real Shakespeare (1949), that:
"It is almost the most perfect thing Shakespeare ever wrote."
Richard is NO HERO...it is the distinction of Richard that his mind grows keener with destruction before his enemies-- although he lacks the power to rule, he has the courage to be his own confessor, and he is most kingly when the crown has been snatched from his head.
*born 1367, died 1400
*during his minority: his reign was in the hands of John of Gaunt, his uncle-- but the young king showed great courage during the Peasants Revolt (1381).
+He was forced to submit to a baronial faction known as the Lord's Appelant (1387-88), whom he eliminated in 1397.
--His subsequent tyrannical rule alienated his supporters, who deserted him when his cousin Henry Lancaster forced him to abdicate (1399) and succeeded him as King Henry IV.
*Death remains UNCERTAIN...was he murdered in prison? Did he die of natural causes??
++1388- King Richard's five (5) leading opponents: The Lord's Appelant, which forced the exile of or execution of several royal favorites...
1. his uncle- the Duke of Gloucester
2. Henry Bolingbroke
3. Earl of Arundel
4. Earl of Warwick
5. Earl of Nottingham (later Duke of Norfolk)
1397- Duke of Gloucester is murdered; Warwick and Arundel were condemned
1398-Bolingbroke exiled-- who during Richard's absence in Ireland, invaded England in 1399.
Thoughts for Review-THE PLAY
Characterization: Richard II
*His deposition led the way to the disputed succession ad conflicts of a half-a-century later.
Interest in the play centers on two things:
1. Personal contrast between the falling and rising kings, and the political action of each.
2. The misgovernment of one (Richard) inviting the almost justifying ursurpation of the other (Henry).
*Although possessed of a certain regal charm and power of attaching tender natures to himself--he is deficient in all that is sterling and real in manhood.
~Richard is: self-indulgent, has superficial sensitiveness, loves to contemplate in a romantic way whatever is pathetic or passionate in his life, possesses a rhetorical imagination, and has abundant command of delicate and gleaming words.
+His will is nerve-less
+He is incapable of consistency of feeling
+He is incapable of strenuous action
*As a contrast (no greater contrast exists in Shakespeare's Historical Plays than that between the figures of the formidable king of deeds (Henry) and the romantic king of hectic feelings and brilliant words (Richard)...
*Henry Bolingbroke, who pushes Richard from the throne, is a man framed for material success, namely, the crown, as he waits on personal ambition.
+He possesses: 1. a resolute gaze- which sees his object far off
2. persistent energy of will- to carry him forward without faltering
3. faculties that are strong and well-knit
4. AND he is not cruel, but shrinks from no deed that is needful of his purpose because the deed is cruel