Friday, February 22, 2008

Richard II - A Cautionary Tale of Improper Forms of Kingship

A figure of comments on Shakespeare's Richard II are devoted to the dialectical nature of the play, stressing the resistance of many of the elements in the drama. Studies have got been written which show that the drama is concerned with the resistance of the medieval order, represented by Richard, and the emerging modern order, represented by Bolingbroke. Similarly, other critics see the drama as a struggle between a adult male of action and a adult male of words. Others see the drama as a statement on the powerfulness of the male monarch versus the powerfulnesses of the aristocracy. Some see the drama as the resistance between a male monarch verging on madness, and a cold, calculating member of the baronage represented by Bolingbroke. More recent unfavorable judgment have focused on the drama as an fable for the tyrannical regulation of Elizabeth, or as a suppression of the freedoms of address and fourth estate during Elizabeth's reign.

The diverse theories which delineate the dialectical nature of the work are both enlightening and well-reasoned. Rather than screening the drama as a series of dichotomies, I will reason that the drama positions both Richard and Henry Iv as essentially failed rules for having limited the autonomy of their topics and exposed the state to unneeded inquiries relating to the legitimate usages of powerfulness and of monarchical succession. Finally, I will reason that the play, presented in this light, would function as a warning to Elizabeth Ii regarding the usage of her powerfulness and her inability to supply a replacement to the throne.

The impression that the drama stands for a struggle between the medieval values of Richard and the more than modern positions of Henry Iv is summed up by Henry W. W. Jacobs in his paper "Prophecy and Political Orientation in Shakespeare's Richard II" as follows:

It is a platitude to detect that Shakespeare's Richard two traces out a cardinal displacement in the nature of kingship and the justification of rule. This movement, which reflects both House Of Tudor positions on history and Elizabethan political theory, signifies the passage from a medieval to a Renaissance conception of kingship and power. In this theoretical matrix, Richard two plays the function of the unsuccessful medieval sovereign while Henry Iv moves the portion of a successful Renaissance prince. (Jacobs) (3)

In a similar vein, R. Lewis Henry Morgan Gryphon in his paper "The Critical History of Richard II," composes that traditional readings of Richard as a advocate of medieval values, and Henry Iv as a advocate of Renaissance values, persisted through the mid twentieth-century to the exclusion of the geographic expedition of other subjects in the work, and short letters that:

Tillyard in peculiar tons the duality of Richard and Henry Iv with contrasts and travels so far as to propose that each male monarch stands for a distinct historical era, Richard the end of the Center Ages and Henry Iv the reaching of the Renaissance. (24)

Critics have got viewed Henry Iv as a adult male of action, while Richard is seen as an uneffective adult male of words, or a poet. William Stubbs, bishop of Oxford in the nineteenth century, wrote what was considered to be a unequivocal life of Richard II. William William Stubbs is responsible for the word picture of Richard as a adult male of contemplation and uneffective leadership, as Saint George John Osborne Sayles short letters in his paper "King Richard of England: A Fresh Look." Sayles short letters that: "To Stubbs, Richard was 'habitually idle' and 'loved pleasance and ease,' and this is now the conventional narrative in all our history books" (29). Discussing Richard's properties as a leader, Sayles comments that "The same contention that the King was incompetent in the administration of his kingdom is attached to him throughout the years" (29-30). Sayles later travels on to develop a thesis that Richard was, in fact, a much more than effectual leader than is generally acknowledged. Noting that conventional readings of the drama stress the differences in the personalities of Richard and Bolingbroke, R. Lewis Henry Morgan Gryphon short letters that: "According to the conventional scheme, Richard is the weak, effeminate poet-king, A medieval relic who trusts on linguistic communication and ceremonial to rule; Henry Iv is the taciturn, violent, and politic representative of a new Machiavellian style of leadership" (25).

The aversion between the male monarch and the nobility is frequently cited in unfavorable judgment of the play. Historical fact imparts further acceptance to this line of criticism, since Richard and the "Appellants" as well as other members of Parliament, were frequently at likelihood during the king's reign. Saint George B. Stow, in his paper "Stubbs, Steel, and Richard two as Insane: The Beginning and Development of an English Historiographical Myth," once again citing Bishop Stubbs, do the followers point concerning Richard's relation with the aristocracy:

(According to Stubbs) 'There can be small uncertainty that the legal proceeding of 1397 and 1398 were the existent causes of Richard's ruin...He had resolutely and without blind or palliation, challenged the constitution.' This 'grand shot of policy,' goes on Stubbs, 'has singular significance. It was a resolute effort not to hedge but destruct the restrictions which for nearly two centuries the nation, first through the peerage alone and latterly through the united parliament, had been laboring to enforce upon the king.' (608-9) (1)

In the position of respective critics, Bishop William Stubbs was also responsible for the first word picture of Richard as being insane. Toilet M. Theilmann, computer addresses this issue in his paper entitled "Stubbs, Shakespeare, and Recent Historians of Richard II," when he observes that "Richard II, one of the most enigmatic male monarches of late medieval England, have been the topic of contention ever since his stepping down in 1399. He have often been portrayed as a autocrat or, at times, a madman by historians" (107) (italics mine). In his paper, Stow emphasizes that Stubbs' positions of Richard two were colored by his Whig leanings. He further observes Stubbs' influence in the development of the theory of Richard as insane when he says that:

Stubbs' contemporary, J.R. Green, took much the same approach, stating that 'the superb abilities which Richard shared with the remainder of the Plantagenets were marred by a fitful inconstancy, and insane pride, and a craving for absolute power.' (109) (italics mine) (Theilmann)

In direct contrast to Richard's "insanity" is the position of Bolingbroke's cold, logical personality which is pointed out in R. Lewis Henry Morgan Griffin's paper: "Hence, in one essay, Henry Iv is the incarnation of the 'new, effective,' and Machiavellian manner of governing..." (26). (2)

Considerations that the drama may, in fact, be a commentary on the reign of Elizabeth Ii Iodine are supported by the acknowledgement, made by the queen herself, that facets of her reign were similar to those of Richard. Samuel Schoenbaum, in his paper "Richard two and the Realities of Power," short letters that the queen remarked to one of her courtiers, Seth Thomas Lamberde:

Such considerations (that they play may have got served as a commentary on Elizabeth's reign) function only to whet chase and the trail, in truth, is not an arrant blank. 'I am Richard II, cognize ye not that?' the Queen declared in Lamberde's presence, and she was not the first to do the comparison. (49)(Schoenbaum)

Theories that the drama may have got been a remark of Elizabeth's reign happen support in the fact that Richard's deposition scene was missing from the published transcripts of the drama during the queen's lifetime. Similarly, critics point to the public presentation of the drama by members of the Duke of Essex' political party on the twenty-four hours before the aborted revolution staged in 1601, and the prohibition against publication guess on the succession, as indicants that the drama was seen as a remark on Elizabeth's reign. Phyllis Rackin, in her paper "The Function of the Audience in Shakespeare's Richard II," short letters that English Language audiences would have got drawn analogues between the action in Richard two and current events during the reign of Elizabeth:

But history is also presented in Richard two as a current action, a life procedure that directly affects and implicates the audience in the theatre. Queen Elizabeth's often-quoted comment, 'I am Richard II, cognize ye not that?'; the suppression of the deposition scene during her lifetime; the fact that Essex's following saw tantrum to patronize a public presentation of Richard II on the afternoon before their rebellion - all these things bespeak that for Shakespeare's coevals this drama was not simply an exercising in historical diversion or nostalgia. (262)(Rackin)

While the reappraisal of critical literature which postulates that the drama is engaged in a dialogic procedure between opposing cabals is not exhaustive, I believe that adequate of the literature have been presented to set up that this line of scholarship have met with success. Rather than (Rackin)arguing against this scholarship, I admit that respective utile penetrations can be gained in screening the drama in this manner. As R. Lewis Henry Morgan Gryphon argues, however, screening the drama as a dialectic between Richard and Henry Iv (or as a series of dialectics) can take readers to(overlook other facets of the drama " accentuating the differences between the two kings, critics sometimes cut down Richard and Henry Iv to mere diametric antonyms and hence unwittingly recapitulate the expansive theories of Elizabethan culture..." (24).

I will reason that while viewing the drama as a series of dualities outputs respective valuable insights, the primary subject of the drama is that neither Richard nor Henry Iv stand for effectual rulers. I will further reason that the drama is concerned with the restriction of baronial rights on the portion of Richard, which represents a loss of liberty, and the unlawful sequence on the portion of Bolingbroke, which represents a dislocation in the state and loss of freedom for the populace. Finally, I will reason that while grounds of the drama as a unfavourable judgment of Elizabeth's kingdom is not conclusive, the drama nevertheless shows an unfavorable commentary on facets of her reign and that the drama proposes analogues with her rule.

It will be necessary to define the term "liberty" before determining whether or not Richard abrogated the rights of the baronial political parties in the drama (and in historical fact). The undertaking is not as easy as it would look at first glance; in her paper entitled "Are Autonomy and Freedom Twins," Hanna Fenichel Pitkin points out that the footing "liberty" and "freedom" are often used interchangeably, and that the definitions for the two footing affect niceties of etymology which are often confusing. Despite the troubles associated with defining the terms, Pitkin short letters that a common use of the word autonomy developed after the Jessye Norman conquering of England. She says that:

In any case, it looks that in the first centuries following the conquest, freedom was for the conquered indigens a relatively blunt, tangible, and entire position that one either had or lacked, almost an facet of what one was, whether an external physical status of unobstructed space or movement, or a legal status of not being topic to another, or a psychical state manifested in spontaneity. For the conquering elite, by contrast, liberty was more than formal and legal, a substance of grade and detail, a aggregation of specific rights and privileges granted or withheld even if truly appropriate lone to those of high birth and correspondingly solid character. Both the legalistic and the pluralistic intensions as well as the moralized position significance were already establish in Latin liber- as Raaflaub shows, but in English Language they became isolated in a distinct word family, no longer semantically bound, for instance, to the unimpeded motion of objects, O to actions spontaneously and gladly done. (538-9) (italics mine)

The conception of rights or privileges is cardinal to the chief subject of the play. It is after all, Richard's ictus of Bolingbroke's lands after the decease of Toilet of Gaunt, which precipitates Bolingbroke's tax return to England and ultimately military units Richard's deposition. The granting and heritage of place rights was one of the bases of the Magna Carta, and had been honored by all sovereigns for respective hundred old age until the clip of Richard. As House Of York admonishes Richard:

Take Hereford's rights away, and take from time

His charters and customary rights;

Let not tomorrow then result today;

Be not thyself; for how fine art thousand a king

But by just sequence and succession? (II.i.195-99) (Shakespeare)

A gloss of these lines uncovers the magnitude of Richard's unlawful act. If Henry Iv is not entitled to his lawful ownership of land through the heritage of his father, then how is Richard entitled to the ownership of the throne through heritage from his father? Indeed, the enactment is so unnatural that "tomorrow will not result today," i.e., the natural order of events will be violated.

Gaunt's celebrated lines to Richard "Landlord of England fine art thousand now, not king/Thy state-supported of law is bondslave to the law," (II.i.119-120) are often taken as being a repeat of the same theme, but as Donna B. William Rowan Hamilton explicates in "The State of Law in Richard II,"

To get at a better reading of Gaunt's speech, it is necessary to acknowledge at the beginning that the human relationship of the lines to each other is not that of apposition. Rather, they show a paradox: a male monarch who moves like a landlord instead of a male monarch goes in some sense a slave. (6)

This reading is better understood when viewed within the conception of autonomy that Acts as a surety of rights from a male monarch to his subjects. When those rights are taken away, the male monarch himself loses his "right" to govern. The conception of the king's right to regulate was established by Godhead authority; it was this foundation that gave legitimacy to the king's rule. By acting above the law, the male monarch abrogates the law itself, and nullifies his authorization to rule. Turning again to Donna Hamilton, she observes that:

...These notions include the acknowledgment that a male monarch who ruled by Godhead right was also, in theory and in practice, subject to the law; he was to govern according to the law, and his powerfulness derived from the law. ...Significantly, the issue for Gaunt is not the substance of the king's royal prerogative, but the well-being of those the male monarch rules. ...For Richard to move like a landlord is not to decrease the royal prerogative, then, but to move as though the royal privilege lets a male monarch to make anything he wishes. (6 - 7) (4)

Richard then, violated the rights of his topics in seizing Bolingbroke's property. But his weaknesses were greater than this: he was also complicit in the homicide of Gloucester, a point which is emphasized in the gap of the play, and is the motivation behind the ostracism of Mowbray and Hereford. Finally, Richard left no legitimate inheritor in the word form of a boy or daughter, which allowed Henry Iv to brush aside the weak claim of the Earl of March as Richard's successor.

Yet, despite Richard's failing and ultimate failure, Henry Iv is not an effectual ruler, either. To begin, Bolingbroke's sequence shows respective problems. In the first place, Henry Iv swept aside the claim of the Earl of March as rightful replacement to Richard. While it is true that the Earl was a minor at the clip of Richard's abdication, at best, Henry Iv should have got acted as trustee during the boy's minority. Secondly, by forcing the stepping down of Richard, Henry Iv gained the crown illegitimately and set his line of sequence in peril. As Donna William Rowan Hamilton do clear, sequence under the law is an of import component in the play:

This impression (i.e. that the male monarch deduces a part of his powerfulness from the law) is of import to bear in head when one sees either Richard two or Bolingbroke-Henry IV, because both are male monarches whose right to govern come ups under question. ...The cardinal issue for Bolingbroke's rule, and one to which every drama in the remainder of the 2nd tetralogy will return, is the menace to the kingdom when the male monarch is not legally titled. ...Nevertheless, because the deposition is an break of the tradition of legal succession, Bolingbroke's powerfulness bes without the clear countenance of either the law or God, a point the Bishop of Carlisle computer addresses when he declares:

'And shall the figure of God's majesty

His captain, steward, deputy sheriff elect,

Anointed, crowned, planted many years,

Be judg'd by subject and inferior breath. ...

My Godhead of Herford here, whom you name king,

Is a disgusting treasonist to proud Herford's king.' (IV.i. 125-28; 134-5) (10; 15) (italics mine)

It is of import to observe that not only did Carlisle reprobate Bolingbroke's action, but he also predicted the sequence of events that would precipitate the hundred Years' War in the same address quoted by Hamilton:

And if you crown him, allow me prophecy

The blood of English Language shall manure the ground

And future ages moan for this disgusting act,

Peace shall travel slumber with Turks and infidels,

And in this place of peace disruptive wars

Shall kinsperson with kinsperson and sort with sort confound.

Disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny

Shall here inhabit, and this land be called

The field of Golgotha... (IV.1. 142-150)

In this speech, the trespass of the throne by Henry Iv is seen as the proximate cause of the War; but more than than that, it is seen as a misdemeanor of the natural order of things. The king, as the chosen representative of Supreme Being on earth, held his business office through sequence and by upholding God's laws. Henry Iv was neither the rightful replacement of Richard, nor did he continue the laws: in point of fact, he broke with law in seizing the throne. The address by Carlisle, which bodes the approaching war, is the topic of comments by Phyllis Rackin, who observes that "As the prognostications indicate, Bolingbroke's accession, far from bringing civic order to England, actually increases the disorder" (272). Later in her paper, Rackin short letters that "In Act V, which takes topographic point after the deposition, we are shown assorted manifestations of the upset that Bolingbroke's rebellion have unleashed on England" (272).

While Richard threatened the autonomy of his barons, Bolingbroke's action travels a measure further: it endangers the freedom of his subjects. Turning again to Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, we are presented with a definition of the maltreatment of freedom when she claims that "freedom abused proposes something like lawlessness or chaos, the loss of all boundaries" (542-3). This definition of the loss of freedom, a loss that consequences in the pandemonium of the Hundred Years' War, corresponds with Carlisle's desperate prediction. Here we see that Bolingbroke's action endangers not just the aristocracy, but the general populace, as well. Far from being the "new leader" described by some writers, Bolingbroke's action immerses the state into civil war, endangering the autonomies of the Lords and the freedoms enjoyed by the general populace.

That the drama dealt with the loss of autonomy and freedom have hopefully been demonstrated. The pertinence to Elizabeth's reign can be seen in the followers ways: at the clip of the authorship of the plays, Elizabeth Ii Ii had not produced a lawful inheritor (nor would she at the clip of her death). Elizabeth's right to govern through lawful sequence was affected by her illicit birth; a fact which obtruded itself in her consciousness in the individual of her one-half sister, Virgin Mary Queen of Scots. The suppression of Catholicity during Elizabeth's reign was another manifestation of the challenge of certain freedoms in the House Of Tudor era. Finally, Elizabeth's animadversion of publication of any authorship concerning her sequence (not to advert possible censoring of other Hagiographa which, as have been previously noted, cannot be conclusively proven) points to a curtailment of freedom which was acknowledged by Elizabeth's subjects. Elizabeth's remark "I am Richard II, cognize ye not that?" is more than than mere rhetoric. For a sovereign who walked a tightrope between the granting and taking of autonomies to her nobles, and the suppression of freedom to the commons, the lessons of Richard and Henry Iv would look ominous, indeed.

(1) In his paper, Stow emphasizes that Stubbs' positions of Richard two were colored by his Whig leanings. As a Whig, William Stubbs favored the positions of Parliament over those of the Monarch, and subsequently painted Richard in a less than advantageous light.

(2) Gryphon points out the duality between Richard and Henry Iv in his paper, and postulates that the focusing on the duality between the two personalities have limited treatment of other facets of the play. The paper referred-to inch the above citation is by Katherine Eisaman Maus, "Richard II," The Norton Shakespeare, 946-7.

(3) Respective critics challenge the theory that the drama is a commentary on censoring during the Elizabethan era, or that censoring was not as prevailing as was once thought. Among these critics is Cyndia Susan Clegg, who reasons that the grounds for censoring of the dramas is not conclusive.

(4) I am indebted to Hamilton's reading of the drama and share her belief that neither Richard nor Henry Iv are seen as effectual rulers.


Griffin, Roentgen Morgan. "The Critical History of Richard II." Critical Essays on Shakespeare's Richard II. Ed. Kirby Farrell. New York: G.K. Hallway & Co., 1999. 23-40.

Hamilton, Donna B. "The State of Law in Richard II." Shakespeare Quarterly 34.1 (1983): 5-17.

Jacobs, Henry E. "Prophecy and Political Orientation in Shakespeare's Richard II." South Atlantic Ocean Review 51.1 (1986): 3-17.

Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. "Are Freedom and Autonomy Twins?" Political Theory 16.4 (1988): 523-52.

Rackin, Phyllis. "The Function of the Audience in Shakespeare's Richard II." Shakespeare Quarterly 36.3 (1985): 262-81.

Schoenbaum, Samuel. "Richard two and the Realities of Power." Critical Essays on Shakespeare's Richard II. Ed. Kirby Farrell. New York: G.K. Hallway & Co., 1999. 41-57.

Shakespeare, William. Richard II. The Folger William Shakespeare Library. Eds. Barbara A. Mowat and Alice Paul Werstine. New York: American Capital Square Press, 1996.

Stow, Saint George B. "Stubbs, Steel, and Richard two as Insane: The Beginning and Development of an English Historiographical Myth." Proceedings of the American Philosophic Society 143.4 (1999): 601-38.

Theilmann, Toilet M. "Stubbs, Shakespeare, and Recent Historians of Richard II." Albion: A Quarterly Diary Concerned with British People Studies 8.2 (1976): 107-24.

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