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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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In the first scene starts in medias res, with no explanatory talk between the customary waiting men and attendants; Shakespeare plunges straight into the action. There is no building of any setting or mood, and the scene simply presents Richard arbitrating between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. It is a courtly scene. The audience does not know who is telling the truth and cannot rely on any one character for the guidance. Shakespeare thus deliberately forces the spectator's attention on the responses of Richard. This is the medieval world of formality and convention. This is also a largely male world, and the only characters present are the king and his subjects. Lofty rhetoric conceals the true nature of men. The discrepancy between appearance and reality creeps into the play as the contenders reveal their true natures after indulging in an empty show of loyalty and deference to the king. The underlying Themes of power and principles also emerge in the first scene.


The first scene also introduces the theme of loyalty and patriotism. The opening lines list all four elements: fire, water, earth and air. The effect of this imagery is to establish a contrast between Richard, the representative of the sun, and Bolingbroke, who is associated with flood. Their turbulent conflict ultimately drowns Richard's fire in the flood of tears and transforms Bolingbroke into the sun. Richard's end is burial in the earth. However, the dominant image in Scene 1 is that of blood. Blood combines fire and water. Blood also signifies the noble births of Richard and the other members of royalty. Blood likewise carries the underlying implication of murder, discord and battle, and the fear of Englishmen's blood soiling English ground (civil war). At the beginning of the play, it is implied that King Richard's hands are stained with royal blood, while the play ends with King Henry IV's hands stained with Richard's blood. Thus blood is the dominant image of the whole play.

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