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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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Richard shrewdly exiles Mowbray, who can implicate him in Gloucester's murder, forever. Richard then shows himself to be benevolent when he "mercifully" curtails Bolingbroke's sentence from ten to six years on account of old Gaunt's sad face. Richard thereby mollifies Bolingbroke's supporters. However, Gaunt does not respond to the king with much gratitude, and he even reminds Richard that his powers are not equal to God's: "Shorten my days thou canst with sullen sorrow, / And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow." Gaunt is here articulating a central concern of the play: the meaning of the king's power, especially when the king himself has transgressed against divine law.

Historically, when Richard stopped the proceedings at Coventry, he conferred with the parliamentary committee set up to investigate the Bolingbroke-Mowbray dispute. It was after this that he announced his decision to banish Bolingbroke for ten years and Mowbray for life. Shakespeare, however, is not relying solely on Holinshed's Chronicle, but is re-shaping his dramatic material within the limits imposed by a history play. In this scene Shakespeare makes Richard appear rash in exercising his power by having him arbitrarily decide to banish the two contenders. This also calls into question the implications and limits of the king's "power." What the entire scene establishes is Richard's love of a theatrical situation as an end in itself. The actor playing Richard's part must show sly satisfaction during the proceedings of the tournament, while he is all the time meditating and anxiously awaiting for the moment when he will put an end to all heroics. He must show a sense of knowing all the time that the elaborate rituals and lengthy farewells will amount to nothing.

The religious imagery continues in this scene as well. Bolingbroke says that the approaching tournament is a "long and weary pilgrimage" for both Mowbray and himself. The religious implications are essential to the whole play. When Bolingbroke requests permission to take leave of the king, Richard descends from his throne and embraces him. Richard is the father figure who embraces one of his sons (subjects), but this man will later on in the play dethrone him. Bolingbroke then takes leave of his real father, Gaunt.


The language of this scene is marked by deep lyricism, which contrasts with the reality of the situation. Bolingbroke's speech befits a young courtier and belongs to the world of romance and chivalry. Bolingbroke's utterances here are in striking contrast to those of the Bolingbroke of the later scenes, where he is calm and in total control of the situation. Here, Bolingbroke displays affectation as he soars on the wings of self-conscious and contrived verse and accepts the world of Richard's kingship. Mowbray's utterances are also remote from realism. Mowbray's effort to improve upon his rival's elation is essentially an indulgence in poetry. Even Richard luxuriates in poetry when he stops the proceedings. He refers to "the eagle-winged pride / Of sky-aspiring and ambitious thoughts," thereby continuing the strain of lyricism already established. His order of banishment, too, is couched in elaborate poetic imagery. When Gaunt attempts to comfort his son, he also subordinates true feeling to expression. Thus strained expression, rather than feeling dominates the scene and contributes to its formal, stylized tone.

The scene also establishes contrast between the characters of Bolingbroke and Mowbray through the difference in their conduct and demeanor. Here, Mowbray maintains his calm, which throws into greater relief Bolingbroke's confrontational attitude. Mowbray can afford to remain calm in his knowledge of King Richard's involvement in Gloucester's murder. Mowbray feels quite safe and does not fear any punishment from the king.

Gaunt's parting with his son, Bolingbroke, shows genuine fatherly concern, couched in elaborate poetic imagery. The rapidity of the exchange shows that both are overwhelmed by the parting. The sudden rush of words is an attempt to cover up true feelings. Gaunt is genuinely concerned and tries to alleviate Bolingbroke's grief by rationalizing his situation. He consoles him by saying that six years is not a long time and will quickly pass. He then says that Bolingbroke's exile will serve as a foil (contrast) to his joyous return home. Gaunt unknowingly anticipates later events, since Bolingbroke's return will ultimately lead to his becoming king. His absence, therefore, will make his return more significant. The lapse of time will also throw into greater relief the contrast between the characters of Bolingbroke and Richard. Gaunt's fatherly concern is reflected in his advice to Bolingbroke to see the exile as a pleasure trip. He tries to rouse Bolingbroke's spirits by saying that he is, in fact, escaping from a bad situation, the current political climate of England. Richard's inefficient rule will soon spread disorder throughout the land. But Bolingbroke cannot be consoled.

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