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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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Gaunt suggests that Richard is, in effect, risking his kingship by following the selfish advice of his coterie. Gaunt says that Richard's actions are the equivalent of committing suicide. He points out in his tirade that although Richard is God's anointed, he deserves to be deposed. The conflict between the divinity of kingship and the necessity of removing a bad king emerges very clearly here. This enrages Richard, who contemptuously dismisses the dying man as "a lunatic, lean-witted fool." He claims that had Gaunt not been the brother of great Edward's son, he would surely have been beheaded for his impudence. The audience sees that the king can bully a dying uncle, but he cannot face the crisis when he is told of Bolingbroke's return to England in Act III.

While Richard tries to maintain his kingly authority in this scene, he is otherwise incapable of meeting the duties and responsibilities of his office. He is a fatally weak monarch. Gaunt's last words create a sense of doom as he is carried out of the room. He accuses Richard of Gloucester's murder. As Gaunt is carried away, there is the sense that the old order is dying with him. His reference to Gloucester's murder creates a sense of foreboding: the spilling of sacred blood is an act of sacrilege, which will have disastrous consequences for Richard and England. Richard's reaction to Gaunt's warning is to dismiss it as the frenzy of a dying man. He says simply, "And let them die that age and sullens have; / For both hast thou, and both become the grave." Nevertheless, Gaunt's words of warning will prove valid within the course of the play.

York then attempts to pacify Richard and attributes Gaunt's anger to his old age and sickness. Here, the audience sees a diplomatic York, who is unlike the enraged Gaunt, and cannot afford to provoke the king. Both Gaunt and York are unhappy with the condition of England under Richard's rule, but their roles in England's troubled order are different. York, who previously has tried to calm Gaunt, here plays the role of the mediator and persuades Richard to forgive the old man.


York assesses the explosiveness of the situation and tries to defuse the tension. He can be seen as symbolizing the theme of order in the play. He does not wish to disrupt the equilibrium of the present situation. He maintains this stance throughout the play, even after the deposition, when he transfers his allegiance to Bolingbroke. York attempts to subdue Richard's anger by affirming Gaunt's love for him. He ironically compares Gaunt's love to that of Bolingbroke. Richard's answer almost foreshadows his impending doom: "as Hereford's love, so his; / As theirs, so mine; and all be as it is." With this, the mood of fatalism and the inevitability of his decline is reinforced.

Gaunt's death is soon announced by Northumberland. Richard's reaction is artificial and cynical in tone. He callously dismisses Gaunt and proceeds to seize Gaunt's property, without acknowledging that, according to the laws of inheritance, it belongs to Bolingbroke. His actions disgust York, who reminds him that he is violating the very rights by which he gained the throne. York expresses his discontent and then launches into a criticism of Richard's actions. Richard interrupts him with a taunting, "Why, uncle, what's the matter?" Richard disregards York's input regarding the laws of succession and says: "Think what you will, we will seize into our hands / His plate, his goods, his money, and his lands." Richard is beyond counseling, and nobody can prevent his downfall.

Richard then announces his decision to leave for Ireland. He reveals his unpredictable nature as he appoints York as the regent during his absence. York is aged and physically unfit to assume the responsibilities of governing the state. This decision reflects a lack of political insight on Richard's part. He then sets off for Ireland when the volatile situation requires his presence in England.

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