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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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Notes

This scene returns the audience to the issues which opened the play in Act I, Scene 1: the quarrel between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. Bolingbroke had accused Mowbray of participating in Gloucester's murder, and Richard summoned Bolingbroke to him to address this concern. Richard as the king had unsuccessfully tried to seek a peaceful solution and then had arbitrarily ordered a trial by combat to resolve the issue. Of course, Richard was trying to keep his own involvement in Gloucester's murder a secret. Here, it is Bolingbroke who is faced with the question of Gloucester's murder. Richard's inept handling of the earlier quarrel contrasts unfavorably with Bolingbroke's efficiency and presence of mind in this scene. The question regarding Gloucester's death has never been resolved. When Bagot is brought before parliament, he accuses Aumerle of arranging Gloucester's murder. Aumerle denies the charge angrily. This results in a rash of accusations and counter-accusations among the lords present because the issue involves them as well.

Shakespeare follows this dispute with Carlisle's announcement of Mowbray's death in Venice the year after he left England. But Shakespeare shows Bolingbroke in firm control of the situation. Historically, Henry IV allowed the issue of Gloucester's death to lapse, and he pardoned Richard's courtly favorites. Here, it is important for Bolingbroke to raise the issue of Gloucester's death before parliament to show that he has been unfairly exiled. The quarrel between the lords is depicted elaborately and realistically. It recalls the verbal squabble between Bolingbroke and Mowbray in the opening scenes of the play. Bolingbroke, who has changed, remains calm throughout and only intervenes in an attempt to pacify the nobles with the suggestion that they wait until Mowbray can be recalled to England.


In the next few lines, York proclaims Bolingbroke king. The ceremony is interrupted by the Bishop of Carlisle, who asserts Richard's divine right to rule and prophesies a civil war if Bolingbroke is crowned. The Bishop of Carlisle's speech is extremely elaborate and stands out in stark contrast against the blunt realism of Bolingbroke. The bishop warns that Richard's deposition will have bloody consequences because it violates the wishes of God: "O, if you raise this house against house, / It will the woefullest division prove / That ever fell upon this curs'd earth!"

The Bishop of Carlisle's prophesy is borne out by the later events in the play. Shakespeare was profoundly aware of the effects of Richard's deposition on the personal lives of the Englishmen. Richard's deposition left the throne to be fought over by rival claimants in a series of civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses. These struggles ended only with the assumption of Henry VII to the throne. Therefore, the moment at which Richard removes the crown from his head and hands it over to Bolingbroke is one that radically altered the course of English history.

Northumberland (not Bolingbroke) interrupts the Bishop of Carlisle and orders his arrest for treason. Bolingbroke then summons Richard himself so that his accession as Henry IV may be "without suspicion." Bolingbroke is thus aware of the dubious origins of his power and demonstrates that in this atmosphere of corruption and intrigue, he wants to assume power in an open, public fashion.

It is the former king, however, who dominates this scene. Richard gives a dramatic performance as a deposed king and a humiliated man. He sees himself as Christ, who has been betrayed by many Judases. With Richard's arrival on stage, the note of treachery and betrayal becomes more intense. Richard takes the crown in his hands and bids Bolingbroke to take it from him. His willingness to dramatize his own situation contrasts with Bolingbroke's hesitancy to assume power. The crown itself becomes an important prop, with each man holding either side of it in a physical manifestation of the transfer of kingship. Richard compares the crown to a deep well which has two buckets. This is a metaphorical rendering of his own situation: "That bucket down and full of tears am I, / Drinking my griefs, whilst you mount up on high." Richard refers to himself as the bucket filled with tears. He is about to be deposed while Bolingbroke is going to ascend the throne.

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