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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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Notes

By the opening of the last act, there is a certain lowering of the dramatic tension, since the central contrast between Richard and Bolingbroke has already been fully established. The action moves forward rapidly towards its anticipated outcome. This scene presents Richard's last meeting with his queen. It marks the steady progress of his decline. Richard has always seen himself as a performer before an audience. In this scene, however, he is confronted with his own self. He is seen in his private role as a man who is bidding farewell to his wife perhaps for the last time. This situation gives the scene an intense emotional content. The degeneration of Richard's appearance is evident from the queen's first words when she sees Richard approaching. There is a vast difference between Richard's present state and that of his former self. The queen remarks that the "fair rose" (Richard) has withered. The Richard who had dazzled all who looked upon him has now become a pathetic figure. The queen calls Richard in his present state "King Richard's tomb, / And not King Richard." She compares Richard to a "beauteous-inn" whose lodger is hard- favor'd grief." Thus Richard has greatly changed from his former glorious self. She contrasts Richard with Bolingbroke, who is "common," but that same quality has won Bolingbroke popularity with the people and smoothed his path to the throne.


When the queen sees Richard approaching, she instructs her attendants to look at him so that they may dissolve to dew out of pity for his decline and "wash him fresh again with true-love tears." This outpouring sets the tone for much of the scene. But her pity is soon transformed into anger, and she chides Richard for showing such meekness and helplessness in the face of adversity. She demands of him whether Bolingbroke has also deposed his intellect and the capacity to reason coherently. Richard has undergone a radical alteration both physically and mentally. This change angers the queen, who tries to rouse his drooping confidence through reproach. She tries to instigate him into taking some action by telling him that even a dying lion does not surrender easily and wounds the earth with his paw to express his rage at being overpowered. She is amazed at what in effect amounts to Richard's conspiracy with his own fate. She taunts him, saying "wilt thou, pupil-like, / Take thy correction mildly, kiss the rod, / And fawn on rage with base humility, / Which art a lion and a king of beasts." Richard's reply is that he has been "a king of beasts indeed; if aught but beasts, / (he) had been still a happy king of men."

To Richard his former glory appears to be a happy dream" from which he has been awakened to the rude reality of his present state, "to the truth of what (he is)." He luxuriates in his grief as he instructs Isabel to tell old folks sitting by the fire on tedious winter nights the sorrowful tale of his life and send them to their beds weeping. He almost seems to be enjoying his role as a wrongly deposed king and wallows in self-pity.

These melancholy ruminations are suddenly interrupted by the entrance of Northumberland, who returns the scene to harsh reality. He has come to convey Richard to Pomfret Castle and tells Isabel to return to her native France. This infuriates Richard, who denounces Northumberland for being the means through which Bolingbroke ascended the throne. Richard's reaction is almost prophetic in tone, and he warns Northumberland that he foresees an era of discord caused by the enmity that will arise between Northumberland and Bolingbroke. Richard warns him: " . . . thou shalt think, / Though he divide the realm and give thee half, / It is too little, helping him to all; / And he shall think that thou, which know'st the way / To plant unrightful kings, wilt know again, / Being ne'er so little urged, another way / To pluck him headlong from the usurped throne."

Usurpation breeds rebellion because the forces who helped the usurper for their own selfish ends soon become dissatisfied, and disorder eventually engulfs the entire nation. Richard presents a picture of the ruthless nature of politics in the world of "beasts." This speech also anticipates the action of the Henry IV plays, where Henry is perpetually tortured by the fear of deposition. This is the first time that Richard has voiced this theme so concretely. Northumberland grimly accepts Richard's prophetic vision with a curt " My guilt be on my head, and there an end." He obviously does not wish to argue with Richard.

The final parting of Richard and Queen Isabel is depicted along conventional lines, with the king praying the queen to be brief in her wooing sorrow and then kissing her twice to delay the farewell.

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