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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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Notes

This scene depicts the consequences of the deposition on an individual family, as revealed by the domestic squabble that erupts in the York household. It demonstrates the complexity of the issue of loyalty: is York is correct in being loyal to the crown, or is Aumerle right to be loyal to Richard? Does Aumerle owe loyalty to his father? There is also the example of the duchess, who is fiercely loyal to her family and does not want her husband to report their son's involvement in a crime.

The scene opens with York narrating the different receptions accorded to Bolingbroke and Richard when they came to London. While the commoners hailed Bolingbroke and prayed for his happiness, they threw dust and rubbish on Richard's head. York's description of the contrasted entries of Richard and Bolingbroke highlights Richard's devastation. It also underlines Bolingbroke's political submission to the commoners as he thanks them for their blessings. There is again a sense of display and performance associated with Richard in York's description of the way the crowd of the commoners turned its attention from Richard to the new king; it is said to have happened "as in a theater." Running through York's narration is also a touch of Christian compassion for the unfortunate. There is a reference made to the badges of grief, patience and sorrow, which characterize Richard's countenance.

York sees these events as being divinely ordained and thus transfers his fealty to Bolingbroke. York's shift of loyalty is a result of long thought and deliberation. He had earlier acknowledged that two conflicting claims were tearing him apart. When Bolingbroke arrived in England, York had denounced him as a traitor for violating the sentence of exile. But he is also sympathetic to Bolingbroke because of Richard's unwarranted confiscation of his titles and property. York is critical of the way Richard farmed England for his own profit. York's final decision is to transfer his loyalty to the new king. His character shows devotion struggling with exasperation at the corruption and incompetence of Richard. Some commentators have seen York as a political opportunist who casts his lot with the winning side after seeing Boilingbroke's strength. But York has to be judged within the framework of the entire play. His loyalty is not to an individual king but to the country and the crown.


When York discovers his son, Aumerle, plotting against Henry, he vows to reveal the conspiracy to the king. Historically this plot was hatched in December of 1399. The Earls of Aumerle, Exeter and Surrey, along with Salisbury, the Bishop of Carlisle and other friends and supporters of Richard, met at the Abbot of Westminster's house and plotted to murder Bolingbroke and his sons and to restore the deposed Richard to the throne. The revolt took place in January but failed miserably. Henry was warned in time, and his army squelched the conspirators.

Shakespeare is concerned here with the issue of conflict within the family and with political obedience. Thus he focuses on Aumerle's part in the rebellion of the earls. Historical accounts reveal that Aumerle (Rutland) had betrayed Richard first in Wales. He had then betrayed Henry in London, and finally, he betrayed his fellow earls. Shakespeare omits Aumerle's betrayal of Richard and makes him a firm supporter. Thus Aumerle's participation in the earls' rebellion appears as devoted loyalty to his former king. Shakespeare is not simply reporting historical events but using the discretion of a dramatist to shape characters and events.

Shakespeare also makes Aumerle's betrayal of the earls seem to be the result of pressure by his parents. This sense is heightened by the duchess of York's excessive maternal concern for her only son. In actual life, however, the duchess was York's second wife and Aumerle's stepmother. Aumerle also had a younger brother.

It is difficult to condemn Aumerle's loyalty to Richard since the source of Bolingbroke's power and authority as a king is dubious. He has no right to govern because he has seized the throne by deposing Richard, who was God's anointed king. Another point to consider is York's over-energetic readiness in sacrificing his own blood for a usurper who has only used him as a means to reach the throne. York's action is motivated by fear. Distrust and fear become the order of the day under Bolingbroke's rule.

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