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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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John of Gaunt

Gaunt emerges as a well-meaning and sagacious uncle of Richard. His character is imbued with dignity. He is the representative of the ideals of the old England of Edward III. He is an impartial judge and does not favor his son, Bolingbroke, during the meeting of the parliamentary council when it decides to banish him. He is loyal to Richard. When he nears his death, he rebukes young Richard for his irresponsibility in administering royal revenue. His speech, glorifying England and comparing the former demi- paradise with the disastrous state it has become under Richard, puts the political theme of the play in the foreground. Gaunt serves as Shakespeare's spokesperson and as a trusted commentator on events.

The Duke of York

York ranks third in importance among the characters. He shows political insight in his comment to Gaunt that counseling and rebuking Richard is futile: "Direct not him whose way himself will choose" (II, 1). He shares Gaunt's horror at the way Richard is using England for his own profit, but he believes that the king should be excused because he is young and it is common knowledge that "young hot colts do rage the more." He is left in control of England as Lord Protector when Richard goes to Ireland. He is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of this position and is too old and weak to meet the demands of the job. Although he denounces Bolingbroke as a traitor for violating his sentence of exile and appearing in England with his army, he submits to him. He is torn by two conflicting claims of loyalty and kinship. Finally, he casts his lot with Bolingbroke. Later he reveals his son, Aumerle's, implication in the plot to murder the new king at Oxford. York's loyalty is contrasted with his son's shiftiness. York subordinates his fatherly feelings to his loyalty and patriotism. Some critics view York as a weak, indecisive man, while others hold the opposite view and see him as doggedly loyal to the country and the crown, irrespective of who is the king. Some have seen York as representing England, Christian magnanimity and the principle of stoicism.


Queen Isabel

The Queen is an excellent example of a stock Shakespearean female: a young, naive girl whose main role is to suffer. Isabel says and does little. In fact she stands on the periphery of events. She is informed of Richard's capture by a gardener. She is ignored and patronizingly treated by Richard and apparently spends her time with courtiers. In actual life Richard's queen was a child of nine, and although the queen in the play is an adult, she displays the pitiful naiveté of a child.

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