Richard II

William Shakespeare is regarded as one of the world’s best play writes. He is responsible for a large collection of titles including Richard II. The true praise for Shakespeare’s work comes in the form of a claim which stated that he captures human nature in his works. This may be true, but I cannot understand how human nature can be categorised as one universal quality and be applicable to everyone. In my opinion, human nature is something we build up throughout our lives, either through personal experience or through our belief systems which may be self-created or passed down through family or society.

Personally I feel that Shakespeare’s plays are politically useful and an effective means of distributing “common thinking” as in class and society structures through popular mediums.  Also Shakespeare was closely tied with the current monarchy of the time. He implanted certain themes and warnings into his works. Throughout his plays threats to regal power are quashed and “unjust” rulers are removed from power by “noble” figures. Richard II can be viewed as a justification for the Tudor takeover of the throne. Richard II is a medieval king and thus believes that he has been appointed by god.

The divine right of kings was commonplace throughout these times. Richard is a poor leader who is consumed with greed at the expense of his country. He over-indulges in finery such as imported fashion while he raises taxes to pay for his expensive lifestyle. Also in the earlier stages of the play he refuses the right of combat. This is important as it was vital for people to lead through example. Richard’s refusal to fight gives the audience a clear indication of his week nature.

The play is basically a contrast between a bad leader, Richard, and a good one, Henry (Bolingbroke). We see from the start that Henry is the right man for the role of king. Henry of Bolingbroke can be seen as a metaphor and a symbol for the Tudor royalty. Richard’s character is assassinated throughout the play as Henry is put on a metaphorical pedestal. We see that Richard is closely linked to god as all meaning radiates from religion. We see contrast from Henry as his meaning radiates from himself. We also see that Richard is the personification of pleasure whereas Henry is the personification of virtue. The play Richard II shows Shakespeare’s close links with the Tudor monarchy. We see the onstage verification and justification of the Tudor takeover. We are shown that Henry, who represents the Tudors, is the perfect pragmatic politician. We also see how he has the support and respect of the people.

Shakespeare may capture the essence of human nature but I believe that we as the reader and spectator of his works are the empty vessel into which Shakespeare pours his well calculated and politically motivated ideals of human nature.

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5 thoughts on “Richard II

  1. Yes, I do agree with you – Shakespeare was a man of his times of course, which were very different from ours. But he is very interesting in the political sense – the insights on power and influence, ambition, jealousy etc. are fascinating and I think can definitely be applied to today’s world… Even to the little “Third World” island I live on, Jamaica…!

    • This post opened my eyes this morning. Thoughts have been swirling around regarding morality in different ages and worlds. Under the umbrella of “human nature” which innate truths are, in fact, just that? Which are written on our hearts from birth and which rain down on us throughout our lives and soak in, little by little?
      Many people (and writers) live in the moment, with tunnel vision on their goal and dreams. I believe Shakespeare’s brilliance lay in his ability to step back and see all the lives his stories would touch. He knew his words would resonate through the ages and therefore refined his messages to speak of the innate truth in us all.
      ….. Maybe :)

      • Yes… Maybe. How will we ever know what is in a writer’s heart? But the fact is that his words do resonate in an extraordinary way. I am sure he would be completely amazed to find that his plays are still being performed hundreds of years later, and that so many versions of his stories have been performed in various art forms, including film of course…

  2. I’d recommend the recent BBC ‘Hollow Crown’ version if you haven’t seen it (though sure you must have as this is a bit timely otherwise)… stands apart from the rest of the series which I find pretty awful in comparison. The scene where Richard tries to assert his right to the throne, atop the castle,in gold armour, was a great piece of film…

  3. Pingback: Richard II « Keelan Foley | Reason & Existenz

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