Disorder Ensues

Acts IV and V of Richard II are saturated with foreboding warnings. They are rich with imagery of disorder and chaos, which lead to the murder of Richard at the end of Act V. To begin, the Bishop of Carlisle states: “And, if you crown [Bolingbroke], let me prophesy/ The blood of English shall manure the ground,” as well as, “And in this seat of peace tumultuous wars/ Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound” (4.1.127-132). This is the ultimate image of society caving in on itself, literally falling to disgrace with noble British blood turning to manure on a once solid ground. It depicts family and countrymen at war with each other with nothing to unite them. It is utter chaos; it would confound the common people who have lived their lives guided by tradition –the tradition of the King’s divine right. The instability depicted in the Bishop’s warning prevails as the scene continues. In lines 176-179 Richard states, that he and Bolingbroke are like two buckets…“The emptier ever dancing in the air,/ the other down, unseen, full of water… Drinking my griefs, whilst you mount up on high.” Richard compares his and Bolingbroke’s desire for the crown to a well of water. Bolingbroke is the bucket that has risen, while Richard is the bucket sinking heavily toward the ground. However, despite the fact that Bolingbroke is mounted “up on high,” he is described as “The emptier ever dancing in the air,” which does not sound promising. He is empty –light-weight and dangling—as well as “dancing in the air” as if there is nothing to ground him; he could be knocked down at any moment. In both quotes, the English people’s relationship with the physical land is deteriorating with manure and the image of the new king dangling up in the air, far from the land he rules over. These ominous quotes come right before the crown is handed over to Bolingbroke.

Once the crown is handed over, we begin to see disorder actually ensue. Richard breaks a mirror right after parting with the crown. The glass shatters violently as he no longer recognizes his face; he feels instability and disruption internally. This parallels the disruption of order in the nation. In Act V, Richard and the Queen are separated and the tradition of marriage violated. The Queen inquires: “Must we be divided? Must we part?” (5.1. 81) while Richard exclaims in anger at this violation. Immediately following, the Duke of York’s family is broken apart by disagreement about allegiance to the king. York, whose son has conspired to kill Bolingbroke, says, “Mine honor lives when his dishonor dies” (5.3.68); meanwhile, the Duchess of York pleads for her son’s pardon. The scene is chaotic and the family burdened with dysfunction, no longer strong with loyalty and shared blood. York goes so far as to say, “Against them both my true joints bended be.” (5.3.96). A final piece of evidence for the disruption of order is the murder of Richard due to a convoluted exchange between Bolingbroke and a servant. Bolingbroke’s actions parallel those of Richard’s, and now we must question whether or not Bolingbroke was actually justified in taking the crown from a divinely chosen king. The disruption of order has begun on a small scale, within the royal family, but it’s implied that it will spread throughout the nation with the new King’s immediate involvement in murder (whether it was his intention or not).


One thought on “Disorder Ensues

  1. Cyrus Mulready

    This is an excellent analysis of the various forms of foreboding we find at the end of this play, Natalie. As we said at the outset of our discussion of _Richard II_, this is a play about the lead up to a civil war, and we see many hints and suggestions of the impending problems that face the state. Shakespeare does well, both in his language and plotting, in creating the sense of unease you describe so well here.


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