King of Discontent

In Act five, scene five, Richard II, imprisoned and no longer king, is alone onstage. His soliloquy in the beginning of the scene expresses his loneliness and his reflections on how he spent his life. The most important element of his reflection is his understanding of his own thoughts and his sense of self. He uses the term thought (or thoughts) is eight times in lines 1 to 66 alone. He describes the creation of his thoughts through his “brain” being “the female to [his] soul” which is “the father” (lines 6-7). His brain and soul mate and “beget/ A generation of still-breeding thoughts” and that “these same thoughts people” the world (lines 7-9). It is interesting that Richard II uses a metaphor of thoughts being birthed by his mind, because these thoughts become both his only heir and the only thing he leaves behind after death because Bolingbroke took his title, freedom, crown, and any chance of a legacy.
Richard II speech continues discussing thoughts, and the evils inherent in them. He explains that “no thought is contented” like that “the people of [the] world” are not content (lines 10-11). He also states that good thoughts, or “thoughts of things divine” are corrupted by “scruples” and contradict themselves (lines 12-13). Richard uses the discontent in the being of thoughts to introduce and explain the discontent within him. He describes himself as “sometimes…king,” then a “beggar,” and then “king’d again” (lines 32-36). All of this by means of his own brain and thoughts, and then he is finally “unking’d by Bolingbroke” (line 37). This way he is as confused and separated as his thoughts were earlier in the speech. After all of this, he declares himself to be “nothing,” and his discontent shall continue until man is capable of being content “with being nothing” (lines 38-41). The entire speech becomes a discussion of his grief at losing his crown, which made him everything he was. By being forced to give his crown away, Richard made himself nothing, which he cannot be content with. His own thoughts are at war with his pride, vanity, and idea of self because they point out what he has lost.
The music that Richard hears leads him into a discussion of keeping time, which is Richard’s way of coming to terms with the time he wasted while he was king, and now imprisoned, sees the time wasting him. After describing himself as a clock, depicts Bolingbroke as being the “Jack of the clock” which strikes his “heart, which is the bell,” and that Richard’s “time/ runs posting on in Bolingbroke’s proud joy” (line56-60). The metaphor of the clock and time reveal Richard’s understanding that he is subjected under Bolingbroke” This also, in the action of Bolingbroke striking Richard’s heart like a bell, shows that Richard is pained by Bolingbroke’s position over him.

6 thoughts on “King of Discontent

  1. Sammo Khan

    You've raised up some truly amazing and interesting points. It is astonishing how Richard, as an individual, had accomplished nothing for himself and had nothing to go back to after kingship was taken away from him. If he had committed to something else, he may not have been in such despair when everything he knew to be his, was taken away. This goes back to his "right" to be king as he was appointed by God, shouldn't God have provided him with an alternative now that God decrees that he not worthy of kingship anymore? I also love the point when he hears music and dwells upon how much time he wasted. If he had spent his time more wisely as a king he would most likely not be in the situation he is in now but he took his rights for granted and lost everything in the end.

  2. Timothy

    One of the points that you raised that I found very interesting was how Richard appears lost after he was dethroned. This is something that I believe that happens to everyone after they go through a loss of great magnitude or some massive change. Here Richard has lost all of his power and authority and as such he has no real sense of who he is. With this sudden and very dramatic change in circumstance, Richard is forced to look at himself for who he really is instead of hiding behind his status as king for the very first time.

  3. Steph Cryan

    You raise some really amazing points here that I found to be truly enlightening and focused on the character of Richard. But I am going to focus on a point that you bring up in the first paragraph, that the thoughts Richard has that he treats like his children are truly his only "heirs" in a way. His thoughts also became what he did as a king and are his "legacy" so to speak, so in many ways, his thoughts are his children as you say, which is a brilliant point to make. He truly leaves behind nothing and is truly lost, except for his thoughts.

  4. Ray Kelly

    I was really interested in the ideas you brought up in this post. Richard finally had to face himself without the crown and he no longer knew what he was. The crown made the man in this case. Richard could not commit to anything but himself and his own needs, but without power he can no longer do this. Now he is forced to try to live without the crown but he has nothing else to live for.

  5. Emily MacBrien

    This is a great analysis. And everyone brings up great points in the comments as well. One thing that struck me though, that we spoke about in class, was the question Can you really "unking" a king? If Richard was really appointed by God, is that something that can or should be taken away from him? I think perhaps that is why Richard is so lost after losing the crown, he has lost himself, everything he ever identified with; the crown is his life. The right to be King is in his blood and that is why the only real way to take the role from him is to kill him.


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