The Duel of Morality

Rirchard the 2ndseems to mediate on the power of the duel.  Two people have a disagreement and figure it out by putting their lives on the line for what they believe.  And the argument is usually about which moral values hold more weight: Law or Religion.  While one thrives the other diminishes causing this interesting battle in Richard.  In the first act we see Richard have to deal with the duel of Bolingbroke and Mowbray.  The confrontation rises from Bolingbroke knowing that Mowbray had a part in the murder of the Kings uncle.  The King himself interferes with their dispute because he has broken both the law and the religious aspect of morality by being apart of the plan to kill his uncle, banishing two noblemen because they know about his underlying tie to the murder, and his lack of care for the law to be acted out on these two noblemen.  He is above the law but he is also trying to be above God.  And at that point he has a “duel with God”, because his beliefs are based in Religion but he goes against his ideas to keep himself in power.  But obviously this backfires.

So to bring it back to Act 4 and 5, when Bolingbroke brings Richard in for trial and the barrage of gages are thrown the real purpose of the duel is shown.  And that is that they don’t have much of a purpose they are more symbolic than actual.  The duel is a simple one on one showdown but here everyone throws their gauges at once vying for power and attention.  They are like small dogs barking very loudly and are trying to look very scary but everyone knows they wouldn’t burst a grape in a food fight.  Also Shakespeare has it so none of them ever duel and both duels are reflections upon the Kings.  Richard is hiding from his past and uses the duel to procrastinate his demise.  While on the other hand Bolingbroke uses this duel to set the tone for his reign by not allowing it to have the weight it should.  He just puts off all their duels because he wants Mobray to come and give his account but Mobray is dead and Shakespeare doesn’t even have the King give his sentencing about why he stopped the duels and what shall become of these arguments.  But later on in Act 5 scene 2, we see the son of the Duke of York and he lost his title seemingly due to King Henry’s judgment.  He as a King seems much more prepared and at ease with power while we see Richard decay quicker and quicker as his whole identity was King.  The duel is supposed to be law but it is dealing with religious values here so it’s power demises.  Shakespeare does this to question society at this time and to wonder why everyone follows and no one leads, except for maybe Bolingbroke, but we shall see how much of a leader he is coming up in the next play.   

One thought on “The Duel of Morality

  1. Cyrus Mulready

    This is a great way of looking at the play, Sam! The action is structured around a series of duels, and, generally, has the structure of "antithesis" that we talked about in class. This also lends itself nicely to the religious and moral interpretations brought up in class and on the blog. For the notion of a "duel" is closely tied to the spiritual ideas of good and evil within Christianity.


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