Characterizing the King

King Richard is portrayed in almost every circumstance imaginable: in full power to order the lives of others, and in complete dissaray and loss of position. At the beginning of the play, Richard is as powerful as kings can be. He orders the banishment of Bolingbroke and Mowbray. He has been king since the early age of ten, and he’s just learning how to assert his powers, which is why, I personally believe, he ordered the banishment. The two disputers could’ve settled the matter there and then, but Richard had to step in and postpone the duel to a later date. The fact that he’s still unsure of how to use his power properly, he lowered the banishment years for Bolingbroke from ten to six. This gives off the sense that he is experimenting with his power, rather than being stubborn about it and sticking to his original decision. This decision does barely any good to anyone, especially none to Bolingbroke’s father, who won’t ever be able to see his son again, be it ten years or six, since he is so close to death as it is.

There’s also the question as to Richard’s intentions and his past. There is uncertainty if he has killed the Duke of Woodstock and if that was so, if this murder was for the good of the people and the land, or for selfish intentions. This matter was introduced very early in the play, which is normally unusual to do, as the play is long and the characterization of a person can be easily revealed over time and pages. The fact that so many characteristics and facts/rumors are thrown at the king so suddenly shows that, especially as the play progresses, that there is more to Richard than meets the eye. At the beginning, he seems like a poor excuse for a king, who still doesn’t know how to use his power rightfully. Later on, however, Shakespeare begins to slowly strip Richard of his power, his status, and his sense of self. It’s his way of saying, “if this man didn’t have his crown and sceptre, would he be anybody at all?”

In the video version of 3.2, King Richard is being shown as being stripped of his power and his inner struggle to maintain his sense of self as he realizes he’s losing everything. This is a fascinating representation of him as a man, as he was being played by a woman. I believe this sex-exchange role is significant and shows a different side to the king which wouldn’t be apparant if his role was played by a man. The woman shows his feminine side, as well as the fact that despite his power or loss of it, he’s a human being all in all. Despite his actions and his past and his inevitable future, he is a man who’s trying to do the right thing, despite his failures. He is also a man of feelings and fear and every human emotion that would be more obviously present if he weren’t king in the first place. This representation of him helps the readers/viewers connect with him on a deeper level, because who on this earth hasn’t lost something (or everything) dear to him? This personification kind of takes away from the idea that the king was given his role by God which makes him appear more realistic in our eyes, as well as help us draw a deeper connection to him.


One thought on “Characterizing the King

  1. ~Ariel~

    I agree with your observations. As the play progresses we see Richard use his power for his own gain, but the moment he loses his power & Bollinbroke takes over is when we see him begin to really consider what it means to be a king. He begins to realize that kings are human and even though their right to rule may come from God kings are only men. I think it's ironic and poinant that Richard begins to finally understand what being king means after he loses the power, like maybe he was blinded by the crown and the scepter. I also think it was really cool seeing Richard played by a woman. Like maybe when someone is king their masculinity is wraped up in their title so they can be strong and rule. But as they lose the power they become stripped even of that masculinity. Richard certainly just grew more and more interesting as the play went on.


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