My first thought on beginning this play is that if I had to live under a King, King Richard II would be the last person that I would pick. At the beginning of the play, he’s already off to a bad start. He breaks up the verbal fighting between Mowbray and Bolingbroke only to plan to have them duel instead.
After this, we find out that John of Gaunt won’t avenge his murdered brother, Thomas of Gloucester, even though his widowed wife, the Duchess of Gloucester, is practically begging him to. We then find out the Richard II was behind this murder. John of Gaunt won’t seek revenge because he truly believes that King Richard II was appointed specifically by God. He basically says leave it to God to seek revenge saying: “Which made the fault that we cannot correct,/ Put our quarrel to the will of heaven (1.2.5-6).” Really? John of Gaunt won’t avenge his brother’s murderer? Because King Richard II was appointed by God? While this may seem ridiculous to us, this was actually a common belief during this time period as can be seen in King James 1, Works: Divine Right of Kings Chapter 20. “Kings are justly called gods, for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power upon earth: for if you will consider the attributes to God, you shall see how they agree in the person of a king.” King Richard II shows no qualities of a God, except maybe the ability to control all of his subjects and being unpunishable for murder.
In the next scene, everyone is looking forward to watching Mowbray and Bolingbroke fight but once again King Richard II ruins that as well and stops the fight. This works to his advantage because Bolingbroke, who was popular with his subjects, might have taken his crown. Maybe he would make a better king? But what what does King Richard II do? He banishes him for ten years. Mowbray killed Thomas of Gloucester because King Richard II told him to. King Richard II couldn’t have anyone finding out about that so what does he do? He banishes him too! Forever! He is punishing him, according to his subjects, for treason even though he was the one who planned it. Mowbray has to take it and cover up for King Richard II because, as everyone knows, he was “appointed by God.” Mowbray leaves and King Richard II sees John of Gaunt sadden by the fact that he’ll probably never see his son again. So the wonderful King Richard II steps up and changes his mind and only banishes Bolingbroke for six years. King Richard II to the rescue!
Too bad John of Gaunt dies pretty quickly after. Not before he gives his two cents on King Richard II though, saying “His rash, fierce blaze of riot cannot last,/ For violent fires soon burn out themselves” (2.1.33-34). He says “how happy then were my ensuing death” (2.1.68). John of Gaunt is actually happy to die because King Richard II has spent all of the money and pretty much messed everything up for everyone. When hearing he is about to die, King Richard II does what any respectable nephew would do; he wishes him to die quickly. “”To help him to the grave immediately./ The lining of his coffers shall make coats/ To deck our soldiers for these Irish wars” (2.1.59-61). John of Gaunt’s death is convenient for King Richard II. He is going to take John of Gaunt’s money once he’s dead, even though it probably should belong to the banished Bolingbroke, to fund his trip to the war in Ireland. That’s okay though because he is the King which gives him the right to do whatever he wants with no one to stop him. Can he get any worse? So King Richard II, please accept your award.