The power of the King

From the beginning of Richard II it is apparent exactly how much power King Richard actually has.  When his attention is brought to the dispute between Bolingbroke and Mowbray he has them come before him to air their grievances.  When the men come before the king they are instructed to explain their accusations.  After hearing what each man has to say, and observing them throwing down their gages at each other Richard II first instructs them to let their accusations go and “purge this choler without letting blood” (1.1.153).  It is here where the readers see the opposition to Richard’s power.  Mowbray is driven by his honor and explains that he will be shamed if he were to retract his gage, even though his king is commanding him to.  Bolingbroke also refuses, saying, “Shall I seem crest-fallen in my father’s sight?” (1.1.188).  Richard here appears to get frustrated and tells the men that if they will not obey their king and settle the dispute peacefully then they will settle it in a duel.  My question is this, did Richard set up the duel just to cancel it and lay down his own punishment on them both for defying him earlier or is there an even deeper meaning?  The display of power that Richard exhibits during the duel is one that could only be demonstrated by the king.  When Richard allowed the duel to begin and then immediately stopped it and passed a sentence on his own, one can’t help but wonder if he is bitter due to their previous engagement.  The sentence given to Mowbray is quite extreme, a life long exile based on just an accusation (at least in the eyes of the people) is a very strong sentence.  It is here that the reader must wonder if Richard had something to do with Mowbray’s involvement in the Duke of Gloucester’s death.  If he hired Mowbray to kill his uncle, however, wouldn’t Mowbray say something about this when being sentenced to leave his home land for the rest of his life?  The only thing that makes sense to me is that Richard had his uncle killed and framed Mowbray for it and then took advantage of the dispute between Mowbray and Bolingbroke to forever cover up his indiscretion.  In just the first act of this play it is very obvious that Richard has incredible power over his subjects and is not at all afraid to use it!


2 thoughts on “The power of the King

  1. Courtney Kiesecker

    Great post Cassie. I was wondering the same thing about Richard’s intentions for allowing the duel to come into existence only to toss it aside and elect his own punishment. I have a feeling that allowing the duel to be an option in deciding who the traitor to the king was, revoking the violent act, and then banishing the two men was set up in order to show the more benevolent side of Richard the II, maintaining his image to the people of England. It also very inconspicuous of Richard, whose reign in power is a much stronger bond to him than hos own kinsmen, to play the part of the benevolent king, throwing off the trail of his intentions to remain in power.

  2. alexatirapelli

    I didn’t even think about the fact that they were challenging the king here! I mean, obviously they were, but I didn’t really realize the implications of this. I’m afraid to challenge my boss; I can’t imagine challenging an authority figure such as a king, or President Obama. If the Queen of England implored me not to duel someone, I think I would listen. Anyway, I do wonder if Richard allowed the duel just for the sole purpose of halting it. And I also thought that Mowbray’s sentence was curious, because it was so long. Your theory is believable and I’m excited to see if it applies!


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