Worst Father of the Year Award Goes to…

Richard as King was the first to illustrate loyalty and forgiveness to one’s kin, reducing Bolingbroke’s banishment from ten years to six. As compassionate and empathetic as one might see Richard at his point, it becomes evident that Bolingbroke is the most compassionate towards his kin, even in comparison to the Duke of York. York is known as the conscious of the play, and yes, he does remain the one that can perhaps be deemed the most “uptight” and by-the-rules type of man, but he takes some extreme and unnecessary measures.

There is something to be said though regarding his eagerness to reveal his own son’s role in the plot to murder Bolingbroke. Why? Is he that concerned with sparing his own neck from the possibility of being called a traitor? Of course, loyalty to one’s king is the law, which is apparently the only value that York holds dear to him, rather than his own blood. Furthermore, Bolingbroke is a blood relation to York, but Aumerle is York’s direct flesh and blood, his son. Wouldn’t one’s loyalty lie with their own child? Is the combination of blood and kingship too strong for York to realize his moral duties?  I think that perhaps York has become too caught up in abiding the law to realize that he is breaking the law of parentage. He shouts to the king from outside a closed door “thou hast a traitor in thy presence there” (5.3.38).  His son should come first especially the protection of his life. It is widely known that traitors are executed, and York even goes as far as to beg Bolingbroke to order Aumerle’s execution. York goes beyond clearing his conscious of knowing the plot to kill the king and proceeds to suggest the proper punishment. He clearly oversteps his boundaries as a subject to the king in asking for a specific punishment, suggesting the incompetence of the king to think of the right course of action to be taken. York definitely goes beyond his civic duty to report the murder plot while disregarding the parental responsibility to protect his son and save his life.  The Duchess of York chides him, saying, “Is he not like thee? Is he not thy own?” (5.2.94). Her plea and reasoning is too much to enter into his conscious, and yet it is her reasoning that later saves her son from Bolingbroke’s power to execute Aumerle.

There are many other options that York could have taken: make sure Aumerle is safely in hiding before telling the king, tell the king but beg for mercy, or even refrain from running to the king but perhaps not lying to him if called to testify. Granted, these alternatives would place York’s life in danger, but it would be for the protection of his son. The ridiculousness of York’s plea for the execution of his own son is exemplified by the heated debate that takes place between York and his wife in front of Bolingbroke, and Bolingbroke’s decision to pardon Aumerle. York says, “Ill mayst thou thrive if thou grant any grace” (5.3.97). He is clearly looking for the death of his son, extenuating his belief that grace or pardoning will bring ill fate to the king. Even Bolingbroke, who was in the process of taking over the throne unjustly showed mercy to Aumerle and spared his life. York is portrayed as the teacher’s pet, except that even the “teacher” (or Bolingbroke in this case) isn’t that uptight.

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2 thoughts on “Worst Father of the Year Award Goes to…

  1. patricia

    I agree that York’s behavior was unjustified. There was any number of options he could have taken to show loyalty to his king as well as his kin. I believe if it wasn’t for the Duchess, Aumerle would have been executed. Bolingbroke did get rid of Aumerle’s co-conspirator’s, showing him mercy just as he himself had received earlier in the play. I agree with you that York could have sent his son to a safe place and fought for mercy from the king for Aumerle mistakes. York seems to be the pillar for law and justice but at what cost? Yes loyalty to one’s king is the law but lets face it Bolingbroke didn’t become king by law. Everything is not so black and white as York sees it!

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  2. Pingback: Looking for some more Shakespeare observations? | Noticing Shakespeare

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