A Marriage Broken

The last two scenes of Richard II are filled with amazing plot twists, dialogue, and language as Bolingbroke makes his final moves to become the new King of England.  Richard is humiliated and delivers desperate and pathetic speeches on the loss of his previously divine right to rule.  Bolingbroke is merciless, perhaps most for separating Richard and the queen, Isabel.  “Doubly divorced!  Bad men, you violate a twofold marriage: ‘twixt my crown and me, and then betwixt me and my married wife” (5.1.71-73).   This first scene in Act V, the farewell between Richard and Isabel, is the only scene that we get a look at Richard’s marriage.  Most likely they were married through an arranged marriage, but the two seem to share a very deep affection for each other and are devastated that they have to part.

This scene stood out to me because in the first few scenes of the play, Richard is seen as a foolish, selfish, and ruthless king who consistently oversteps his lawful boundaries.  Several of the characters have very personal problems with Richard and how he runs foreign and domestic affairs, and his character is attacked continuously.  (“His rash, fierce blaze of riot cannot last, for violent fires soon burn out themselves” (2.1.33))  He is wasteful in his spending habits, relying on John of Gaunt’s death to finance the war in Ireland.  However in this scene, we see a different side of Richard, one who cares very deeply for another person, possibly even more than himself.   Richard is politically humiliated in previous scenes and at first you think that he cannot be broken any further; this scene shows how completely Bolingbroke destroys Richard not only through stripping him of his political power but by destroying his marriage as well.  The two symbolically trade the kiss that bound them, as well as their hearts that have been intertwined through their marriage, after the queen’s plea for Richard to be able to join her in France is denied.  The two must be parted, “hand from hand, my love, and heart from heart” (5.1.82).

Although the first scene in Act V is a very small part of the bigger narrative, I think it deserves a moment of reflection.  To see Richard lose his last ally, the last aspect of his life that might bring him some happiness after losing the throne, brings his actions into perspective.  He was a young king whose advisors flattered him and influenced his decisions until he became the king we are introduced to in the first scenes of the play.  Richard does get what’s coming to him, but to be separated from his wife, his blood by marriage, is a particularly poignant moment.

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4 thoughts on “A Marriage Broken

  1. wolferamanda

    I really enjoyed your post! I was sad reading the farewell between Richard and his wife. Most of the time, your spouse is always on your side and Bolingbroke stripped Richard of his rock, his wife, the queen. Although most characters in the play disliked Richard, his wife did not give up hope and Bolingbroke cruelly separates them. I understood that Bolingbroke wanted to put Richard in jail but to force his wife to France and him to northern England seemed a bit much for me and I see Bolingbroke as almost evil now.

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  2. VincentFinoWriting

    Wow, Dea, great insight. The scene between Richard and his wife was the most sincere moment in the play. The Richard and his wife have a genuine affection for each other, which seems to be the only real affection in the play. With that said, it did not seem like his wife gave him that much advice, especially since she’s not really present until the end of the play. It’s too bad she couldn’t guide him through his actions.

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  3. gallaghj1

    I agree that this scene is touching. Throughout the play, I feel bad for his wife who is just collateral damage in the fall of Richard. She had no choice but to marry him at a young age. They obviously love each other dearly, most likely because they’ve spent over half their lives together. She stands up for him in the garden and then again when she is being sent to France. She has no say in what happens to her and her life falls apart just as much if not more than Richard’s. I think this is a good example of how Shakespeare uses women in his plays to portray how vulnerable and voiceless women were during Elizabethan times.

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  4. veronicabaran

    Like the other commenters on this post, I agree that this is one of the more sincere and genuine (and somewhat heart-wrenching) aspects of the play. In a way, I almost wish the play focused more on their marriage, but perhaps it is the brevity of this scene that makes it so sad. We do not get a ton of insight on Richard’s marriage, but the scene still invokes quite a bit of compassion. Certainly a part of the play that warrants sympathy from the reader, I think.

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