We spoke a lot about bonds in our discussion of Taming of the Shrew and I find this topic coming up again in Richard II. The scene that really caught my attention was 5.3, when a conflict of interest occurs in regards to bonds. The Duke of York discovers that his son Aumerle, (now Rutland), was to take part in a plot to kill the king, and was contractually bound by his own signature. However, Aumerle goes back on his word and begs forgiveness from his cousin Henry IV, and the Duchess does so as well on her son’s behalf. The Duchess of York makes her argument in favor of the bonds between blood. Blood is family and family is love. During our class discussion, we spoke of the complications that arise from being directly related to the king. I was personally pleasantly surprised that Henry IV decided to pardon his cousin. But did he act justly?
Not according to the Duke of York, he didn’t. In class, the idea was brought up that York was the conscience of the play, and after this scene I believe that wholeheartedly. He was willing to rat out and sacrifice his own son if it meant that justice would be served. Unlike his wife, York is more concerned with being bound by duty and honor rather than blood. If we consider the Duchess’s argument to be a feminine take on the matter, and the Duke’s more masculine, what does that say about Henry IV as a king? Will he be seen as weak in the eyes of his people? Or is he just trying to distance himself from Richard, to whom the bonds of family meant nothing? Maybe Henry wants to prove that he is not someone who would banish his own cousin and steal their inheritance.
I found the Duchess’s argument particularly moving. “His eyes drop no tears, his prayers are in jest./ His words come from his mouth, ours from our breast./ He prays but faintly, and would be denied;/ We pray with heart and soul, and all beside./… His prayers are full of false hypocrisy;/ Ours of true zeal and deep integrity…” (5.3.99-106). It made me question why York was so quick to sell put his son. We learn earlier in the act that Aumerle has been stripped of his dukedom for siding with Richard. Does York see this as his son’s loss of masculinity? Is he ashamed? And will he be ashamed Henry for pardoning Aumerle? Henry is giving his family member special treatment, since he still resolves to punish the others involved in the conspiracy. I guess this answers a question I asked in my post about Romeo and Juliet; for Henry, blood bonds are stronger than a signature on paper or any other written law.