Descents: Literal and Figurative

What I found extremely interesting was Richard’s literal and figurative descents throughout the play, which we see a number of towards his final actions. The very first descent that I took note of — which intrigued me enough to start noticing more — was when Henry Bolingbroke came back with his army just to “get his land back.” We later learn that may not have been his only intentions. Bolingbroke arrives at the castle in Act III and, through a message from Northumberland, asks King Richard to come down from the castle walls to have a chat with him about revoking his banishment. And Richard does. Is King Richard really taking orders from a man in exile? Yeah, you read correctly. But it’s alright, he won’t be King for very long. His literal descent from the castle walls turned to a figurative descent quite quickly; the talk about exile actually became a chat about Bolingbroke inheriting the throne. 

The next descent, and also farewell, was the scene between Richard and Isabel. Here we see a dynamic side of Richard, which we haven’t seen before.

“What, is my Richard both in shape and mind
Transformed and weakened? Hath Bolingbroke
Deposed thine intellect? Hath he been in thy heart?
The lion dying thrusteth forth his paw
And wounds the earth, if nothing else, with rage
To be o’erpowered” (4.1.26-31).

She sees his strength and willpower being diminished and is visibly upset over it. But what made this scene so interesting to me was how they didn’t want to part: “One kiss shall stop our mouths, and dumbly part. / Thus give I mine, and thus take I thy heart.” (5.2.95-96). Richard even asked if he could be sent away with his wife but was denied the pleasure – probably because of the threat of a child who could inherit the throne. Although this side of Richard is paralleled with growing weakness and exile, does his relationship with his wife change the way you feel about him?

And even more generally, does the proof that he can show genuine emotion for someone other than himself change the way you feel for his character? Does it create more depth for an otherwise shallow and straight-forward individual? 


3 thoughts on “Descents: Literal and Figurative

  1. seanlofgren02

    Yes indeed it does. This was a great post and I also was shocked to see Richard suddenly care so selflessly for another person, although he doesn’t seem to put up the same amount of fight as he does when giving up his crown, even when he is told that Isabel was going to France and him elsewhere. Perhaps he simply feels too defeated/demoralized at this point to fight any longer or perhaps his crown meant more to him that his wife. I thought the passage you picked was a good one. It reminded me of Lady Macbeth questioning Macbeth’s manhood and sort of making him feel guilty for not standing up for himself/her. Shakespeare seems to enjoy the strong female character who tries her luck with pointing out the obvious faults of the men around them. Duchess of York/Duchess of Gloucester are other examples as well.

  2. gallaghj1

    I like your last two questions. I think it is important to note how drastically that one simple scene can change our perception of a character. Richard was a bad King but should he be judged so harshly because he was born into something he wasn’t meant to do. He didn’t really have a choice to become King. I think the scene with his wife challenged my thoughts on Richard and made me dislike Bolingbroke. I like how Shakespeare makes a 360 by using this scene and then repeats the beginning of the play at the end just by using different characters. Great post!

  3. gmedulla727

    This is a great observation. I cannot seem to get the image of a child out of my mind when I think about King Richard, which is why I have sympathy for him—I do not want too, but I do for some reason. I think at the end he becomes more human-like and realizes how corrupt, impulsive, and narrow-minded his life has been under the crown. Even though he was not the best king, he was clearly not the worst and so I never hated him as a character. I think in the end the audience becomes even more sympathetic towards him when he gives up his crown.


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