Power, Loyalty, and Language

There were many important themes that ran through Shakespeare’s play, Richard II.  Three themes that I will explore are; power, loyalty, and language.

The beginning scene of Richard II, the reader is thrust into a violent episode between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, who both accuse one another of treason.   King Richard tries to end this dispute peacefully without success. In the attempt to regain back power in his court, King Richard challenges them to a dual but on that scheduled day he stops the dual and banishes both men from England. 

At first glance it appeared to me that Richard attempted to do the right thing but as the play began to unravel I soon realized that he indeed was a cruel and unjust leader who conspired in the murder of his uncle, and nearly caused England to go bankrupt because of his unnecessary spending.     

What astonishes me the most was King Richard’s self-esteem.  He believed that he was God’s deputy, a chosen heir to the throne, performing God’s work on Earth.  He believed he was untouchable, showing no vulnerability to anyone or anything because he was chosen and protected under God. Abusing such power caused him such pain. Bolingbroke on the other hand believed that power was not inherited but one of privilege appointed by England’s subjects to choose a great leader to rule their kingdom.  

Loyalty was another big theme of the play.  It seemed as if you were either loyal to the King and his kingdom or to your family, you couldn’t be loyal to both. It was interesting to see how loyal Richard’s uncles were to him knowing how corrupt he was.  I am sure that their religious believes played a huge role in their loyalty to Richard.  Although, I believe that John of Gaunt’s loyalty was toward England and not for England’s king. Where as the Duke of York’s loyalty proved certainly not with his family, but of the king, whom ever it was.  

The women portrayed in this play had no power at all.  Their parts are very scarce in this play compared to others we have read.  Although their parts were so little and these women seemed to have little to no power, their loyalty remained true.  The Duchess of Gloucester and the Duchess of York stayed true and loyal to their families, giving the play a balance of honor between the political aspect of the play and the love of family.  

As I mentioned earlier I thought Richard attempted to do right but I was convinced early on that he was really corrupt and very vain.  In the end though Shakespeare’s language, the power of words used by Richard left me feeling sorry for him.  In Act 3, scene 2 the reader hears the strength, and because he has been chosen and anointed by God, King Richard believes he cannot be harmed,   “Not all the water in the rough rude sea/ Can wash the balm from an anointed king./ The breath of worldly men cannot depose/ The deputy elected by the Lord…” (50-53).   When he is apprehended and defeated by Bolingbroke, Richard’s words plucked at my heart strings in Act 4, scene 1, “With mine own tears I wash away my balm, With mine own hands I give away my crown, With mine own tongue deny my sacred state, With mine own breath release all duteous oaths…What more remains? (197-200,212). Richard’s poetic words were powerful enough to make me stop and reconsider how I felt, in the end I actually felt deeply sorry for him.       


One thought on “Power, Loyalty, and Language

  1. Amanda M.

    Laurie, I liked that it covered three central issues of the play. I agree it was very interesting to see Richard II go from on top of the world, being the deputy of god, to crying on the floor. It just shows how life can change so quickly even for a god chosen king. Duke of York does give the play a sense of honor although it was not very pretty to see him wish that his only son be executed. Where is the love?


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