When Divine Right Goes Horribly Wrong

The right of the crown is an issue that becomes predominant within Richard the II. Power struggle has been a main conflict since the very start of the play when Richard plans to keep his hands on the crown for as long as he can. Little does Richard know, there are forces much more powerful and threatening than the power of a king working against him from the very beginning. After the challenges against Richard’s abdication, the Bishop of Carlisle’s monologue plays a key point in the final rumination of a plethora of warnings and curses plaguing those whom come into power who fail to meet the requirement of becoming a true, mighty, and rightful king: divine right.

Carlisle’s invocation of this major aspect of a true king articulates the foreshadowing downfall of those whom anger God by usurping his very throne and claiming a false rule in England. Carlisle explicitly states that a king, “the figure of God’s majesty, / His captain, steward, deputy elect, / Anointed, crowned, planted many years (4.1. 116-18), and that all else whom fight for the thrown are considered “inferior” (4.1. 119). The dark prophecy that is administered Carlisle upon Bolingbroke, “and, if you crown him [Hereford], let me prophesy / the blood of English shall manure the ground / [. . .] / Disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny / Shall here inhabit, and the land be called / The field of Golgotha and dead men’s skulls” (4. 1. 127 – 35), was similarly prophesied earlier by John of Gaunt back in Act 2, Scene 1 and placed upon Richard the II. The lingering effect of these prophesies, though foreshadowed to later events in Act 5, play the descriptive and explicit role in defining the authority of the king. As John of Gaunt had told Richard back in Act 2, Scene 2, “Landlord of England art thou not, not king, / Thy state of law is bondslave to the law,” (113-14), the traitorous action of usurping God’s throne from the true king of England places Richard as king only by name, and as a lesser lord of the land by right.

             The curse, just like the one that Mercutio casts within Romeo and Juliet, though more prominent through several different characters placing said curse within Richard II, becomes a motif that cannot be avoided unless divine sanction is the process in which a new king is anointed. The corruption, illuminated by men whom try to “express the thought and will of God” (prophecy, oed.com) and either die or are imprisoned as traitors to the crown, establishes the downfall of those whom are unfit, unqualified, and untrue to govern over an entire realm and who falsify their claim to be considered a figurehead of God. For those who are unworthy of divine right are plagued and plague the land with civil unrest “lest child, child’s children cry against you in woe” (4.1.140).


One thought on “When Divine Right Goes Horribly Wrong

  1. veronicabaran

    I thought it was really interesting how your post invoked the idea of the “curse” and how it related to Romeo and Juliet – I made the same connection when I was reading, too. As you imply, I think it all seems to relate back to the prevalence of religion in the era – the idea that God is everything – particularly when it comes to kings, royalty, etc. I’m unsure of what Shakespeare is trying to indicate here with all of these “curses,” but I think the repetition of them is certainly important to note, I think.


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