The Divine Right of Kings

In Act Four Scene One of Richard II, the Bishop of Carlisle expresses an unpopular opinion about King Henry IV’s rise to power stating that, “My lord of Hereford here, whom you call king, / Is a foul traitor to proud Hereford’s king; / And, if you crown him, let me prophesy / The Blood of English shall manure the ground, / And future ages groan for this foul act,” (4.1.125-129).  The bishop here is stating that Henry IV is a traitor for usurping Richard’s throne, since Richard being the rightful heir is the one proclaimed by divine rule to be King of England, whether or not the people love him the way they do Bolingbroke.  

Similarly, in the same scene Richard states “Therefore no, no I resign to thee. / Now mark me how I will undo myself . . . The pride of kingly sway from out my heart. / 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,” (4.1.192-200).  Richard, somewhat reluctantly, gives up his throne and rights to the crown of England.  It’s important to note that Henry IV can only rise to power with Richard’s abdication or death; and politically Bolingbroke would have many more allies if he convinced Richard II to abdicate on his own.  Therefore, once Richard has no other choice, Bolingbroke can easily take the crown without violence and makes the decision seem like one that Richard had agreed to.

This usurping, according to the Bishop of Carlisle, is what will ultimately cause “disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny” (4.1.133).  Carlisle’s prophecy, is important because often in Shakespeare’s work prophecies occur in tragedies when death is about to happen.  Historically the Lancaster and York family fought for control of the throne of England for years because of Richard II’s abdication and eventual death.  Claims to the throne were unclear because of the lineage of the two families.  Shakespeare would have known this at the time of writing the play and most likely for effect and entertainment had the bishop’s “prophecy.”  Does this add any sort of meaningful effect for the reader, especially knowing the history of England or is it simply a plot ploy on Shakespeare’s part? 

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3 thoughts on “The Divine Right of Kings

  1. wolferamanda

    I really important feature of Richard II is how Shakespeare uses the real laws of kingship in England during this time. In your post, you remind me of last class when we discussed the rules of heir’s and how power is traded off. it was difficult to piece together the laws and how Bolingbroke became king in the last acts of the play. Your post helped clear that confusion up for me and offered insight into details of kingship.

    Reply
  2. wolferamanda

    A really important feature of Richard II is how Shakespeare uses the real laws of kingship in England during this time. In your post, you reminded me of last class when we discussed the rules of heir’s and how power is traded off. it was difficult to piece together these rules and how Bolingbroke became king in the last acts of the play. Your post helped clear that confusion up for me and offered insight into details of kingship.

    Reply
  3. pamsutherland

    The prophecy definitely has an effect on the play. It sets the tone as one of fear and worry about the overthrowing of Richard. Without it we might see the takeover as something the people were glad to have. Bolingbroke was loved, Richard was not. This may give us the false sense that the people were all for the overthrow of Richard. If not for the prophecy we may have fallen for Henry’s stealthy deception about not really wanting to take the kingship but only get what was rightfully his.

    Reply

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