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Explore Shakespeare's presentation of Kingship in Richard II

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Introduction

Maria Tennant Mr Marston English Coursework Explore Shakespeare's presentation of Kingship in Richard II Richard II is a play that centres on Kingship; Shakespeare presents vanity and flattery using rich language throughout the play to articulate the hazards a King must avoid to ensure their position as King is maintained. During the play we see the character of Richard presented as vain and tyrannical; as a man who is attempting to escape the responsibilities that Kingship brings such as succession and leadership. Written almost wholly in verse, Shakespeare contrasts Richard with his successor Bolingbroke to emphasize how care of the kingdom of England and good judgement is inextricably linked with being a successful King. From the onset, Shakespeare presents Richard as vain. In Act I of the first scene Richard's interruption of the duel suggests his egotism. The duel gives Richard the opportunity to make a dramatic and grand public gesture, asserting himself as King. As the brawl develops Richard calls Mowbray and Bolingbroke to "forgive, forget, conclude and be agreed". Shakespeare's use of verbs in the imperative makes this statement a command. It implies Richard has paid little attention to the reason behind the quarrel, and is instead more interested in people concentrating on his lavish words and public display. The repetition of the "o" sounds and alliteration of the "f's" also brings a certain finality to the speech, perhaps hinting at Richard's self-important and haughty nature which we see resulting in his demise as King. ...read more.

Middle

His aloofness and hostility towards other members of his family jeopardizes the succession. The succession is presented as an essential element of Kingship as without an heir, Richard could plunge the country into bloody Civil War after his death if those around him disagreed about his successor. This, in conjunction with the divine right of kings is presented as a key element to kingship. According to Richard himself "Not all the rough rude sea/ can wash the balm off from an anointed King." Whilst this sums up Richard's self-image of being invincible due to his position of King, it also emphasizes the contemporary view of Shakespeare's time that a King is appointed by God and for this reason Kingship is sacred. The term "anointed" also reflects the sanctity of the Divine Right Of Kings and the word "balm" conjures up imagery of a King being coated in a shield created by divinity, thus emphasizing Richard's prestigious role. According to Gaunt, a King is "God's substitute, his deputy anointed in his sight". As before, Shakespeare chooses the term "anointed" perhaps to symbolise how sacrosanct the role of King is. The length of sentence combined with the rich words such as "God's substitute" sums up the attitude of Shakespeare's time about the tasks of a king and emphasizes the contemporary belief of providence, which dominates the play. Indeed, Shakespeare illuminates the importance of maintaining the succession using many themes and motifs in the play as well as in the storyline. ...read more.

Conclusion

As we see a change in Richard's personality, other motifs in the play also alter. The significance of blood from bloodlines to the spilling of blood and damage done to England changes for example changes; "Thy fierce hand hath with the King's blood stained the King's own land" powerfully relates to us how Richard has exploited his role as King and damaged England rather than nurturing it which is the true task of a King. To describe the hand as "staining" the land with "blood" creates a very powerful image of Richard damaging his Kingdom. By referring to his hands as the tools that created such destruction, Shakespeare strengthens the amount of responsibility the audience feels Richard has for the strife the country finds itself in. Also to a modern audience at least, the idiom "to have blood on one's hands" adds to the impact of Richard's words. Bolingbroke's allegory of Richard's flatterers as caterpillars is expanded later on in the play as Shakespeare presents the country metaphorically as a garden. The gardeners speak with pitiful regret of the country's condition and emphasize Richard's folly in not looking after his Kingdom. 'He had not trimmed and dressed his land as we this garden'-here the Gardener presents England as out of control and poorly tended to, emphasising how determination and fortitude which are both strengths associated with a gardener are an important layer to Kingship. ...read more.

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