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In what ways and to what purposes does Richard II engage with contemporary political thought (circa 16th Century)?

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Introduction

In what ways and to what purposes does Richard II engage with contemporary political thought (circa 16th Century)? When Richard II was first performed in 1595, it would have had heavy political impact especially upon thoughts on the issues of Kingship. Shakespeare drew upon the feelings originally penned by the likes of Erasmus (highly respected at the time on points of Kingship and G. Buchanan (The Powers of the Crown in Scotland). The public's attention had been drawn to the position of a King and his power after the reign of Henry VIII who detached himself and England from the Catholic church in 1532. This act provoked thought amongst literary types, who recalled that the King had been intended as the ruler by appointment of God, and so should conform to the church. The power and inherent goodness of Kings was questioned, and such writers show this. Erasmus, being a humanist, concentrated heavily in The Education of a Christian Prince (1516) upon the removal of celestial qualities which had been bestowed upon the title of "King" through the ages. ...read more.

Middle

Religion is also brought into this power equation, both by contemporary theologians such as John Calvin (who said that "the ordinance of God [is to be set against the rule of] the outraging licentiousnesse of Kinges"), and by the play itself. God is argued by Richard to be the divine decider of kings, as part of the Mythology of Kings, and Gaunt ("God's is the quarrel; for God's substitute, [hath] caused his death") and the church (represented by the Bishop of Carlisle) agrees. Bolingbroke and his followers are opposed to this (joined by Gaunt in his "inspired prophet" speech), as they believe the King should be a man of the people (like Bolingbroke), so that he can take care of the country well. After the rebellion against Richard II, the head of state was more careful not to incite such feelings, for example through church indoctrination (Elizabethan Church Homilies were anti-rebellion), and so such pro-monarchist characters as Richard represent such views and we are shown the error of their ways (seemingly) by the fates which befall them. ...read more.

Conclusion

Elyot describes the gardener as "wise and cunning" because he needs to be selectively discriminating in his "lopping away [of superfluous branches] that bearing boughs may live" [III.4 lines 63-4], that is to say, he must be harsh on some, but only those who are not needed and are holding back the more useful. This idea seems a common one at the time, and is put forward using another popular image of the body politic by George Buchanan, who says that a king should act fairly "by nourishing and gently assisting the weakened members and by diminishing the fullness and excess of that which does no good". By such close comparison with contemporary sources, the changing politics in the play can be seen, and this also gives us perhaps an insight into Shakespeare's own view of monarchy at the time. The issues attached) to power are complex and ongoing, but Shakespeare shows some of the problems that it can cause, while using a medium that is much more accessible to the general public than the writings of a certain Dutch humanist thinker. As a politically influential play, it could be said to have succeeded as it challenged many commonly held views, without being too extreme as to be dismissed as radical. ...read more.

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