Richard II

by: William Shakespeare

Act III, scenes i-ii

However, everyone involved--Bolingbroke, his followers, Bushy and Greene, and the play's readers--know that Bolingbroke's intentions are not nearly so pure: his real motivation for executing Bushy and Greene is to weaken Richard so that Bolingbroke himself can take the crown. As in the scenes of political challenge in Act I, scene i, and of duel and banishment in Act I, scene iii, the real political maneuverings here are never openly acknowledged. Instead, they are masked by a wall of words.

Act III, scene ii, which shows us Richard's return from Ireland and his discovery that he has lost England in his absence, is one of the most crucial scenes in the play. It marks a transformation for Richard: from here on in, the king who has spoken so carelessly and rudely, and who has ignored the words of so many of his advisors, will metamorphose into a brilliant and effective poet, often considered one of Shakespeare's most eloquent characters. From here until the end of the play Richard's poetry will become increasingly exalted, and his wordplay obviously superior to that of anyone around him. At the same time, however, he will become increasingly self-absorbed and abstracted from the realities around him.

Richard's speeches in this scene address one of the play's central themes: What is a king? Is he divinely anointed and invulnerable, or merely a human being like any other? At the beginning of the scene, Richard is secure in his divine power as King--the same power that John of Gaunt respected in Act I, scene ii, when he refused to rise against him. Richard tells Aumerle, "Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm off from an anointed king; / The breath of worldly men cannot depose / The deputy elected by the Lord" (54-57). This is a thoroughly medieval way of thinking about kingship--the king as a direct deputy of God, immortal and invulnerable. But, as Richard learns that he has already lost his kingdom, his rhetoric changes rapidly: "Our lands, our lives, and all, are Bolingbroke's... / [T]hrow away respect, / Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty; / For you have but mistook me all this while. / I live with bread like you, feel want, / Taste grief, need friends" (151-2; 172-76).

More Help

From the SparkNotes Blog