In the opening scene, King Richard the Second confronts two feuding noblemen--Mowbray and Bolingbroke, the king’s cousin--who accuse each other of treason and demand a resolution by combat. The king’s irresolute and theatrical handling of this episode indicates his weakness and inability to rule. Instead of permitting combat he vacillates and then banishes both men.
Needing revenues for a military campaign in Ireland, the king initiates schemes of taxation and confiscation of property which alienate both the nobility and the commoners. While Richard is in Ireland, his banished cousin, Bolingbroke, returns to claim titles and property seized by the king. Discounting Richard’s view of divine right, the entire populace flocks to Bolingbroke’s banner, an indication that the real power in England belongs to him. Lacking support against Bolingbroke, Richard agrees to abdicate and Bolingbroke ascends the throne as King Henry the Fourth.
Following his imprisonment, Richard recognizes the extent of his misrule and his flaws. His understanding through suffering and his vain attempt to save his life during an attack by assassins arouse the reader’s sympathy for a hero too weak and self-indulgent to be genuinely tragic.
Essentially a one-man play chronicling the king’s fall, the work incorporates strongly contrasting characters--Richard and Bolingbroke. Richard--emotional, willful, theatrical, poetic--prefers words to actions,...
(The entire section is 557 words.)
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