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William Shakespeare's Richard II Essay examples

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The famed saying goes, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely". While this is true, an unwavering belief in the impenetrability of that power can be just as corruptive. In William Shakespeare's Richard II, the plays titular character faces exactly this dilemma. Believing his claim to the throne to be ironclad and divinely mandated, Richard finds himself at odds when he returns from war to find he has lost his power over England.
In the "death of kings" speech of Act III, scene II, Richard wrestles with the realization that though he is king, he is also a man. His kingship is symbolic and it is conferred not simply by title and grandeur, but through loyalty, leadership, and respect -- none of which Richard possesses by this point in the play. Realizing this, he must confront his own humanity and mortality, that is the reality that the English kingship will live on and he will die. Richard’s dilemma throughout the speech is illuminated in three keys realizations: first, that he is alone; second, that his kingship was a performance; and third, that the crown’s power is only symbolic.
First, is Richard’s realization that he is alone. This is particularly shocking to him, because this is the first time ever that Richard has found himself without anyone at his side. As king, he was never alone, surrounded by subjects and advisors who would tell him whatever he wanted to hear. He finds himself now without a single sympathetic voice, declaring at the beginning of the speech "Of comfort no man speaks!" (line 144). This is reason enough for Richard to abandon all hope, because as king, he could never even imagine being alone. This realization is such a shock to Richard that it affects him at the most basic level: his will to live.
He has not...


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... but death. Death rules over all the actions that have taken place, and is the driving force behind Richard’s despair.
Throughout the "death of kings" speech, Richard must grapple with the now all too obvious reality that he will die and his "divine right" to the throne will not protect him. All the pomp and theatrics of his reign have meant nothing, because he wields no real power and does not have the skills to rule. The crown itself is but a symbol, and Richard the man is left now with nothing but himself and no will to go on living. Richard has never known any identity but king, and without it, he can do nothing but sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of his own death and the inevitable death of all kings.



Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. "Richard II." The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Ed. David M. Bevington. 7th ed. N.p.: Pearson, 2014. 745-83. Print.


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