William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of King Richard II, first published in a quarto edition in 1597, is the first in a sequence of four history plays known as the second tetrology, which deal with the early phases of a power struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York. The Richard II of the play has been called both mercurial and self-indulgent; however, several sustained soliloquies in the play demonstrate how deeply realized his character is. During one of these soliloquies, which takes place after his imprisonment and before his murder, he seems to rediscover the qualities of pride, trust, and courage that he lost when dethroned-and so goes onward to meet his death with a spirit more powerful than ever before.
The scene (5.5), begins in the keep of Pomfret Castle, where Richard is being held prisoner, and starts on a despondent note as he tries to reconcile his life in prison with the life he led as king:
I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world;
And, for because the world is populous,
And here is not a creature but myself,
I cannot do it. Yet I'll hammer it out. (5.5.1-5)
Despite his despondency, Richard begins to explore how he might live his life out within the microcosm of the keep, and still keep some semblance of his former life. He finds his life in the keep lacking because it is unpeopled. However, the last line indicates a turnabout in this attitude. He is beginning to fight back against the internal forces that threaten to drag him into despair and loneliness when he states, in line five, that he will ìhammer it out.î
Because a king needs a ...
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... and the role that time will play henceforth in his life. These realizations have made him stronger, and fortified him against the future, for now he knows that he must depend upon himself, not upon the royal blessings of God.
With Richard's last words, we see the final result of this moment of truth, this self-realization, as he bravely assaults and kills two of his attackers before dying a noble death: ìMount, mount, my soul! thy seat is up on high;/Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to dieî (5.5.111-112).
McKay, John P., Bennett Hill, and John Buckler. A History of World Societies. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992. 452-454.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Richard The Second. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969. 554-667.
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