Comparing Development of the King in Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, Henry V

Comparing Development of the King in Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, Henry V

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Shakespeare’s Development of the King in Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, Henry V

           Shakespeare's plays beginning with Richard II and concluding with Henry V presents an interesting look at the role of a king. England's search for "the mirror of all Christian kings" provided the opportunity to explore the many facets of kingship showing the strengths and weaknesses of both the position and the men who filled that position. Through careful examination, Shakespeare develops the "king" as a physical, emotional, and psychological being. By presenting the strengths and weaknesses of these characteristics, Shakespeare presents a unified look at the concept of "kingship" and demonstrates that failure to achieve proper balance in "the king versus the man" struggle, leads to the ongoing bloodshed examined in this tetralogy and the next.

         Richard II demonstrates the extreme of the conceit of divine right. He abuses his power and position caring only for the regal image he projects. His desire is for the physical, majestic appearance accompanied by the power and wealth of royalty. Richard desires to "look" the part which he succeeds in doing. In Richard II III.iii, York says of Richard in line 68, "Yet looks he like a king!" Richard does not care if he truly is a king with regard to responsibility for his subjects. He has interpreted divine right to be an agreement from God to him with no obligations to the subjects over whom he has dominion. This is exemplified in his attitude toward his ailing uncle, John of Gaunt, when he says to his friends, "Come, gentlemen, let's all go visit him. Pray God we may make haste and come too late (RII I.iv.63-64)." Richard's only interest is in the estates Gaunt's ...

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7. Council, Norman. When Honour's at Stake. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1973.

8. Craig, Horace S. Dueling Scenes and Terms in Shakespeare's Plays. Los Angeles: U of California P, 1940.

9. Edelman, Charles. Brawl Ridiculous: Swordfighting in Shakespeare's Plays. New York: Manchester UP, 1992.

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