Shakespeare's Richard II tells the story of Richard's fall from power. Being dethroned by Bolingbroke forces Richard to confront the limitations and nature of his power as king. As audience members, we follow Richard on his journey of self-discovery, which enlightens him even as his life is shattered by Bolingbroke's revolt. Paradoxically, it is in utter defeat that Richard comes closest to understanding what it is to be human. Unfortunately he is unable to accept life as an ordinary subject after having tasted what it means to rule.
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings-
How some have been deposed, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,
Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed,
All murdered. For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a little breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable; and humored thus,
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall; and farewell, king.
Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence. Through 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. Subjected thus,
How can you say to me I am a king? (III.ii. 151-1173)
The above speech expresses nicely Rich...
... middle of paper ...
With nothing shall be pleased till he be eased
With being nothing. (V.v.38-41)
Richard can never bring himself to be "eased" with being ordinary, with being what he sees as "nothing" and so he can never live as a subject instead of a ruler. It is perhaps significant that when he dies he seeks to return to the only identity he really knew, that of a ruler, and warns that "Exeter, thy fierce hand / Hath with the King's blood stained the King's own land" (V.v. 109-10). He has accepted intellectually the transient nature of kings' power and understands he can no longer possess even that, yet in death he reaches for the only identity he ever really held, that of absolute monarch.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Richard The Second. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969.
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