Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Richard II

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University



About forty days after the scene at Flint Hall, a London Parliamentary council discusses the situation. When asked by Henry who was responsible for the murder of Gloucester, a captured Bagot accuses York’s son, Aumerle. Aumerle protests:

What answer shall I make to this base man?
Shall I so much dishonor my fair stars
On equal terms to give him chastisement?
Either I must or have mine honor soil’d
With the attainder of his slanderous lips.

Parallel to the first scene of the play, now these two accuse each other and throw down their gages, this time with others involved in the heated antagonism. Fitzwater and “Another Lord” gang up with Bagot against Aumerle. Surry takes on Fitzwater in Aumerle’s defense. Henry defers all these matters “Till Norfolk be repeal’d” (IV.i.87) — that is, recalled home — but that day will not come; as Carlisle reports, after years of warring for Christ “Against black pagans, Turks, and Saracens” (IV.i.95), Norfolk retired to Italy and died in Venice.

York announces that “plume-pluck’d Richard” has yielded the throne to Bullingbrook (IV.i.108), now to be Henry the Fourth. But the Bishop of Carlisle is outraged at so “obscene a deed” (IV.i.131) without Richard even being present: Even “Thieves are not judg’d but they are by to hear” (IV.i.123), and Richard has been God’s “captain, steward, deputy, elect, / Anointed, crowned, planted many years” (IV.i.126-127). And the violent national fallout will be nasty:

The blood of English shall manure the ground,
And future ages groan for this foul act.

Northumberland arrests Carlisle for capital treason, while, tellingly, Henry says nothing. Since it is politically smoother, Henry does call in Richard, “that in common view / He may surrender; so we shall proceed / Without suspicion” (IV.i.155-157).

Richard gives a drama-queen’s performance of woe, subtly calling Henry an empty bucket (IV.i.184-189) during a two-bucket image taken from Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Richard yields his crown with all its burdens to Henry, insisting that he is still king of his own griefs (IV.i.191-193).

Bullingbrook: Are you contented to resign the crown?
King Richard: Ay, no, no ay; for I must nothing be;
Therefore no no, for I resign to thee.

The fourth quarto of the play and the First Folio read instead: “I, no; no, I” — “a chiasmus and a hieroglyph” that could translate into “I know no I,” appropriate enough for Richard’s loss (Garber 254). “Though Bolingbroke was bent on getting the crown in the end, if Richard had not practically placed it on his head he might very well have asked no more at the moment than the restitution of his inheritance. There is nothing more provocative of violence than the dread of violence. The shrinking victim evokes a devil in the victor. The more Richard cowers, the more Henry tightens the screws” (Goddard, I 155). “Richard never stops doing Bolingbroke’s work for him, yielding up a kingdom while constructing metaphysical litanies” (Bloom 259). “Richard deposes himself. He will not be deposed. The ceremony is his to perform” (Garber 262).

Northumberland wants Richard to read a formal document listing his crimes so that the transfer of power is unambiguous. But Richard will not do so. “Out of the total disaster, he has salvaged one crumb; he has refused to admit any wrongdoing, and Bolingbroke’s title to the throne is therefore flawed” (Asimov 305). Richard portrays himself as a Christ figure among many Judases and Pilates (IV.i.239f). “He who, as king, thought of himself almost as God, now, as martyr, identifies himself with Christ” (Goddard, I 157). He calls for and uses a mirror as a prop for his speeches of self-pitying despair, or “outrageous and desperate narcissism” (Bloom 265). The question, “Was this face the face …” (IV.i.271), echoes Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus regarding Helen (Garber 263). “Deprived of kingship, the man who held the office loses also his sense of identity” (Wells 138). Richard’s tears prevent him from seeing the document.

Richard asks for one favor, and when Henry says, “Name it, fair cousin” (IV.i.304), Richard appreciates the irony:

“Fair cousin”? I am greater than a king;
For when I was a king my flatterers
Were then but subjects; but being now a subject,
I have a king to my flatterer.

Richard asks only to be allowed to leave Henry’s presence. Henry orders him to the Tower and sets the coronation day. Aumerle asks an abbott, “is there no plot / To rid the realm of this pernicious blot” (IV.i.324-325). The latter suggests that perhaps there is a “merry day” at hand (IV.i.324).

“With Richard’s deposition our sympathy shifts. Now he is underdog” (Goddard, I 157; cf Wells 138). His deposition historically took place on 30 September 1399; “Richard had reigned for twenty-two years, most of that time without power” (Asimov 305).

This deposing scene does not appear in the first several quarto editions, showing up first in 1608. “The text appears to have been slightly adjusted so that the break was not too noticeable…. Obviously, then, the play was felt to be concerned with live political issues. Yet apparently, too, this concern was not felt to be specifically topical, for Shakespeare and his fellows were not punished for their share in the performance. Perhaps this is because Shakespeare was thought to transcend topicality…. Or perhaps he was just lucky” (Wells 134). More rubbish. Shakspere would have been arrested and worse (Ogburn and Ogburn 867) — no commoner could have written this play and lived at any time during Elizabeth’s reign (Ogburn and Ogburn 430). Elizabeth’s famous remark, “I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?” is telling, perhaps indicating that she “bitterly resented” the depiction (Ogburn and Ogburn 381), perhaps not. But “Shake-speare” was not taken to task because Elizabeth knew that Oxford detested Essex (Anderson 331). Some speculate about the possibility that “Shakespeare” left instructions about including the scene after Elizabeth’s (and/or his own) death (Ogburn and Ogburn 441).

On the matter of “anointed” kings, de Vere marked key passages in his Geneva Bible (I Sam. 24:11, II Sam. 1:14) and so had obviously considered the touchy political issue (Anderson 383).

Act V