In Shakespeare’s Richard II, the king Richard’s identity can be characterized by several major subjects.
Firstly, at the very beginning of the play, he gives a good image of him and seems sure of himself. But our esteem of him will quickly decline, and even during the first scene of the play. Indeed, Bullingbrook clearly states that Richard planned Gloucester’s death : “Further I say, and further will maintain […] That he did plot the Duke of Gloucester’s death”, which informs us of a family betrayal right from the beginning. So we can say that conflicts in this play aren’t just political, they’re family matters as well. Then, still in the first scene, when Richard says “Forget, forgive, conclude and be agreed. Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.” he is clearly inappropriate and takes things too lightly ; another example to prove he’s a bad king and can’t cope with a situation when he needs to.
Furthermore, later on but still in act I scene 1 Mowbray shows us Richard’s limits –and twice- during their ‘confrontation’ : Mowbray tells him “Myself I throw, dread sovereign, at thy foot. My life thou shalt command, but not my shame […]”, and to this Richard –still assuming superiority- answers that “Lions make leopards tame”, to what Mowbray will state “Yea, but not change his spots.”, and beat Richard at his own game. And after this, Richard will be incapable of being obeyed by Bullingbrook. Afterwards, Richard –by saying “We were not born to sue, but to command”- suggests “I’m supposed to be in charge”, which shows he isn’t and so that he hasn’t any strategy. Here we recognize the logic of the king who says he gets what he wants because he is the king, but who also is disorganized, non-autonomous and non-domineering.
Secondly, he’s strongly convinced that he has been chosen by God to be king and that he can do whatever he wants, since he doesn’t have to answer to anyone but to God. This political theory of believing God has specifically chosen him to be king of England is sometimes called the “divine right of kings”. Besides, considering and trusting this belief will be one of the reasons of his downfall, because since he thinks he’s God’s representative on earth, he assumes that no man can replace him on the throne and therefore that he doesn’t have to bother defending himself and his status.
Thirdly, as he thinks he has been chosen by God, it gets easy for him to act like the best and the most powerful man of England. Moreover, Richard has surrounded himself by advisors who only tell him what he wants to hear -such as Bagot, Bushy or Green- what doesn’t help. And subsequently, he loses the confidence of his people. Moreover, obstinate as he is, Richard will refuse to listen to the solid advice of Gaunt and continues to make bad decisions which will lead to his downfall. Some of these decisions are that, at the beginning of the play, he banishes Bullingbrook and Mowbray to cover up the murder of his uncle (that he committed), and also that he mismanaged his kingdom’s money and was too broke to fund his war in Ireland -but, as he sees himself chosen by God, he doesn’t think his people have a right to get rid of him, and so doesn’t make any effort to prevent this.
Finally, in the last scene of act I, Richard’s callous remarks about Gaunt’s illness indicate his lack of respect for anyone besides himself, including the elders of his own family. This self-centeredness will as well help and lead to his downfall. Besides, the fact that Richard chooses to ignore the advice of his dying uncle in act II scene 1 is a sign of his foolishness. And by the time this scene closes, we have learned of the imminent invasion of England by Bullingbrook’s forces ; a piece of information which, with what we already know about his popularity and Richard’s merited unpopularity with the English commoners, implies already the inevitable outcome : Richard’s deposition and defeat at the hands of Bullingbrook.
To conclude, Richard in act I and act II scene 1 shows right from the first scene how improper and wrong he is, through all of his inappropriate words, speeches, manners, decisions and choices.