The play Richard II by William Shakespeare is about a King who failed to perform his duties as King. Shakespeare illustrates the need for a change in the mode of power from that which privileges inheritance to that which values competency. A rule by inheritance is depicted through King Richard, whereas a rule by competency is illustrated by Henry Bolingbroke. The play Richard II is an allegory to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and her controversial reign of power in England. She, like Richard, was seen to be very unsuccessful.
Richard II shows how power play is operating in the Royal courts under Richard’s reign. Richard shows little respect for his subjects, the people of England, although he still feels they owe him respect since he subscribes to the notion of the divine rule of Kings. Henry Bolingbroke, on the other hand, has a good relationship with the common people, something that Richard despises because he knows that Bolingbroke could use the people’s affection against his Kingship. Richard notes that Bolingbroke seems to ‘dive into their hearts/ with humble and familiar courtesy.’Act One, Scene Four, Richard is jealous of Bolingbroke’s competency with the English people. He has every reason to be wary of the Duke because of his aspirations.
We see an abuse of power by Richard in relation to Bolingbroke and Mowbray, the latter who have a disagreement with one another over Gloucester’s death. This scene shows a power struggle between them all for they are really arguing about their rights of governance. Bolingbroke and Mowbray are reluctant to back down from their positions and hence challenge one another to a battle at Flint Castle. It is also noticeable that neither Mowbray nor Bolingbroke is willing to listen to what Richard has to say as King. When Richard says ‘We were not born to sue but to command’ Act One, Scene One, he is referring to the idea that he isn’t going to ask Bolingbroke and Mowbray to stop; he is going to order them to stop.
This authoritarian approach is ludicrous because no-one listens to Richard. He has virtually no control over his people, let alone his courtiers. Richard’s foolishness is seen when he says ‘Wrath kindled gentlemen be ruled by me’ Act One, Scene One, Richard’s authority is heeded by neither of them. Noticeably neither man is willing to offer their allegiance to the King because both of them believe that he is an incompetent leader of England.
King Richard chooses to ignore the common people of England. Instead Richard abuses his inheritance and high blood to cater for his own spending on fashions, petty wars, and his close courtiers in the Royal realm. Richard is seen by many to be self-indulgent because of his high attitudes and unaccountability. He is allowed to behave in ways which would normally be deemed unacceptable. The people of England must put up with Richard’s uncaring, unjust and profligate ways which many agree is the main reason for Richard’s weak Kingship.
Old Gaunt foresees Richard’s downfall because of the devastation to England and its people. When Gaunt says ‘Wherein thou liest in reputation sick’ Act Two, Scene One, Gaunt perceives that Richard is both morally and ethically ill while Gaunt himself is physically ill. A courtier, called Ross, states that Richard is digging a deeper hole for himself when he says ‘The commons hath pilled with grievous taxes? And quite lost their hearts. The nobles hath he fined/for ancient quarrels and quite lost their hearts’ Act two, Scene One. Ross explains that Richard takes full advantage of his power and because of this both the common people and Richard’s courtiers have lost much of their faith Richard as still a genuine King. This is why many choose to ignore Richard.
Richard will undoubtedly dig a deeper hole for England. Richard lacks responsibility for his actions and when he does choose to take responsibility for his offences it is too late. The damage has already been done and many doubt his leadership. The gardener uses a metaphor when he notes that Richard’s reign of abusive power and corruption cannot last, ‘O what pity it tis that he hath not so trimmed and dressed this land as we this garden’ Act Three, Scene Four, He goes on to say ‘This whole land is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked upâ€¦’ Act Three, Scene Four. The gardener is speaking on behalf of all people.
Richard accepts his incompetency as King when he says, ‘I have wasted time and now doth time waste me’ Act Four, Scene One, and then he moves on to say ‘With mine own tears I wash away my balm, With mine own hands I wash away my crown, With mine own tongue deny my sacred state, With mine own breath release all duteous oaths’Act Four, Scene One, Richard acknowledges his mistakes and abusive ways and he acknowledges, finally, that nothing can cleanse him of his sins.
Richard II by William Shakespeare shows the downfall of a King who was too self-absorbed to run his country well. However King Henry, the newly anointed King was motivated to help his country. The power-play in the Royal court reflected these attitudes, Richard II finally being deposed.