Richard II

Berger, Harry Jr. “Richard II 3.2: An Exercise in Imaginary Audition.” ELH, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Winter, 1988): 755 –96. Print

Berger’s essay is an attempt to take on the popular critical opinion of ‘The Player King’, describing the danger implicit in taking Richard’s speeches out of theatrical context and assuming a actor/character analogy, which then becomes a character/playwright assumption. He defines Richard’s politics as primarily interlocutory, explaining this to be the way in which “his speech focalizes thus conflicts of power and struggle for authority that are compressed within the effort to dominate the immediate dialogical situation” (762). Berger discusses at length various critical approaches to Richard, returning repeatedly to a single question, asking who is it that is the Player King’s audience? (L.Geddes, March 2013)


Grady, Hugh. “The Discourse of Princes in Richard II: From Machiavelli to Montaigne.” Shakespeare, Machiavelli, and Montaigne: Power and Subjectivity from Richard II to Hamlet. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. 58-108. Print.
This chapter examines the Machiavellian discourse used by Richard and Bolingbroke in William Shakespeare’s Richard II and posits that Bolingbroke is the more successful and true Machiavellian of the play because he recognizes that power is not inherent, but rather something to be gained by exploiting discourse to construct a favorable public image: Bolingbroke switches from chivalric language with the commoners to subordinate language to appease Richard, thereby allowing him to quietly gain control, while Richard’s inability to emulate the chivalric language the commoners desire in their king causes him to violate Machiavelli’s tenet that a leader should avoid being loathed by his subjects. Grady uses historicism to explain the importance of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince in the 1580s and 1590s London political sphere, as these individuals attended and patronized Shakespeare’s plays, and he uses postmodernism to explicate how the concepts of power and subjectivity in Richard II derive from the ability to effectively utilize the discourse of the social role one is playing and how one’s ego regarding their social role prevents them from maintaining power. Male characters learn the language of chivalry to create an identity the common people can categorize and respect, thus explaining why Bolingbroke is favored over Richard, whose “kingly” speech only asserts his aristocracy; however, Grady neglects Machiavelli’s statement that while an effective leader must understand the ideologies of his people, the leader must also distance himself from these ideologies – an act which Richard executes, yet he incurs the commoners’ hatred, while Bolingbroke does not distance himself, yet he wins their favor. Although both characters understand the commoners’ belief system, Richard’s public language positions himself as the landlord of England, thereby alienating himself from his people, while Bolingbroke’s public language presents him as an equal attempting to preserve England’s traditions; however, if Bolingbroke’s motive was always to seize the crown, this implies he adjusted his language when before the commoners and Richard because he is aware that the listener has power over the speaker’s future, which further implies any character can learn and manipulate discourses in order to conceal their motives so they can silently achieve their agenda. (K. Backert, October 2012)

Kastan, David Scott. “Proud Majesty Made a Subject: Shakespeare and the Spectacle of Rule.” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Winter, 1986): 459 – 75. Print.
Kastan’s article examines the use of theatricality by the Renaissance monarchy, reducing (in England, particularly) the role of the monarch to the subject of his audience – his kingdom. For Kastan’s the pinnacle of this subjectivity of kingship is the execution of Charles II. In literary and theatrical terms then, his argument is “that the process that ended in the Monarch’s unwilling subjection to the authority of the ‘people’ was encouraged by a subjection that… was verbal – or more precisely, verbal and visual”(460). In other words, the theatre, by setting English rulers before an audience of common subjects, an environment was creates in which the people of England were encouraged to judge, evaluate and even condemn rulers. This argument is layered, and requires the exploration of the concept of representation to consider the extent to which theatre was subversive and threatening to the monarchy. Kastan cites the 1576 High Commission suggesting that when they declare that theatrical representations of God “tende to the degroation of the Maiestie and glorie of God…”(462) they draw attention to the efficacy of the symbols that create this representation. Elizabeth was very aware of the potency of her image, keeping the power of representation under her control and not in the hands o f the artist. She would not become the artist’s subject. Therefore, there are two dangers inherent in theatrical representation: the image of the monarch is placed as subject to the people, and even more disturbingly, the role of kingship (or to that matter, any high social situation), when played by an actor is revealed as just that – a role. The theatre, as Kastan suggests “thus works to expose the mystifications of power”(464). (L. Geddes, March 2013)

Rackin, Phyllis. “The Role of the Audience in Shakespeare’s Richard II.” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Autumn, 1985): 262 –81. Print.
Rackin’s meta-theatrical examination discuses in detail the extent to which an audience watching the play becomes “a carefully calculated role complete with motivations, actions, errors and discoveries” (263), and charts development of this role. She begins by acknowledging the role of the play in contemporary events, and notices the way in which the play, like so many of Shakespeare’s works requires the audience to view the action through different lenses, “sometimes taking a long, historical view of the action and sometimes seeing it as an insistent, present reality”(262). (L.Geddes, March 2013)

Smith, Molly Easo. “Mutant Scenes and ‘Minor’ Conflicts in Richard II.” A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare. Ed. Dympna Callaghan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2000. 263-275. Print.
Smith proposes that although the Duchess of Gloucester and the Duchess of York in William Shakespeare’s Richard II make brief appearances on stage, they are able to destabilize the “major” or male-dominated ideology of the play from the political realm to the “minor” or female-dominated familial realm. Through new criticism and semiotics, Smith dissects the appearances of the Duchess of Gloucester and the Duchess of York to show how their language shifts the play’s central ideology: when the Duchess of Gloucester demands that John of Gaunt take action against Richard for the death of their shared kinsman, Gaunt first states that if Richard did orchestrate the death, his position as king indicates God had decreed the death to occur and thus Richard is blameless, yet Gaunt later condemns Richard for disregarding the bonds of kinship; when Bolingbroke meets with the Duke and Duchess of York over the matter of their son’s disloyalty, the Duke asserts that state matters come before family, while the Duchess beseeches Bolingbroke to pardon her son; Bolingbroke acquiesces to the Duchess’ pleas, and she proclaims him as a better king than Richard because he understands the public’s ideology regarding family. While John of Gaunt does borrow from the Duchess of Gloucester’s language and Bolingbroke does support the Duchess of York, it is ambiguous whether these men listened to the women to achieve their own ends – mainly those of an attempt to regain lost land and an attempt to maintain a favorable public image; additionally, if the women truly alter the play’s ideology, it is uncertain whether the ability to create such a change is characteristic of all female characters or this particular pair. If the two women did in fact modify the play’s ideology, this suggests there is a significant relationship between time spent on stage and length of speech: Richard and Bolingbroke are on stage for roughly the same amount of time, yet Bolingbroke rarely speaks while Richard is prone to the same type of loquaciousness as the briefly-seen women, which further implies that the amount of time one spends on stage determines how much one should speak in order for their speech to be effective, thus explaining why Richard is deposed and Bolingbroke wins the crown. (K. Backert, October 2012)

Martin, R.A. “Metatheater, Gender, and Subjectivity in Richard II and Henry IV, Part I.” Comparative Drama 23.3 (1989): 255-264.
Martin maintains that the women of William Shakespeare’s Richard II play the traditional role of females because they obediently follow the patriarchal system by upholding the value of heroic honor, while the women of Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Part I) undermine the patriarchy by acting sexually aggressive, thus transforming the play’s conception of masculine identity and forcing the men to become “actors” playing what they believe to be the role of “men.” Historicism is used to explain how the women’s actions and language in Richard II is rooted in the monolithic patriarchal tradition, which is illustrated in three examples – the Duchess of Gloucester’s criticism of John of Gaunt’s lack of support for Bolingbroke’s claims against Mowbray, the Queen’s chastisement of Richard for abdicating the throne, and the Duchess of York’s defense of her son, which demonstrates the female valorization of life over death – that are then contrasted to Lady Percy’s assertion of her sexuality in Henry IV (Part I); Martin also uses semiotics to explain how the men of Richard II regard women as “breeders” who only gain an identity when attached to a man, while the men of Henry IV (Part I) regard women as threats because of their forwardness. There is a stark difference in the women’s behavior in each play, yet Martin does not seem to consider the women of Richard II capable of purposefully choosing to use traditional, subordinate language for their own means; in addition, the play’s context is not fully considered: with civil unrest and an impending war, the women would be unable to alter their language because they could be considered disloyal, hence their decision to use traditional language so as to not draw attention to themselves. By using traditional language, the women of Richard II are able to surreptitiously achieve their agendas, such as the Duchess of York’s successful plea for her son to be spared before Bolingbroke, which allows them to undermine the men’s perceived authority that they retain control over women. (K. Backert, October 2012)

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