The Tragedy of King Richard II Day One ENGL 305 Dr. Fike
Outline • Day One: • Questions for Day Two (on course calendar). • Passages for Day Three (below). • Lecture on the history play and R2. • Papers returned. • Day Two: • Large group work on the list of questions, mainly on Act I (analogy to CRTW). • Small group activity on the four key passages Generate questions, get started on answers. Work on answers as homework. • Day Three: • Unofficial quiz. Bibliography due. • The stages of Bolingbroke’s ambition. • Group work: Generate answers to your questions. • Gaunt’s speech: 2.1.31-68 (be especially attuned to imagery) • Richard’s attitude/opinions: 3.2.7-62 (esp. sun imagery) • Garden scene/video: 3.4 (allegory) • Richard’s speech in the Tower: 5.5.1-66. What has he learned? • Large group discussion of these passages.
Annotated Bibliography • http://faculty.winthrop.edu/fikem/Courses/ENGL%20305/305%20Annotated%20Bibliography%20Assignment.htm
Aids to Research • MLA Bibliography • Bevington’s bibliography • Sources in articles that you find • Electronic databases (Literary Reference Center, Literary Criticism Online, Literary Resource Center) • Shakespeare research guide • Library of Congress subject headings
Another Homology • Rising action:comedy::falling action:tragedy. • This has something to do with hamartia, a mistake or error (Aristotle, Poetics). http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hamartia?s=t&path=/ • “Tragic flaw” is a poor translation. Bedford 88: “To think of the tragic hero as afflicted with a ‘fatal flaw’ is to simplify and misunderstand the complex problem of the tragic protagonist and the society with which he or she is in conflict.” • Characters > problems: comedy. • Problems > characters: tragedy. Probably because of some error like pride or overconfidence in divine right.
R2’s situation • Richard’s action is clearly a falling motion: he loses his kingdom. • But insofar as he grows spiritually, it is also a rising motion. • Bedford 91: “…Richard’s faith in his divinely sanctioned privilege is what leads him to undo himself.” This misplaced faith is his hamartia or mistake or error. “Moreover, the epiphany he experiences in the prison cell just before his assassination adds a heroic dimension to a character who may until this point have seemed a fool.” • See R2 chart (linked to calendar).
Analogy • George Herbert, “The Pulley” (linked to calendar).
Bolingbroke • This guy illustrates the opposite motion: • Richard: worldly ruin but spiritual insight. • Bolingbroke: worldly fortune but guilt (Cain, fratricide). • POINT: So far history appears to be identical to tragedy, and it is clear, because of the title, that Shakespeare thought of this play as a tragedy.
But here’s the question: • WHAT SETS A HISTORY APART FROM A TRAGEDY? • There are various possibilities • Lessons about politics (see John R. Elliott, Jr.’s “History and Tragedy in Richard II) • Tragic hero • Climactic struggle • Relationship to salvation history (see John D. Cox, Seeming Knowledge: Shakespeare and Skeptical Faith) • Closure
1. Historical and Political Lessons • The presence of history is not the determining factor. Hamlet contains history too. • Rather a history play is about the relationship between office and power. As follows: BeginningMiddleEnd Office R2 R2 Bol Power R2 Bol Bol
What does York do? • He goes with the flow: loyal at first to R2, then declares himself “neuter” at 2.3.159. • Eventually he supports Bolingbroke and even turns in his own son, Aumerle. • Again, office with power (R2) power without a just claim to office (Bol.) office with power (Bol.).
The Chart Again Beginning MiddleEnd Office R2 R2 Bol Power R2 Bol Bol York R2 “neuter” Bol (2.3.159) POINT: York’s shifting loyalty marks the transition from R2 to Bolingbroke and highlights the relationship between office and power. The political lesson is that one must have both to be a successful ruler.
2. Is there a hero in a history play? • Not in this case. • At first we like Bolingbroke and dislike Richard. • Then our sympathies reverse. Time R2 negative positive Bol positive negative
Discussion Question • What don’t we like about Richard? • Why is he a bad leader?
Why do we dislike Richard? • He is responsible for Gloucester’s murder. • He arbitrarily imposes taxes. • He denies justice in Act I. • He banishes Bolingbroke and Mowbray before they can achieve a reconciliation. • He renounces the rights of a lord in taking away Bolingbroke’s inheritance (i.e., he breaks the law). • POINT: R2 is guilty of misrule. Bolingbroke seems like the kingdom’s savior.
Why do we dislike Bolingbroke? • He is a usurper. • He is responsible for the king’s murder. • Richard seems to suffer unjustly.
So . . . • If each guy has positives and negatives, who is the hero? • THERE IS NO CENTRAL CHARACTER TO IDENTIFY WITH A RESOLUTION. • Insofar as the hero is concerned, the history play deals with ambiguities that are not resolved. • Since both guys have positives and negatives, it is not clear who is the hero.
3. What about climactic struggle? • We have one in acts four and five of a tragedy. • But in R2 Richard shares the spotlight with events in which he plays no part. • The struggle at the end has nothing to do with R2 except that Aumerle supports him. • This decentering is uncharacteristic of tragedy.
4. What about the play’s relationship to salvation history? • Our first clue is from Bedford 92: “The entire tetralogy may be regarded as an enormous comedy weighted with intense tragic insights.” • It moves from R2’s mismanagement to H5’s effective rule. So R2 is a tragic story, yes; however, it is part of a larger comic action. • Moreover, the tetralogy is part of that we call salvation history: • Creation • Incarnation • Last Judgment
Check out this timeline: Creation Incarnation R2 ENGL 305 Last Judgment
Ambiguity • History’s overall shape is comic. • But our play is ambiguous because we do not see the workings of Providence over a longer haul. • We see instead the machinations of power. • Analogy: We are “maze walkers” rather than “maze viewers” (Penelope Reed Doob).
5. Do we have closure in R2? • Comedy and tragedy achieve closure by enclosing time. • R2 throws our attention backward and forward in time. • In other words, a history play is open-ended. • It is a historical segment bounded by time. Time encloses the play. Therefore, there is no closure.
Re. closure, consider these passages: • 1.1.9: Gloucester is killed before the play opens, and there is longstanding antagonism between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. • 4.1.135ff.: Carlisle’s prophecy. • 5.1.55ff.: Richard’s prophecy. Discontentment continues in the rest of The Henriad. The overthrow of Richard in 1399 eventualy leads to the War of the Roses (1455-1485). • 5.3.1: Hal is in the tavern. • POINT: The play refers to things that happen before it opens and after it ends.
POINTS • R2 is part of a larger historical sweep; therefore, it does not achieve closure. Problems overlap the boundaries of the play. Unlike tragedy: • Hamlet: “The rest is silence” signals closure. There is nothing else to say. All the loose ends have been tied up. • King Lear: Lear, Cordelia, and the bad guys all die; Albany will take over. Enough said.
Summary • The presence of history is not a defining factor of the history play because there’s history in tragedy as well. What distinguishes a history play is that it teaches lessons about office and power (#1). • Unlike tragedy, a history play may not have a central figure whom we can identify as a hero (#2). • Tragedy and history both have a climactic struggle (#3) near the end; however, in a history play, the concluding action is more ambiguous. • Tragedy achieves closure, but a history—like R2—is atragic segment of an overall comic whole (#4) (the tetralogy + salvation history) • Therefore, it does not achieve closure (#5).
Historical Situation • Historical background • The Essex rebellion
Historical Background • We are in the late 14th century. • As in AYLI, primogeniture is very important. • New concept: the divine right of kings: the king is God’s duly appointed representative on earth. • Bolingbroke is well qualified, but he sins greatly when he takes the throne because he thus violates divine right and primogeniture. • The consequences are noted by Carlisle (4.1.135-50).
Clarification of the Genealogy • The appendix of your anthology has a genealogy of Lancastrian kings: • Complete, 6th ed.: A-84 • Necessary, 3rd ed.: A-56 • Very important point: The chart is arranged from oldest (left) to youngest (right).
The Genealogical Situation • Edward III dies in 1377. • He had 7 sons, 5 of whom figure in our play. • Gloucester is murdered. Act I is about the resulting quarrel between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. • Edward the Black Prince (the eldest) dies in 1376, one year before his father. • Therefore, the throne goes to Edward’s nine-year-old son Richard.
Points about Richard • The correct guy is now on the throne, but England still has no ruling monarch because the little fellow is only nine. • His uncles help manage the state; naturally there are power struggles among them. • Eventually he surrounds himself with loyalists with no power of their own—Bushy, Bagot, and Green in our play. • When R2 takes place, Richard is 31 years old; he has now been king for 21 years. His youth is mentioned at 2.1.69.
What happens next? • What does Bolingbroke do? • He usurps the throne from God’s anointed king. • Richard is murdered. • In the event of R2’s death, the next in line for the throne would be Lionel, Duke of Clarence or his descendent, but Bolingbroke takes the throne anyway. • Clarence’s daughter Philippa marries Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. Neither Clarence nor his descendants are mentioned in R2, but Shakespeare’s audience would have been aware of them. • Mortimer’s right to the throne plays a role in the Henry IV plays (Hotspur wants H4 to ransom Mortimer).
Points about Mortimer • Jo McMurtry, Understanding Shakespeare’s England: A Companion for the American Reader, pages 38-39: “First, the Elizabeth who is married to Hotspur goes in Henry IV by the name of Kate—apparently a favorite name with Shakespeare. Second, her brother, Edmund Mortimer, is entangled in a confusion which Shakespeare found in his source, Holinshed’s Chronicles. This Edmund had an older brother, Roger, not shown in the diagram as he is not mentioned in the play. Roger Mortimer inherited his father’s title as earl of March and also had a son, confusingly named Edmund, who was twelve years old in 1403. It was this younger Edmund Mortimer whom Richard II, before his death in 1400, had named as his rightful heir. “The Edmund Mortimer of Shakespeare’s play, then, was not in fact the earl of March and had not been named heir. He was, however, the brother of Hotspur’s wife; he did marry the daughter of the earl of Glendower, as occurs in the play, after having been captured in battle by Glendower; and he certainly did plot against Henry IV, switching sides as he did so, for the king had sent him out to do battle against Glendower and his Welsh rebels. This mutinous element then joined with the Percies, along with some of the rebellious Scots whom the Percies, while still on the King’s side, had conveniently captured.”
Yikes! • See the chart of Yorkist kings.
Here Is Bevington’s Simpler Explanation • “In 1 Henry IV, Shakespeare confuses the Edmund Mortimer who married Glendower’s daughter, and died in 1409, with his nephew Edmund, fifth Earl of March, who asserted a claim to the English Throne. . . . Shakespeare also refers to Henry Percy’s (Hotspur’s) wife as ‘Kate,’ though historically she was named Elizabeth.”
Mortimer, continued • In history: The heir to the throne is Roger Mortimer’s son Edmund. • In our play: The brother of Hotspur’s wife is also Edmund Mortimer, and Shakespeare evidently wanted us to see the heir and Kate’s brother as the same person. • POINT: Shakespeare is conflating two historical Mortimers, as did Holinshed. It is unclear whether Shakespeare was aware of the error.
A Further Confusion • Characters are named after places where they were born: • John of Gaunt was born in Ghent. • H4 was born at Bolingbroke, a castle. He is often called Hereford where the castle is located. • Aumerle is a.k.a. Rutland (an earldom).
The Essex Rebellion • See Bedford 93-94 and 124-25. • R2 was written in 1595. • On Saturday, February 7, 1601, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed it at the Globe Theatre. • Essex’s purpose in commissioning the performance was to incite popular support for the uprising. • The coup attempt took place the next day—and failed.
Why R2? • The rebels saw the play as a commentary on Elizabeth’s reign and as inspiration for her overthrow. She understood the comparison. • Bedford 107: “Her Majestie fell upon the reign of King Richard II, saying, ‘I am Richard II. Know ye not that?’” • Question: What do Elizabeth and R2 have in common? (suggested answers on next slide)
What Elizabeth and R2 Have in Common • She hated honest counsel. • She slew a relative, Mary Queen of Scots, as Richard has evidently had Gloucester murdered. • She was subject to the influence of favorites. • She imposed oppressive taxes. • She meddled in people’s marriages (Raleigh’s marriage to Elizabeth Throckmorton). Cf. 2.1.167-68. • Gaunt’s deathbed speech to Richard at 2.1.93ff. Is a warning that she was treating a favorite badly: namely, Essex.
Essex’s Stupid Miscalculation • Essex failed to inspire popular support. • R2 (Elizabeth) is sympathetic, and Bolingbroke (Essex) loses our sympathy by becoming a Cain figure. • Plus it could be that staging the play blew off steam that might have fueled a coup.
New Historicist View • Bedford 93-94: “Greenblatt and other new historicists hold that the histories served the Crown as an outlet for subversive doctrine, as a container of rebellious impulses that might have erupted in the streets had they not been released and defused within the confines of the public theaters.” • Bedford 125: “In other words, by permitting a small degree of opposition to be expressed or enacted in the controlled space of the public playhouses, the government employed the theater as a kind of safety valve, an outlet for releasing political pressure before it increased to an explosion.” • Bedford 324: “…the theater functioned as a safety valve: it created and released a performed version of political dissidence while reinforcing the very powers that it challenged.” • Key concept: the carnivalesque.
And Shakespeare’s View? • It is unlikely that Shakespeare held the same view as Essex. He and his acting company were cleared of wrongdoing. • See Lambarde’s comment in Bedford 140.
Next Time • Be sure to prepare the questions linked to the calendar for next time. END