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Shakespeare's general purpose in the play was to reveal England's
chaotic history in light of the prosperity of Tudor England. At the
time of the play, the original crime, the deposition and murder of
Richard II by Henry IV was still not atoned. England had suffered
the humiliation of the loss of France a French queen and the evils
of civil wars. Murder begot murder and vengeance with
vengeance. The keepers who capture Henry contribute to the
Themes of allegiance and perjury. The introduction of the young
Richmond is a short scene but significant it points to the
approaching end of anarchy and the peace of the Tudors. The play
is an ironical commentary on the woes of civil war and disorder,
chaos, and disunity. It reveals the useless suffering and cruelty that
occurs not only within a nation that is in turmoil but within
The play is a study in anarchy - anarchy in the state, in the family,
in the mind of the individual. Individual morality, custom, trust,
duty, self-control are dissolving. Men and women are passions'
slaves. Unreasoning fury anger rage, hatred, ambition, and lust
flourish. The basis social bond of the family is disrupted.
Unnatural relations abound and natural relations are disrupted. The
atmosphere is charged with revenge and blood. In this state,
anarchy springs from the weakness of the King who should control
and maintain the affairs of the state. The sanctity of keeping oaths
and customs are broken.
Debased morals is another theme of the play. Edward introduces
the theme when he persuades his father to go back on his oath and
agreement with Henry. For a kingdom an oath may be broken.
Edward is again prepared to perjure himself to retain the support of
Montgomery to claim the crown as well as his dukedom. He breaks
faith with Warwick and Lewis in marrying Lady Grey. Clarence
too deserts his father-in-law at a crucial moment. What all of them
do out of self interest, Henry does from weakness. The prevalence
of disorder and perjury implies references to order and faith. There
is not only the major struggle between the rival houses but also the
painful reasserting of the moral and political order against the
prevailing anarchy. Although Henry has morals and a deepened
sense of spiritualism, he is ineffective and can do nothing but stand
by and watch the horror unfold. This is almost as pernicious as the
bloodthirsty nature of Richard.
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