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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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When Bolingbroke asks Richard, "Are you contented to resign the crown?," he answers indecisively: "Ay, no. No, ay." His wavering and indecisiveness is part of his deliberate performance since he knows the extent of Bolingbroke's power. Finally, Richard hands over the crown and sceptre to Bolingbroke: "I give this heavy weight from off my head, / And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand, / The pride of kingly sway from out my heart." This speech turns his deposition into a deliberate ritual which the lords are forced to watch. Richard enumerates the symbols of his power as he hands them over. The action halts for this moment so that audience may grasp the enormity of the process.

Next, Northumberland demands that Richard read a list of accusations levied against him. But Richard refuses to do so. Northumberland's action serves to enlarge the personal tragedy of Richard and puts it in the proper perspective of a national tragedy involving many lives. Richard's renunciation of the crown has drawn sympathy for him from all quarters. He appears less as an absolute monarch who had to be deposed than as a pitifully betrayed king. Northumberland requires him to read the list so that the justice of the deposition can be brought before parliament. But Richard's refusal is calculated to win sympathy and to reinforce the sense that Richard has been betrayed and deserted by his subjects. Richard wishes to project himself as a sacrificial victim. The theme of betrayal also involves the idea of self- betrayal. Richard has betrayed himself by his carelessness before being betrayed by others. He refuses to read the list of charges, claiming that he cannot see through his tear-filled eyes. He pathetically compares himself with Bolingbroke: "O, that I were a mockery king of snow, / Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke, / To melt myself away in water drops!" This reverses the imagery which associated Richard with fire and sun and Bolingbroke with water and flood in Act I, Scene 1.


Richard then demands a mirror and begins another theatrical performance. This is his most decidedly artificial and self- conscious pose. This action intricately blends display of the self with self-introspection. The mirror is a conventional symbol of ambiguity. The mirror provides only a surface reflection and does not probe the inner depths, thereby yielding a false image. Furthermore, only the vain use a mirror in front of everybody else. While mirrors do tell the truth, they can be misleading. Richard hopes that the mirror will reflect the depths of his misery. He studies his features in the mirror with a tragic pathos. His words are intensely poetic and recall Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, where Faustus asks the ghost of Helen of Troy, "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?" Similarly, Richard asks, "Was this face the face / That every day under his household roof / Did keep ten thousand men? Was this the face / That like the sun, did make the beholders wink?"

What Richard sees in the mirror is just his outward appearance, and not reality. While his first two questions are addressed to himself, the remaining one (regarding Bolingbroke's victory) is aimed at his audience in an effort to make them realize the enormity of their crime in deposing a king. Bolingbroke, who has tolerated this dramatic self-display, quietly tells Richard, "The shadow of your sorrow hath destroyed / The shadow of your face." The shadow cast by his sorrow and grief covers the shadow of his face. Bolingbroke had meant to be sarcastic, but Richard takes the meaning literally: his face may be sad, but the real tragedy lies within. Bolingbroke actually meant that false sorrow has destroyed Richard's false public face. Richard's poetic display is over. The last exchanges between Henry and Richard are short and to the point. Bolingbroke announces that his coronation will take place the following Wednesday.

The scene ends with the Abbot of Westminster, Aumerle and the Bishop of Carlisle plotting to overthrow Bolingbroke and reinstate Richard. England has truly been reduced to a state of disorder.

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