Richard II appears on my reading list for Edward II each year. It’s not just me – this is what Jonathan Bate, who I recently gushed about, has to say:
Richard II’s relationship to Edward II is so obvious that it is not very interesting. The structure of the two plays is identical: the King is surrounded by flatterers and pitted against an assemblage of nobles with vested interests of their own, then isolated and uncrowned, stripped of his royal identity, thus forced to discover his inner self by means of a supple, reflective soliloquy delivered whilst humiliatingly in prison. In each play the Queen is pushed to the margins in part because of the king’s homoerotic leanings. Marlowe is bolder than Shakespeare in his explicit portrayal of the homosexuality and his neat device of joining the Queen with the rebels in revenge. [a]
It should be easy to find something in Richard which’ll look familiar to my Edward students, right? Let’s have a go …
Usual rules apply – basically, a short quote ‘exploded’ and forensically analysed, AO1/AO2-style for those who know what that means, in just 250 words. If you can do this three times, you have an essay, or a piece of coursework (on OCR specification) worth a few marks …
Q: How does Shakespeare use language for dramatic effect in this extract?
Shakespeare shows Richard encouraging not only his friends but himself – demonstrating the ineffectual king’s reliance on his royal status: a marked discrepancy between the ‘body personal’ and the ‘body politic’.
Richard’s heightened mood is evidenced by Shakespeare’s punctuation: two lines are end-stopped by confused or indignant question marks, and perhaps more tellingly by mid-line exclamatives which signify a loss of control as Richard’s emotion peaks. The freedom to lose control is enabled by the distance created through Richard’s repeated use of ‘thou’ and ‘thy’ – referring to himself in the third person has potential connotations of excessive ego, but enables him to exploit the divergence of the two ‘bodies’. Alternatively, Shakespeare may signify Richard’s self-loathing when the king uses the oxymoronic ‘coward majesty’: ironically it sums Richard’s personality perfectly.
Shakespeare subtly evidences the confirmatory effect of Richard’s words as he stops addressing himself and adopts the ‘royal we’ in addressing his friends / favourites: ‘are we not high?’ The final noun links to ground in a play where physical height obviously relates to the Elizabethan, hierarchical concept of the Great Chain of Being, stretching from the heavens to the ground (and below). Interestingly, Richard’s companions are urged to reflect on the favours of the impersonal pronoun, ‘a’ king, not this specific king.
Richard’s second ‘call to action’ imperative, ‘Arm, arm’ could be interpreted two ways. As an iamb, the repreated syllables produce a crescendo that signifies Richard’s increasing confidence. A spondee, equal stressing each verb, might instead strengthen Richard’s resolve.
[a] Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare, (Picador: London, 2008)
[b] William Shakespeare, Richard II, text taken from www.opensourceshakespeare.org