Richard II by William Shakespeare by Charles Barber (auth.)

By Charles Barber (auth.)

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The preliminaries of the combat (1-117) are highly ritualistic, with trumpets sounding, the formal questioning of the champions by the Lord Marshal, the giving of the lances, heralds uttering the challenge and the acceptance of it, and the use of long rolling titles, notably 'Harry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby' (35, 100, 104). Even when the combatants hold up the proceedings in order to take their farewells of the King and of their friends, it is a 'ceremonious leave' that they take (50). In these farewell speeches both Bolingbroke and Mowbray strike a note of elation and of delight in action.

Richard's speech of greeting to his kingdom (4-26) is permeated with earth-imagery (6, 10, 12, 24), intertwined with images oftears (4, 9), sweetness (13), and poisonous things- spiders (14), venom (14), toads (15), nettles (18), an adder (20). The poisonous things are also products of the earth o,f Richard's kingdom, and he calls upon them to attack his enemies. This speech is eloquent and deeply felt, but it reveals Richard's propensity to deal in words rather than actions. Instead of getting to grips with the military and political situation, he utters invocations to the earth of his kingdom.

The first two lines continue the quibbling mode, with the pun in I see thee ill (93) and the formal patterning on the words see and ill (94), but then Gaunt launches into an impassioned attack. He begins by developing the image of sickness: it is Richard that is ill, and England that is his death-bed; the quack-doctors that attend on him are his flatterers, who had been responsible for his illness in the first place (95-103). He then moves on to the theme of the family of Edward III, and links it with the idea of deposition, which here enters the play for the first time: if Edward III had foreseen the way in which his grandson Richard would destroy the members of his own family he would have 26 deposed (disinherited) him before he had achieved possession of the crown.

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