Character Analysis Richard II


As a king, Richard is supposedly divine and all powerful; as a man, he is an ordinary mortal and prey to his own weaknesses. The private tragedy of the play, for Richard, is in his being forced to face this duality. Shakespeare demonstrates that Richard is perhaps temperamentally not fit for the role which history would have him play. His decisions as a monarch seem irrational and arbitrary; he won't listen to the sane advice of old Gaunt, and he insensitively seizes wealth belonging to his noblemen.

It is only during his deposition and his imprisonment that Richard shows his greatest strength as a dramatic figure. Although occasionally he seems to demonstrate self-pity (Bolingbroke accuses him of this), he also reveals himself to have an acute awareness of the ironies and absurdities in the structure of power in his kingdom. Although he keeps reminding those present of his God-given mandate to rule, he seems also to take pleasure in passing on the trials of kingship to his successor.

Richard's last speeches are among the most beautiful in the play. It is as though Shakespeare were allowing the man himself, stripped of political power, a chance to achieve a human power which surpasses suffering and becomes self-knowledge.

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