Thursday, June 21, 2007

Richard II - Fathers and Sons

I want to follow up on what Gilbert was saying about the Bolingbroke banishment. I was struck by the structural parallelism of the father-son interactions involving the sons' alleged treason – Gaunt/Bolingbroke at the beginning and York/Aumerle toward the end. Both involve conflicts between allegiance to family and loyalty to king. Actually, there is no real conflict for York – he's a loyalist all the way (at this point). A bit ironic since he just turned his back on King Richard.

But Gaunt is more openly conflicted. He tells Richard, "You urged me as a judge; but I had rather /You would have bid me argue like a father." He loyally carries out his duty as judge for the king, even though it is against his own son, but it tears him apart emotionally as is clear even from Richard's description of him: "I see thy grieved heart, thy sad aspect…" This is deeper and more interesting psychologically, though not quite to the level of the turmoil of a Hamlet. The overarching formality and decorum that Gilbert mentioned seems to govern the tone even of this emotional conflict.

These both presage the conflict we see just beginning between Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV, and the young Prince Hal, but we'll have plenty of time to dissect that peculiar relationship (though perhaps all father-son relationships are peculiar) in the next play in the sequence.

There are also notable and quotable passages about love of and devotion to land and country, especially Gaunt's "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England." But what is best for England is not always what is best for its king. Is Shakespeare suggesting a hierarchy of allegiance here? If so, how exactly is it structured? England, then family, then king? That doesn't sound very comforting to his royal sponsors. Does anyone know about the specific political situation at the time of this play's composition?

The psychology of Richard is another thing altogether. In Act II scene 1, York tells him quite clearly that he is thinking of rebellion: "You…prick my tender patience to those thoughts/ Which honor and allegiance cannot think."

But Richard immediately turns to Bushy (what a name!) and declares: "…we create in absence of ourself /Our Uncle York lord governor of England; /For he is just, and always loved us well."

Does anyone remember how this comes off on stage (or film)? It just seems so totally daft of Richard. Does Bushy just stare at him, dumbfounded at his sheer stupidity? I found it hard to imagine that bit being acted in any believable way.

I want to come back later to a deeper consideration of the rich and often self-referential language of the play, but this is enough for now.


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