Some Brief Thoughts On King Richard II

Richard the Second makes a decision that proves to be a most disastrous mistake at the outset of his story. When Henry Hereford and the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray, are on the brink of their dueling match to settle their dispute of treason, King Richard intervenes and decides to banish both men. He claims this was in order to avoid “civil wounds ploughed up with neighbor’s sword” but I feel he feared an outcome where the victor proved dangerous to his crown. Shakespeare teaches us “striving to better, oft we mar what’s well,” and this does ring true for Richard. He banishes Norfolk indefinitely and Hereford for ten years but then changes it to six. Here he has not only been too harsh , but he has shown that he doubts his own decision by abridging Hereford’s sentence to six years, four years shorter than what was originally pronounced. He then makes the two men take an oath which even when taken doesn’t protect him. He makes them swear to “never by advised purpose MEET to plot…any ill ‘gainst…our state…or our land.” What he fails to realize is that it only takes one of them to create a faction against him, and now by mentioning his fear he has plainly shown his vulnerability. By reducing Hereford’s sentence he shows hesitancy, lack of leadership, weakness, and fear of retribution which proves a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we see in the story Hereford deposes Richard. Norfolk, the one with the permanent sentence, is never heard of again. Perhaps he should have done the same to Hereford. He has “scotch’d the snake, not killed it.” When Richard commandeers Hereford’s inheritance after the death of his father, John of Gaunt, “[Richard’s] poor malice [remain’d] in danger of [Hereford’s] former tooth.”

This was the beginning of the end for King Richard of Bordeaux.


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