You may have noticed that I have done this is all the wrong order- starting with King Henry the IV, and then moving onto King Richard… but I find it is often the way that when learning history you start with something that interests you, which then brings up the question of what lead to it, leading you back further and further.
King Richard II is not a very good King. He has loyal subjects, and the majority of people hold the belief that Kingship is sacred, and thus even though he isn’t that good at it, they will support him as their King. Henry however reaches breaking point- he is banished from England, and while away his father dies. Richard seizes the lands that should have been henry’s inheritance. Henry returns to England to contest this, however Richard happens to be fighting in Ireland when he lands. The majority of England rally to Henry before Richard can get back. Initially Henry states he is just wanting justice and his inheritance, but at some point he decides he may as well become King also.
There is not much action in this play, and it seems like people talk about things much more than do things. We see Henry and the other nobles debate how to act, and whether it is right to depose a King. And we see Richard slide into despair and fulitism. He starts as a King who does whatever he pleases, he reacts to the threat initially with belief and decision, however he quickly sees all the barriers he is unlikely to overcome and loses his momentum, self-belief and hope. He doesn’t really put up a fight at all in the end.
A lot of the interesting bits are Richard soliloquising about his change in life and loss of hope
grief boundeth where it falls,
Not with the empty hollowness, but weight:
I take my leave before I have begun,
For sorrow ends not when it seemeth done.
of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court
By heaven, I’ll hate him everlastingly
That bids me be of comfort any more.
learn, good soul,
To think our former state a happy dream;
From which awaked, the truth of what we are
Shows us but this: I am sworn brother, sweet,
To grim Necessity, and he and I
Will keep a league till death.