Richard II

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Blood Symbol Icon

In Richard II, blood symbolizes family and lineage, royalty and the divine right of kings, honor and obligation, violence and guilt, and humanity itself. One of the earliest mentions of blood refers to king Richard’s “sacred blood,” a phrase which carries two spheres of meaning. Firstly, Richard has come to power because of his royal bloodline; he inherited the throne because of his blood and family lineage. But sacred blood also expresses the special character of a king’s blood: it is (supposedly) divine. Thus blood also comes to represent the divine right of kings in the play. Sharing blood with someone, especially divine blood, creates a strong and complicated relationship. This relationship is explored when the Duchess of Gloucester appeals to Gaunt’s sense of family honor, saying that an attack on the Duke of Gloucester, Gaunt’s brother, is an attack on his blood and therefore an attack on Gaunt himself, thus obligating the living brother to act. But since Gaunt is also related to Richard and recognizes the royal aspect of Richard’s blood, he is unable (at first) to say or do anything.

Though there is not much violence in the play, blood is often evoked in threats of violence or moments where violence might potential break out, and blood is also used to symbolize guilt, as Henry ends the play hoping to wash any blood from his hands with a crusade to Jerusalem. Finally, blood also represents humanity, as Richard, in a moment of weakness when he fears he’ll lose his seat on the throne, says that he is only “flesh and blood.”

Blood Quotes in Richard II

The Richard II quotes below all refer to the symbol of Blood. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Throne Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Richard II published in 2005.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be ruled by me.
Let's purge this choler without letting blood.
This we prescribe, though no physician.
Deep malice makes too deep incision.
Forget, forgive; conclude and be agreed,
Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.—
Good uncle, let this end where it begun;
We'll calm the Duke of Norfolk, you your son.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV, Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk
Related Symbols: Blood, The Crown
Page Number: 1.1.156-163
Explanation and Analysis:

After Henry and Mowbray have made their accusations, argued, and offered to fight one another, King Richard intercedes in an attempt to placate both men and resolve the matter without violence. He tells them to “be ruled by [him],” emphasizing that at this point his position on the throne is still secure. He hopes to end the situation without blood being spilled. The symbol of blood is used most basically here with a literal meaning; violence causes blood to spill.

But Richard also evokes bloodletting, an early medicinal practice of letting someone bleed in order to heal them. Richard, we see, rules with language, and favors figurative imagery to make his points. We can also note the sage advice in “deep malice makes too deep incision,” which suggests that hatred often plunges too deep. Richard advises the men to forgive and forget the matter, and if they had listened to him, Richard’s downfall might have been prevented.

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Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Finds brotherhood in thee no sharper spur?
Hath love in thy old blood no living fire?
Edward's seven sons, whereof thyself art one,
Were as seven vials of his sacred blood,
Or seven fair branches springing from one root.

Ah, Gaunt, his blood was thine! That bed, that womb,
That metal, that self mold that fashioned thee
Made him a man; and though thou livest and breathest,
Yet art thou slain in him.

Related Characters: Duchess of Gloucester (speaker), King Richard II, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester, Edward III
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 1.1.9-26
Explanation and Analysis:

The Duchess of Gloucester delivers these lines to her brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, in order to convince him to act against Richard. Gaunt has expressed his frustration at wanting to act against Richard for killing his brother Gloucester, but also feeling a religious obligation not to speak out against Richard since he is king.

The Duchess of Gloucester tries to use vivid imagery to convince Gaunt that his familial obligation is greater than his obligation to a king. She says that all of Gaunt’s brothers are like seven vials of Edward III’s sacred blood. Here blood symbolizes both familial bonds and the royal lineage. Gaunt and Gloucester shared the same blood. What’s more, the Duchess argues, they shared the same bed and womb, and were formed by the very same parents. And though Gaunt is alive, she says, he has also been killed through the death of Gloucester.

This final point has a dual meaning. First, as Gaunt and Gloucester share the same blood (and all of the other imagery) they are presented as essentially the same. Gaunt loses a bit of his own blood and dies when his family members die. But the Duchess also suggests that by refusing to speak against his brother’s killer, Gaunt dangerously opens himself up to attack.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

AUMERLE
Comfort, my liege. Why looks your Grace so pale?

KING RICHARD
But now the blood of twenty thousand men
Did triumph in my face, and they are fled;
And till so much blood thither come again
Have I not reason to look pale and dead?

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Duke of Aumerle
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 3.2.76-81
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are the first in one of many of Richard’s dramatic shifts of emotional state. In this scene he constantly goes from high to low, mirroring his political fall that is currently taking place. Aumerle asks Richard why his face looks so pale after finding out that the Welsh soldiers he thought were going to fight for him have dispersed. Richard responds with the excerpted lines, saying that he is pale because the blood of twenty thousand men (referring to the Welsh soldiers) once suggested that he’d triumphed, but now has fled from his face. Until so much blood (so many men) comes back to his face, of course he will look pale.

Throughout these lines, Richard plays on dual uses of blood and the notion of the body politic, in which the king’s body is figured as the country itself. The soldiers (who all have blood in their bodies as humans) have fled his country, which, since he is king, is his second body. The flight of the soldiers from this second body is then mirrored in the flight of his own blood from his face, causing him to go pale at the bad news.

Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

He is come to open
The purple testament of bleeding war;
But ere the crown he looks for live in peace,
Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers' sons
Shall ill become the flower of England's face,
Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace
To scarlet indignation, and bedew
Her pastures' grass with faithful English blood.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: Blood, The Crown
Page Number: 3.3.95-102
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard says these lines to Henry in a proud speech. In it, he demands that his subjects treat him with the respect a king deserves, and he reminds these subjects that he is ruler by divine right. Here, he addresses Henry directly to say that he will fight to keep the throne. Richard says that Henry is causing a bloody war, and that before he can take the crown he wants in peace, ten thousand bloody crowns (heads) of mother’s sons will stain the face of England, which is figured both as a maiden and as a garden. Richard plays on the two meanings of crown here, and he returns to the image of the blood of thousands of men and the face of England. Though instead of the blood rushing from his own face as above, in Act 3 Scene 2, here the blood will be spilled and will stain the pale face of the body politic.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

If you crown him, let me prophesy
The blood of English shall manure the ground
And future ages groan for this foul act,
Peace shall go sleep with Turks and infidels,
And in this seat of peace tumultuous wars
Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound.
Disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny
Shall here inhabit, and this land be called
The field of Golgotha and dead men's skulls.
O, if you raise this house against this house,
It will the woefullest division prove
That ever fell upon this curséd earth!

Related Characters: Bishop of Carlisle (speaker), King Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: Blood, The Crown
Page Number: 4.1.142-153
Explanation and Analysis:

After saying that technically, Henry cannot be crowned or pass sentence on Richard, Carlisle here offers his prophesy as to what will happen if Henry somehow is crowned. He says that the blood of the English will spill onto the ground, and that future generations will despise the foul deed of crowning Henry. Other lands will find peace while England becomes home to wars, where the family fights itself and people slaughter each other. Chaos and horror, he says, will rule England, if one house (family) rises against another. Dramatically, Carlisle says that it will be the worst split to ever occur on earth. This vivid, intense prophesy, audiences would know, will ultimately come true in later plays in the extremely blood Wars of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York. We can note that part of the horror of this war is that it is a war between two sides of one family. Here the family drama is elevated to a royal scale, and to deadly effect.

Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

Exton, thy fierce hand
Hath with the King's blood stained the King's own land.
Mount, mount, my soul. Thy seat is up on high,
Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Sir Pierce of Exton
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 5.5.112-116
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard speaks these lines in prison amidst an attack by Exton and a few other murderers. Richard manages to kill two would-be murderers, but Exton gains the upper hand and fatally wounds the former king. The excerpted lines are Richard’s last words before death. He first tells Exton that he has stained the King’s land with the King’s own blood. This image shows that in his dying moments, Richard still thinks of himself as the rightful king. Exton has also stained the king’s land with king’s blood in two senses, since the blood most likely spilled on the literal ground, and on the figurative ground of England in the body politic, which might be considered as Richard’s skin.

With his final words, though, Richard speaks only to his soul. Even though he submitted to Henry and even used the low / high image motif to place himself as the lowly bucket in the crown passing scene, here Richard seeks to embody both the low and the high. While his body and flesh (and potentially England itself) goes downward to die, completing his tragic fall from the throne, his soul is sent upward to heaven, granting him a final victory or respite in death.

Act 5, Scene 6 Quotes

They love not poison that do poison need,
Nor do I thee. Though I did wish him dead,
I hate the murderer, love him murdered.
The guilt of conscience take thou for thy labor,
But neither my good word nor princely favor.

I’ll make a voyage to the Holy Land
To wash this blood off from my guilty hand.

Related Characters: Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV (speaker), King Richard II, Sir Pierce of Exton
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 5.6.38-42
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are exerpted from the final speech in the play, delivered by Henry, which is traditional, since often the most powerful figures receive the last word in Shakespeare’s plays. Henry speaks these lines after finding out that Exton has murdered Richard. While Exton claims that he did so under order from Henry, the new king tries to make it clear that he never ordered such a killing. He says that no one loves poison that needs it, and that he doesn’t love Exton. By this he means that though he desired the death of Richard, he would never order or enact it, and though Exton performed a difficult, needed service, he did so without the support of the king. Essentially, this is a paradox. Henry loves that Richard was murdered, but hates the murderer. He must take this position to ensure the legitimacy of his crown. He doesn’t want to get himself into the same position that Richard was at the start of the play, where everyone knew that he was implicated in the death of Gloucester.

At the same time, though, Henry does admit some guilt, saying that he needs to make a pilgrimage or crusade to the Holy Land in order to wash the blood from his guilty hands (even though a “crusade” typically means spilling more blood). Though Henry didn’t literally kill Richard, the situation is enough to put figurative blood on his hands, representing his guilt. Ultimately, though, he will not end up making this journey in the following plays.

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Blood Symbol Timeline in Richard II

The timeline below shows where the symbol Blood appears in Richard II. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
The Throne Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
...Henry will not receive special treatment just because he is near to the king’s “sacred blood.” Mowbray then continues to make his own case, in which he also says he is... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
The Throne Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
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Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
...Edward III’s sons, she says, including Gaunt and the Duke of Gloucester, all contained sacred blood. She says an attack on one is an attack on all of them; killing Gloucester... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
The Throne Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
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England Theme Icon
...arbitrarily stops it. He says that the kingdom’s earth should not be stained with the blood that it made, and that he hates to see neighbors fight. He continues to say... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
The Throne Theme Icon
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Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
...of Henry, and all of the bad things happening in England, he feels Richard is “bloody with the enemies of his kin.” York explains that Gaunt’s lands and money should legally... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
The Throne Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
...the king that the Welsh army has dispersed. Immediately, Richard turns pale, saying that the blood of those thousands of men has rushed from his face. But he forgets himself for... (full context)
The Throne Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
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Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
...echo other Shakespeare plays. It is here that he refers to himself as flesh and blood, and asks, since he is so subjected, how can he be called a king? (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
The Throne Theme Icon
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Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
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...then where is the hand of God that has deposed him? No human hand “of blood and bone,” he says, can remove a king’s power, unless by evil usurpation. He continues... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
The Throne Theme Icon
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Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
...traitor, and then makes a prophesy: “If you crown him, let me prophesy / The blood of English shall manure the ground / And future ages groan for this foul act;... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 5
The Throne Theme Icon
Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
...final breath, Richard tells Exton that he has stained the king’s land with the king’s blood. He cries that his soul is going up while his body sinks, and he dies. (full context)
The Throne Theme Icon
Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
Exton then laments spilling valor and royal blood, and wishes that the deed was good. He decides to take the dead king back... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 6
The Throne Theme Icon
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Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
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...which he did not explicitly desire. The play ends with Henry feeling guilty for shedding blood in his path to claim the throne, and so he makes the decision to start... (full context)