Richard II

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Honor and Appearance Theme Analysis

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From the beginning of Richard II, honor—and particularly the appearance of honor—is of the utmost importance to the characters in the play. The dispute between Henry and Mowbray that opens the play, for example, is essentially one of honor. In the dispute, Henry and Mowbray stand before Richard and call each other traitors. Being a traitor is, of course, extremely dishonorable, and it is this attack on honor and his “spotless reputation” that makes Henry’s accusations so infuriating to Mowbray. Indeed, Mowbray makes explicit how important his honor is to him: “My honor is my life, both grow in one, / Take honor from me, and my life is done.” Honor, then, is a matter of life and death, and both men here are willing to die for their honor and fight to the death to settle the dispute.

Honor is given such value for its relationship to nobility and the chivalric code. The identities of the major characters in the play are all tied to the sense that honor in and of itself is meaningful and important (a notion that Shakespeare will question in Henry IV 1 through the figure of Falstaff). But having honor also seems to have tangible benefits in Richard II. In his angry tirade against the king, Gaunt concludes by saying, “Love they to live that love and honor have,” suggesting that honor is key to a good life. By implication of the rest of the speech, he here suggests that Richard is dishonorable and so will not love to live (or live very long). While Gaunt’s assertion that honor has direct benefits is slightly abstract, his son Henry provides a more concrete example once he has been crowned king. As the play comes to an end, with Richard deposed and those conspiring against Henry killed, Henry chooses to pardon Carlisle seemingly out of nowhere. The new king’s reason: “For, though mine enemy thou hast ever been, / High sparks of honor in thee I have seen.” Even sparks of honor are enough to grant the enemy of a king a pardon. In cases of disagreement, then, a mutual sense of honor can create a mutual sense of respect.

At the same time, the play complicates the notion of honor by suggesting at times that appearing honorable is just as (if not more) important than actually being honorable. Such a complication arises when we consider that the play does not always explicitly say who is honorable or who is not, nor does it lay specific instructions on how to interpret honor. The very first dispute between Henry and Mowbray, for example, is left unresolved. A debate using only language is insufficient to determine who is honorable and who is a traitor, and Richard postpones the fight to the death that would have rendered a legal decision. It’s possible that the fate of each character is an indication of their level of honor, as Henry becomes king and Mowbray dies, but we don’t have any indication that good or honorable characters necessarily reap better fates.

But another possible solution to this problem is that honor is just a matter of appearance, and that putting on the façade and appearance of honor is equivalent to (or better than) truly being honorable. In this interpretation, then, the characters are not obsessed with being honorable, but rather with seeming honorable, which aligns with Mowbray’s complaint that his reputation is tarnished by Henry’s accusation. Such an interpretation calls to mind the common Shakespearean trope of appearance vs. reality, which is also explored during the play. Richard, for example, after relinquishing his throne, says that his grief “lies all within,” and that all of the “external” expressions of this grief are just “shadows” to the internal, where the true substance is. While some characters might not make this distinction between internal and external, this understanding of the self and of the tension between appearance and reality complicates the play’s exploration of honor. This nuanced understanding of selfhood and honor might enable characters to better protect themselves and evaluate who is truly honorable and who is merely pretending. Indeed, we can note that Carlisle is pardoned, despite being an enemy of Henry, for the sparks of honor that the new king sees in him, indicating that Carlisle is truly honorable as opposed to only appearing it, because his honor is internal and therefore legitimate.

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Honor and Appearance Quotes in Richard II

Below you will find the important quotes in Richard II related to the theme of Honor and Appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

What I speak
My body shall make good upon this earth
Or my divine soul answer it in heaven.
Thou art a traitor and a miscreant.

Related Characters: Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV (speaker), King Richard II, Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk
Page Number: 1.1.37-40
Explanation and Analysis:

These are among Henry Bolingbroke’s first lines of the play. They are spoken in front of King Richard II, and they precede Henry’s formal accusation of Thomas Mowbray, whom Henry believes is a traitor and a murderer. Here, Henry stresses that what he says with language, he will make true with action (with his body). If he is wrong, he says, then he will suffer the consequences of divine judgment. The dispute is essentially one of honor, and both Henry and Mowbray are willing to fight and die to prove themselves honorable. We can note that for Henry, who is not a king, speech in and of itself is not an action or all-powerful. Henry’s speech as a citizen must be reinforced by actions.


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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.

The purest treasure mortal times afford
Is spotless reputation; that away,
Men are but gilded loam or painted clay.
A jewel in a ten-times-barred-up chest
Is a bold spirit in a loyal breast.
Mine honor is my life; both grow in one.
Take honor from me, and my life is done.

Related Characters: Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk (speaker), King Richard II
Page Number: 1.1.183-189
Explanation and Analysis:

Mowbray offers these lines in what is basically a refusal to do as Richard suggested and let the matter go. He says that he must fight Henry’s accusation, because otherwise he’ll lose honor and hurt his reputation. A good reputation, he says, is the most important thing to human beings. Without a reputation, even a good man is just good because he is painted or “gilded,” suggesting that reputation is about more than just appearing honorable; instead, reputation is something internal.

Mowbray emphasizes the importance of honor when he goes on to say that his honor is his life. He suggests that if his honor is taken away from him, he will literally die. This dramatic assertion could just be an example of Mowbray using dramatic and elevated language to make his case—and indeed, we can notice that these lines all rhyme—but soon after being banished, Mowbray will in fact die, forcing us to question if honor really is required for him to stay alive.

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 2, Scene 1 Quotes

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,

This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Feared by their breed and famous by their birth,

This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out—I die pronouncing it—
Like to a tenement or pelting farm.

Related Characters: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (speaker), King Richard II
Page Number: 2.1.45-66
Explanation and Analysis:

Gaunt speaks this lengthy, powerful monologue on his deathbed, moments before Richard enters. In it, he gives a grand list of epithets for England, employing the literary device anaphora, which means a series of lines beginning with a repeated word or phrase (in this case the repeated word is “this”).

England itself is characterized as a throne, a beautiful, royal island, a majestic place, and a second garden of Eden. Gaunt also speaks to the natural defenses of England, which is guarded by water on all sides like a “precious stone set in the silver sea,” an image of both nature and of jewelry making. This double image is fitting, since Gaunt characterizes Nature as the builder of the fortress that is England.

He continues, transitioning to family imagery, characterizing England as a “nurse” and a “teeming womb of royal kings.” England, which we can note is emphasized on a line by itself in the middle of this long speech, is a maternal nurse figure for Gaunt. It is extremely important to him, evidenced by his four-time repetition of the word “dear.” With his dying breath, Gaunt wants to proclaim that the country that he loves and has just described in all of its majesty is now merely leased out like a farm. The leasing he refers to with obvious disappointment is Richard’s decision to lease out royal lands in order to fund the war with Ireland.

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

O, but they say the tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony.
Where words are since, they are seldom spent in vain,
For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.
He that no more must say is listened more
Than they whom youth and ease have taught to gloze.

Related Characters: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (speaker), King Richard II, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York
Page Number: 2.1.5-13
Explanation and Analysis:

Gaunt speaks these lines while deathly ill after his son’s banishment. He says them to his brother York, after saying that he hopes to see Richard again before he dies to give him some final advice. The reason Gaunt believes this last meeting to be important is that “the tongues of dying men” (i.e. speeches from people who are about to die) carry more weight than those of regular, healthy people. Gaunt suggests that last words are rarely unimportant or spent in vain, and that they are most often important truths. Someone uttering their last speech, according to Gaunt, will be listened to more carefully than a young smooth talker (“someone taught to gloze”). Ultimately, though, Gaunt’s illness is used as the reason for Richard to ignore Gaunt’s dying speech.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

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

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.

I had forgot myself. Am I not king?
Awake, thou coward majesty, thou sleepest!
Is not the King's name twenty thousand names?
Arm, arm, my name! A puny subject strikes
At thy great glory. Look not to the ground,
You favorites of a king. Are we not high?
High be our thoughts.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Page Number: 3.2.84-90
Explanation and Analysis:

For a moment, Richard attempts to swing his emotions back upward, saying that in his despair he forgot himself. He asks himself rhetorically, “Am I not king?” He then proceeds to call out his own majesty for being asleep, and says that his name is worth twenty thousand regular names (the number of soldiers he’s just lost). He characterizes Henry as a “puny subject” compared to his own great glory, and consciously uses the imagery of low to high that has been used to characterize his fall and Henry’s rise. Richard tells himself not to look at the ground, since he himself is high (though he uses the royal “we” here to emphasize his greatness). He needs to think high to keep his high political position on the throne. However, he will soon be emotionally deflated, and ultimately he will fall and lose his crown.

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

Yet I well remember
The favors of these men. Were they not mine?
Did they not sometime cry "All hail" to me?
So Judas did to Christ, but He in twelve
Found truth in all but one; I, in twelve thousand, none.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Page Number: 4.1.175-179
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard says these lines just before officially turning his crown over to Henry. He laments that all of those who used to be his subjects and used to praise him are now supporting Henry as king. Richard likens this betrayal and the frustration of their shallow loyalty to Judas’s betrayal of Christ. But, as always, Richard expands the example to a kingly scale, saying that he has been betrayed by thousands, as opposed to only one (Judas) who betrayed Jesus. And what’s more, Judas was only one out of twelve apostles who betrayed, whereas Richard claims that none of his thousands were truthful to him. This final point though, is a little over the top, as only moments before these lines are spoken Carlisle has been arrested for treason against Henry for supporting Richard.

Here, cousin, seize the crown.
Here, cousin.
On this side my hand, on that side thine.
Now is this golden crown like a deep well
That owes two buckets, filling one another,
The emptier ever dancing in the air,
The other down, unseen, and full of water.
That bucket down and full of tears am I,
Drinking my grief, whilst you mount up on high.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: The Crown
Page Number: 4.1.190-198
Explanation and Analysis:

In this climactic moment, the transition of power from Richard to Henry is made through the physical object of the crown, which symbolizes power and the throne itself. Both men hold either side of the crown, while Richard characterizes it as a deep well with two buckets alternately rising (when empty) and falling (when full of water). While Richard passes his power to Henry, he envisions Henry as a higher bucket pouring sorrows, grief, and tears down to a lower bucket that is Richard. It is fitting that as his fall is enacted and Henry’s rise to power is made official, Richard uses more low and high imagery with himself occupying the lowly figure.

With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duteous oaths.
All pomp and majesty I do forswear.
My manors, rents, revenues I forgo;
My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny.
God pardon all oaths that are broke to me.
God keep all vows unbroke are made to thee.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: The Crown
Page Number: 4.1.216-224
Explanation and Analysis:

In these powerful lines, which utilize anaphora, the literary device in which multiple lines begin with the same word or words (here, “with my own”), Richard officially transfers his powers as king over to Henry. These lines are significant because, while it seems that Henry’s perspective on the ability of subjects to pass sentence on kings has won, the notion that only a king can dethrone a king is not disproven. Rather, it is reinforced, as Henry’s coronation cannot be made official until Richard himself transfers the power. Thus it is crucial that Richard washes the “balm” (his anointment) with his own tears, gives the crown with his own hands, speaks the transfer with his own mouth, and makes Henry king with his own breath. It is also tragic, however, that his last speech act as king is to uncrown himself through the coronation of his foe.

They shall be satisfied. I’ll read enough
When I do see the very book indeed
Where all my sins are writ, and that's myself.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.284-286
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard speaks these lines after officially transferring his powers to Henry. The last thing that Henry and his men require of Richard is a formal reading of all the accusations against the former king. They bring him a list and ask him to read the crimes. Instead, Richard requests a mirror, wherein he will look at his reflection and report the faults he sees there, which are all in himself. In one way, these lines suggest the way that Richard has internalized his faults, and the way that sin and dishonor appear to be a matter of one’s interior, as opposed to matters of appearance alone. But we can also note a clever, multi-language pun. Richard says that in the mirror he’ll see the book where all his sins are written, and that book is his self. This line plays with the Latin word “corpus,” which means both body and book.

Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?
'Tis full three months since I did see him last.
If any plague hang over us, 'tis he.
I would to God, my lords, he might be found.
Inquire at London, 'mongst the taverns there,
For there, they say, he daily doth frequent
With unrestrainéd loose companions,

Yet through both
I see some sparks of better hope, which elder years
May happily bring forth.

Related Characters: Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.1-22
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry speaks these lines to Henry Percy and some other nobles at the beginning of a scene. He has officially been crowned king by this point in the play. The excerpt is the first (and only mention) of Henry’s own son during the play, which partly focused at the beginning on Henry’s relationship with his father, Gaunt. Henry describes his son Hal (though unnamed here) as “unthrifty,” and notes that he hasn’t seen him in three months. If anything can threaten his crown, he says, right now it’s this prodigal son, who can be found, most likely, at a tavern in London with wild companions that sometimes even commit robberies.

This depiction of Hal is proved exactly accurate in the following play, Henry IV Part 1, which focuses in part on the father-son relationship between Henry and Hal. It’s fitting that Henry has this conversation with Percy, since in the next play Henry will even say that he wishes Percy were his son instead of Hal.

It’s also fitting, though, that Henry concludes the discussion of his son by saying that he sees sparks of hope in the boy, and that he might grow up and become a son of whom he can be proud. Henry’s prediction is also proved true by the rest of the tetralogy. In fact, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2 and Henry V can even be seen as three plays telling the story of Hal’s transition from miscreant prince to the successful King Henry V.

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.