Richard II

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Language Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Throne Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
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Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Richard II, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
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As in every Shakespeare play, language is explored and used playfully in Richard II. In this play, language can be seen as a source and means of power, as a connection to native lands, and as an act in and of itself. But Richard II is unique in that it is only one of two (or four, depending on whom you ask) plays that consist entirely of verse. While the next plays in the sequence, Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2, feature almost 40% prose and 60% verse, and explore the relationship of informal pub-speech to formal king-speech, Richard II contains no prose whatsoever. The language is all elevated. Instead, characters’ differences in speech come mostly from style and subject matter. King Richard II, for example, uses symbolism and metaphors, whereas Henry speaks more directly.

Speech in this play, especially from the mouth of rulers, is power. Richard decrees laws and binding decisions simply by speaking them; whatever he says is done. Henry expresses the power of Richard’s speech when contemplating his own banishment, and then the reduction of his years in exile from ten to six. He notes that four years of his life are made different by one word from Richard; he says, “Such is the breath of kings.” The king’s speech instantaneously becomes law backed by the power of God. One word has the power to disrupt, end, or change Henry’s life forever. Richard banishes Henry just by speaking, making his words a political speech-act. Another example of a speech act is the coronation of Henry as King Henry IV, which is done with speech, and legitimized by Richard’s verbal concession of the throne. We can also note that language here is described as the “breath of kings,” suggesting that language provides Richard with life and is necessary for him to continue ruling.

The play, though, also explores the limitations of royal speech acts. When Richard banishes Henry, Henry’s father Gaunt tells the king that the banishment will cause him to die sooner, and that he will certainly die before the exile is finished. When Richard tries to tell Gaunt that he has many years to live, Gaunt explains the limitations of royal speech. While Richard can kill him with a word, the king cannot do anything to prolong Gaunt’s life: “Thy word is current with [time] for my death, / But dead, thy kingdom cannot buy my breath.” Though Richard is ruler by divine right and even God’s substitute in England, and though he has the power to sentence Gaunt to death or seize all of his assets (as he does later in the play) just with his words, human language, even of a king, is ultimately insufficient to create or sustain life, a clear distinction between human voice and the divine.

Richard’s banishment of Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke also exposes a way that language works in the play: it connects speakers to their homeland. Upon learning that he has been banished from England for life, for example, Mowbray laments “The language I have learnt these forty years, / My native English, now I must forgo; / And now my tongue’s use is to me no more / Than an unstringéd viol or a harp.” After learning he has been banished, his first remark is that he will no longer be able to speak his native language, rendering his tongue as useless as a broken or incomplete instrument. Language is of the utmost importance, but particularly native English is the means of connecting with his homeland. Indeed, Mowbray concludes this speech by asking “What is thy sentence then but a speechless death, / Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath.” First we can note that Richard’s political sentencing was delivered simply in the form of sentences, and again that speech is made equivalent with breath. But here we see the consequences of being forced to speak another language in a different land: “speechless death.” Speaking the English language, then, is a life force, and is somehow different and more significant than simply speaking or communicating in a different form.

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Language Quotes in Richard II

Below you will find the important quotes in Richard II related to the theme of Language.
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 1, Scene 3 Quotes

The language I have learnt these forty years,
My native English, now I must forgo;
And now my tongue's use is to me no more
Than an unstringéd viol or a harp,
Or like a cunning instrument cased up,
Or, being open, put into his hands
That knows no touch to tune the harmony.

What is thy sentence then but speechless death,
Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath?

Related Characters: Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk (speaker), King Richard II
Page Number: 1.3.161-175
Explanation and Analysis:

Mowbray delivers these lines after his near battle with Henry. As the two are about to fight, Richard interjects and decides instead to banish both men. Here, Mowbray reacts to the pain of being banished from England.

His primary complaint about banishment is that he will no longer be able to speak his first language. He has spoken and learned his native English for forty years, and now, since he must live in a different country, he will not be able to speak it, rendering his tongue (with a pun on tongue meaning language) as useless as a broken musical instrument, or, he says, an instrument in unskilled hands.

What’s more, Mowbray characterizes this sentence as “speechless death,” suggesting that going without speaking English (like being robbed of his honor) will lead to his death. Speech then, is given the utmost importance. Speaking is (repeatedly) characterized as breathing; it is an essential component of staying alive. But Shakespeare also emphasizes and elevates his own English language in particular, rather than just praising language itself.

How long a time lies in one little word!
Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
End in a word; such is the breath of kings.

Related Characters: Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV (speaker), King Richard II
Page Number: 1.3.218-220
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry speaks these lines after Richard banishes him for ten years and then reduces his sentence to six years. Like Mowbray’s response, the lines indicate the power and importance of language in the play. However, rather than saying that language is important to Henry, who is more action oriented than speech oriented, these lines refer to the specific power of a king’s speech, which can be understood as a speech act.

Again characterizing speech as breath, Henry notes that one word from Richard’s mouth can change the course of his life. By uttering one sentence, Richard takes four long years off of Henry’s banishment. Richard’s speech can be understood as an act because when a king speaks a (punitive) sentence, it is immediately law. Just saying the words “you are banished for six years” enacts the banishment.

Shorten my days thou canst with sullen sorrow,
And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow.
Thou canst help time to furrow me with age,
But stop no wrinkle in his pilgrimage,
Thy word is current with him for my death,
But dead, thy kingdom cannot buy my breath.

Related Characters: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (speaker), King Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Page Number: 1.3.233-238
Explanation and Analysis:

Gaunt speaks these lines in anguish after his son’s sentencing. He says that he only supported the idea of banishing Henry to appear impartial, and that he (Gaunt) will most likely die before Henry returns to England. Richard attempts to comfort Gaunt and tell him that he’s mistaken, but here Gaunt makes an important distinction about the limitations of a king’s speech.

Richard’s speech has the power of action; with one word he could sentence Gaunt to death, basically killing him with words. But Gaunt notes that Richard is powerless to grant him life, to undo or slow time. Like time, Richard can use his word to kill Gaunt, but once Gaunt is dead, no royal words, nor the entire kingdom of England can be used to bring him back to death. This power to give life is one reserved only for God, an important limitation to the speech powers of a king who is understood as God’s substitute on earth.

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,

England,
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

Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off from an anointed king.
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the Lord.
For every man that Bolingbroke hath pressed
To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown,
God for His Richard hath in heavenly pay
A glorious angel.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV, Duke of Aumerle, Bishop of Carlisle
Related Symbols: The Crown
Page Number: 3.2.55-62
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard speaks these lines in self-reassurance after being reminded by Carlisle (and Aumerle) that he is king by divine right. Despite the fact that his chances against Henry look bad, they say, God is on his side. Employing his heavily figurative language, Richard says that not all of the water in the sea can wash away his kingliness, nor can all the breath (speech) of every human depose a king who has been chosen by God. Humans and nature, he argues, simply do not have the power to dethrone God’s appointed substitute. For every soldier that Henry has gathered to fight against the crown (representing the throne and position of king), Richard says that God has an angel who will fight on his side.

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.

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

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.

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.

Alack the heavy day,
That I have worn so many winters out
And know not now what name to call myself.
O, that I were a mockery king of snow
Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke,
To melt myself away in water drops.—

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Page Number: 4.1.268-273
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard speaks these lines as a subject, having transferred away his kingly power to Henry IV. This excerpt speaks to the loss of identity that Richard feels upon losing the throne. After so many years alive, he doesn’t know what to call himself, since he has only been king thus far. After using “winters” for years, Richard uses another winter image and reverses the imagery that he has previously used to describe himself as king. Throughout the play, Richard characterizes himself as the sun, but here he wishes that he were a fake king made of snow standing before the sun that is Henry, so that he could be melted away into water. This image at once clarifies the reversal of power roles and shows Richard’s deep despair and wish to melt away into water drops, reminiscent of Hamlet’s desire to “melt into dew.”

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 5 Quotes

My brain I'll prove the female to my soul,
My soul the father, and these two beget
A generation of still-breeding thoughts,
And these same thoughts people this little world,
In humors like the people of this world,
For no thought is contented.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker)
Page Number: 5.5.6-11
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard speaks these confusing lines while imprisoned by Henry. Part of the dramatic irony here is that Exton has already said that he intends to murder Richard, but Richard doesn’t know that he will be killed (though he does consider himself to be as good as dead). After saying that he cannot compare his prison to the world because he is so completely alone, Richard speaks the difficult excerpted lines. He says that his brain will be “female” to his soul, and that his soul will be a father, and that together brain and soul will produce self-reproducing (“still-breeding”) thoughts and ideas. These thoughts will people the prison, meaning that they’ll stand in for the people out in the world to end his loneliness in prison. The people in the world are then characterized as miserable, since none of his thoughts are content in his pain. This complex figurative language is an example of Richard as a contemplative, language-oriented king, contrasted starkly by direct, action-oriented Henry.

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.