Richard II

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Richard II is the first play in a tetralogy (a group of four plays) commonly referred to as the “Henriad.” This set of plays depicts the historic struggles for the English throne, and, along with Shakespeare’s other tetralogy, the changes of power that eventually led to the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, the monarch of England during the first part of Shakespeare’s career. In this way, the history plays can be seen as homages to Queen Elizabeth and assertions of her right to the crown. But at the same time, the plays challenge the notion of monarchy and ask difficult questions, such as who has the right to rule, what are the powers of a monarch, how are those powers best enforced, and what is the relationship between a monarch and his or her country?

Richard II is no different. The play begins with Richard firmly in power presiding over a disagreement between Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, who both praise their king as a legitimate sovereign and liege. Richard’s power and status of king come from his “sacred blood.” The sacred aspect of his blood is meant literally here—this line of thinking suggests that kings rule by divine right, meaning that they are chosen and supported by God. John of Gaunt expresses this with some frustration while discussing the murder of the Duke of Gloucester, which he (and Shakespeare’s audience) knows Richard was involved with. Gaunt cannot take this issue up with his king, however, and deems it God’s issue to resolve, since Richard is “God’s substitute” on earth. Thus any rebellion against a king is also a blasphemy and rebellion against God, and though Gaunt might disagree with Richard, he believes it against his Christian duty to challenge the king.

The reference to “sacred blood” also indicates the way that Richard receives God’s endorsement for the throne: royalty and divine right are inherited. Richard was crowned king when his grandfather, Edward III, died. It is literally his blood and his family line that place him on the throne. Though there are disputes throughout the history plays about the ways to properly trace inheritance and royal bloodlines, it is generally accepted that the children of kings inherit the throne. However, when John of Gaunt dies, Richard seizes his assets and disinherits Henry Bolingbroke, robbing him of his inheritance in order to fund a war with Ireland. Such a reckless maneuver has two effects. First, it violates the practices of common decency and tradition that provide the backbone of nobility in England, alienating most people close to Richard. Many speak out against him, like the Duke of York, who will ultimately side with Henry, and others privately disagree and turn towards the rebellion based, in part, on Richard’s decision to forcibly disinherit Henry. And secondly, by usurping Henry’s inheritance, Richard at once delegitimizes the means in which he inherited the throne and lays the groundwork for Henry to usurp that royal inheritance and take power.

The other major question Richard II asks regarding the throne is how should and how does a king rule? King Richard utilizes language to enact his laws and his power, and he does so arbitrarily. When Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray are prepared to fight, for example, Richard decides at the last minute to stop the battle and arbitrarily sentences the two men to different lengths of exile. As evidenced by his willingness to fight and his decision to sneak back into England with troops to take his inheritance (and eventually the crown), Henry Bolingbroke (later King Henry IV) seems to favor action over words as a method of ruling. Richard, on the other hand, seems more concerned with his status and appearance as king than with the actual duties or responsibility of being king. He is criticized, for example, for spending more money in peace than his predecessors did during times of war.

As Henry moves to take his inheritance and fight his exile, he constantly puts forth the question of whether worldly men have the power to dethrone a king appointed by God. Another way of asking this question is “what subject can give sentence on his king?” Richard and some of his subjects (including Gaunt, Henry’s father) believe the answer is no, subjects cannot pass sentence on a king or take the throne just because they are dissatisfied with the monarch’s rule. But Henry and his followers suggest that a king can be held accountable for how he acts on the throne. They can make demands on the monarch if the ruler does not lead well, and can even suggest that the king has somehow lost his divine right to rule. Such a difference in belief suggests the move towards modernity, as Richard’s emphasis on divine infallibility of kings is more medieval, while Henry’s emphasis on intelligence, ability, and public support make him a more modern (for Shakespeare) ruler. It is significant, however, to note that Richard must ultimately surrender his crown and give power to Henry. Henry can declare himself king, but he wants it to be legitimized with Richard’s willing surrender of the throne. In later plays, moves for the throne will be much more war-centric as opposed to this threat of war and simple surrender of power.

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The Throne Quotes in Richard II

Below you will find the important quotes in Richard II related to the theme of The Throne.
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 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,

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

That power that made you king
Hath power to keep you king in spite of all.

Related Characters: Bishop of Carlisle (speaker), King Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Page Number: 3.2.27-28
Explanation and Analysis:

Carlisle speaks these lines after Richard delivers a speech addressed to the land of England itself, urging it to fight against Henry. Carlisle says this quote to remind Richard of the supposed source of his power as king: God. Here he suggests that the power that made Richard king (i.e. God, since Richard rules by divine right) has the power to keep Richard king no matter what the odds against him (since God is omnipotent). Carlisle’s reasoning reflects Richard’s own belief in the source of his status as monarch, as well as the thinking of many in the play, including Gaunt (at first) and York, but the notion that God will keep Richard king ultimately falls flat and fails to keep Richard’s confidence up for long. We can also note that Carlisle here gives the more medieval, opposite perspective of Henry (and his supporters), who would argue the more modern notion that subjects can hold their king accountable for his actions on the throne.

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.

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

What subject can give sentence on his king?
And who sits here that is not Richard's subject?

Related Characters: Bishop of Carlisle (speaker), King Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Page Number: 4.1.127-128
Explanation and Analysis:

Carlisle speaks these lines in protest after Henry is all but officially crowned king Henry IV. Carlisle again offers the more medieval perspective that a king rules solely by divine right, and that subjects of the king, no matter how dissatisfied with the monarch’s rule, do not have the power to pass sentence on a king or depose a king. And everyone but the king, he says, is a subject. The logic of these lines is what frustrated Gaunt at the beginning of the play, and is essentially the same as Richard’s logic when he said that not all the waters of the oceans could wash away his kingliness; only God or a king can dethrone or pass sentence on a king.

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.

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.

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

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.