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Richard II - Act 2 
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Post Richard II - Act 2
Richard II, Act 2

Please use this thread for discussing Richard II, Act 2.



Mon Jan 05, 2015 10:32 am
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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
The second act opens in Ely house, where the dying John of Gaunt hopes the King will soon arrive so he can regale him with advice. Gaunt tells York that the King will pay heed because words from a dying man "enforce attention like a deep harmony." But Gaunt pretty much ends up just pissing the King off and, after Gaunt dies (offscreen), and under protest from York and others, the King seizes Gaunt's "plate, his goods, his money, and his lands" to help pay for the war effort in Ireland.

Shakespeare really compresses the action in this play, but there seems a glaring problem with events here. Just after the King confiscates Gaunt's land, we learn that Henry has already launched an army with eight tall ships and three thousand men. Indeed, Henry has been waiting for the King to leave for Ireland before launching his attack. I thought that this was the impetus for Henry's attack all along, to recover his rightful inheritance. But Henry can't know that the King has disinherited him yet, can he? It just happened. Anyone else confused by this?


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Mon Jan 05, 2015 10:53 am
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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
geo wrote:
The second act opens in Ely house, where the dying John of Gaunt hopes the King will soon arrive so he can regale him with advice. Gaunt tells York that the King will pay heed because words from a dying man "enforce attention like a deep harmony." But Gaunt pretty much ends up just pissing the King off and, after Gaunt dies (offscreen), and under protest from York and others, the King seizes Gaunt's "plate, his goods, his money, and his lands" to help pay for the war effort in Ireland.

Shakespeare really compresses the action in this play, but there seems a glaring problem with events here. Just after the King confiscates Gaunt's land, we learn that Henry has already launched an army with eight tall ships and three thousand men. Indeed, Henry has been waiting for the King to leave for Ireland before launching his attack. I thought that this was the impetus for Henry's attack all along, to recover his rightful inheritance. But Henry can't know that the King has disinherited him yet, can he? It just happened. Anyone else confused by this?

That does seem to be a glaring historical anachronism Geo.
He's not tied to history but drama I suppose.
John of Gaunt is portrayed as a philosophical optimist, always trying to see the bright side of things, as in his advice to Bolingbroke on how to view his exile.Or I suppose more accurately, how to make the best of a bad job.
Now he hopes his swan song to Richard will have the desired effect it's gravity and sincerity deserve,and will cause Richard to reconsider his course of life for the better.
The duke of York though has no such illusions,and Gaunt in the end dies disappointed and expecting the worst, and finally parts from Richard breathing imprecations against him.
Richard now for the last time repeats the defining misrule of his life, by seizing the fortune and lands of the late Gaunt for his Irish war and implementing another round of heavy taxation.
I think this is what Gaunt means by speaking of England as being leased and Richard as landlord not king.No one really owns their land but hold it so long as they cough up the taxes to Richard.
It's a big issue for Gaunt.Any other ideas about what Gaunt means by this leasing?
We have Gaunt's romantic vision of England the sceptred isle and other Eden, contrasted with how he sees it sold to hock by Richard and his policies.
Great language and imagery from Shakespeare here which is really the beating heart of all his work.
Richard inquires finally of Nothumberland concerning Gaunt; "What says he?" To which Northumberland replies; "Nay,nothing: all is said, His tongue is now a stringless instrument; Words,life and all,old Lancaster hath spent."
I think it's this kind of descriptive ability, as in this simile, which is marks out Shakespeare as a great writer.



Last edited by Flann 5 on Tue Jan 06, 2015 12:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
Flann 5 wrote:
. . . Richard now for the last time repeats the defining misrule of his life, by seizing the fortune and lands of the late Gaunt for his Irish war and implementing another round of heavy taxation.
I think this is what Gaunt means by speaking of England as being leased and Richard as landlord not king.No one really owns their land but hold it so long as they cough up the taxes to Richard.
It's a big issue for Gaunt.Any other ideas about what Gaunt means by this leasing?

Thanks, as always, Flann. I think Bevington discusses the leasing issue either in the intro or in the annotations (of the version of the play that I'm reading). But this is a big deal, another "defining misrule" in Richard's reign. (I like how you phrase that.) Basically, the King is taking a percentage of the land leases to fund his various wars and other lavish expenditures. Sort of borrowing the money now and having to pay it back later at its full value. The King is basically running up his debt, kind of like most of our American presidents have done since Reagan.

I believe Gaunt makes a reference somewhere that the King is spending more now in peacetime than his predecessors did during war. The King himself says they are forced to "farm our royal realm."

Richard II: We will ourself in person to this war:
And, for our coffers, with too great a court
And liberal largess, are grown somewhat light,
We are inforced to farm our royal realm;
The revenue whereof shall furnish us
For our affairs in hand: if that come short,
Our substitutes at home shall have blank charters;
Whereto, when they shall know what men are rich,
They shall subscribe them for large sums of gold
And send them after to supply our wants;
For we will make for Ireland presently.
Act 1.4

John of Gaunt: 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
Act 2.1

Asimov explains that medieval kings were generally cash-starved anyway, and that Shakespeare maybe exaggerates Richard's spendthrifty ways. He says that the King usually receives revenues from his own royal estates and from customs dues. But funding wars was very difficult in the best of times, and kings sometimes were forced to declare one of their rich subjects a traitor so that he could confiscate his estates.

But though Henry is banished, he was never declared to be treasonous. And so what Richard does is illegal and very wrong. York tries to tell him not to seize Gaunt's estate, but the King does so anyway.

Asimov also resolved my question about how Henry could launch all those ships and armies before learning that he has been disinherited by the King. In fact, some time has passed between when John of Gaunt dies and when Richard leaves for Ireland. Shakespeare covers a lot of history so that everything seems to happen all at once. That some time has passed between these events is probably more obvious on stage or in film.

Here's Asimov:

Quote:
In the play it all seems to happen at once—John of Gaunt's death, the King's departure for Ireland, Bolingbroke's move. Actually . . . John of Gaunt died in February and the King departed in May. Bolingbroke made his move at the beginning of July 1399.


So Henry would have had plenty of time to hear about the King's dastardly deed and would have had time to assemble armies and wait for him to leave for Ireland before making his move.

Asimov has an interesting aside about Bushy, Bagot, and Green. Sounds like a law firm, doesn't it? I'll post that next.


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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
geo wrote:
Thanks, as always, Flann. I think Bevington discusses the leasing issue either in the intro or in the annotations (of the version of the play that I'm reading). But this is a big deal, another "defining misrule" in Richard's reign. (I like how you phrase that.) Basically, the King is taking a percentage of the land leases to fund his various wars and other lavish expenditures. Sort of borrowing the money now and having to pay it back later at its full value. The King is basically running up his debt, kind of like most of our American presidents have done since Reagan.

I believe Gaunt makes a reference somewhere that the King is spending more now in peacetime than his predecessors did during war. The King himself says they are forced to "farm our royal realm."

Thanks Geo,
I was perplexed about the leasing problem.
Bevington as I recall does mention the taxation. The blank charters were particularly resented.If I recall right,the king could sell the right itself to collect these revenues and blank meant just that.The collectors could arbitrarily decide how much to demand and presumably got a cut for themselves.
Curiously, Richard was untypical of the Plantagenet kings in not waging war in mainland Europe. His making peace with France was particularly unpopular with the knights and barons, who it seems gleaned considerable wealth by these wars.
Presumably this was through the loot gained in conquest and taxing of conquered peoples.
A big gripe for Gaunt is that Richard waged war on his own royal relatives and not the hated French which Gaunt sees as a glorious thing in their history.
And historically Bolingbroke spent his brief exile in France where a coup took place, and the new regime disregarded the peace treaties with Richard and facilitated Bolingbroke's return to England in order to stir up trouble for Richard.
Not that he needed much help here as Richard did a good job of raising trouble for himself.



Last edited by Flann 5 on Wed Jan 07, 2015 6:34 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
Flann 5 wrote:
A big gripe for Gaunt is that Richard waged war on his own royal relatives and not the hated French which Gaunt sees as a glorious thing in their history.
And historically Bolingbroke spent his brief exile in France where a coup took place, and the new regime disregarded the peace treaties with Richard and facilitated Bolingbroke's return to England in order to stir up trouble for Richard.
Not that he needed much help here as Richard did a good job of raising trouble for himself.


That was John of Gaunt's lament that England has made "a shameful conquest of itself." It's a beautiful speech:

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:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!
Act 2.1

Later, York lists Richard's list of injustices, including this interesting tidbit . . .

. . . the prevention of poor Bolingbroke
About his marriage . . .
Act 2.1

I believe Flann has mentioned the long history between Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke already. At one time Henry had been the honored guest in the French court and was negotiating a marriage contract with a cousin to the French king. I doubt this was a case of true love, but merely Henry maneuvering himself into a beneficial alliance. Asimov says that it was in Richard's best interest to prevent this marriage, which would give Bolingbroke a close connection to the French monarchy. So he hastily sent an envoy to France, demanding that the marriage not go through.

You can easily see that Henry has long been a thorn in Richard's side, and vice versa, and with that historical context we can understand Richard's motivations for stopping the duel and banishing Henry. Presumably the Elizabethans were more familiar with this history. Bolingbroke is never far from being able to claim the throne based on lineage, and clearly is politically ambitious as well. Shakespeare perhaps breezes past Henry's ambitious nature in order to highlight Richard as the clear villain.


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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
geo wrote:
You can easily see that Henry has long been a thorn in Richard's side, and vice versa, and with that historical context we can understand Richard's motivations for stopping the duel and banishing Henry.


I sort of wonder why Richard didn't allow the duel between Mowbray and Bolingbroke to go ahead. Mowbray being a seasoned soldier it's not unlikely he would have killed Bolingbroke and that would have been the end of any threat to the crown from him.
Still Richard's reign is so bad that sooner or later he likely would have been deposed anyway.All events seem to conspire with Bolingbroke for his successful and relatively bloodless revolution,at least in the beginning.
Richard can only blame himself for the mass defections to Bolingbroke's cause. There seems to be a blurring between the primal and subconcious and the tangible realities in Act two.
Richard is still king, but before a shot is fired everyone seems to sense his reign is over. Bushy,Bagot and Green the court politicians, see the stark military realities and know their goose is cooked.
Richard's wife the queen is filled with nameless foreboding which soon is given concrete reality by the news she gets of Bolinbroke's landing with an army.
The Welsh army loyal to Richard are waiting for his return and rumour of his death is enough for them to abandon the cause.
The Welsh captain articulates a primal fear grounded in portents he sees of the fall of kings. Not all entirely irrational.In the mix of celestial and natural things there's also this; "Rich men look sad and ruffians dance and leap.The one in fear to lose what they enjoy,the other to enjoy by rage and war."
The Earl of Salisbury recognises that the cause is lost without the Welsh army but as though infected by the Welsh captain's primal thinking chimes in with; "Thy sun sets weeping in the lowly west,Witnessing storms to come,woe and unrest."
At the start of Act three, Richard in similar vein conjures the earth of his kingdom to fight for his divine right,somewhat unintentionally humourously at times, as when he calls on "heavy gaited toads" to cause his enemies to slip on them.
All is lost for Richard but what effect will this humiliation have on him personally?



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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
Just to tie up the the question of the 'leasing' of England which all the characters resent so much.

When Richard says:
"We will ourself in person to this war:
And, for our coffers, with too great a court
And liberal largess, are grown somewhat light,
We are inforced to farm our royal realm;"

The key line is the last one - Richard is referring to tax farming, a system where the king was able to get his hands on a fixed sum of money in exchange for handing the right of taxation over to private individuals, who were called tax farmers. It was very useful for the king, especially when he was in financial difficulties, and also for the tax farmers, who used to tax the people several times the normal tax rate and keep the extra. It wasn't so good for the punters though.

This was one of the causes of the French Revolution. In the 17th and 18th centuries tax farmers became immensely rich in France. In fact the Ferme Générale (the corporation of tax farmers) built a very elaborate and much-hated wall around Paris just before the revolution, not designed like most city walls to protect the city, but rather to limit entry to Paris to a few carefully patrolled gates where the tax farmers could exact exact tolls and customs from all who passed.

The tax collecting contracts were leased out to the tax farmers - this is what Gaunt is referring to when he speaks of England being "leased".

I suspect the Earl of Wiltshire, who we never actually see but whose name is continually mentioned in connection with nefarious activities, was the main tax farmer.
In Sc 1 of Act 2, Ross says:
"The Earl of Wiltshire hath the realm in farm."



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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
Quote:
We have Gaunt's romantic vision of England the sceptred isle and other Eden, contrasted with how he sees it sold to hock by Richard and his policies.
Great language and imagery from Shakespeare here which is really the beating heart of all his work.

Yes, this is Shakespeare at his patriotic best - I'm going to quote from it as it's one of his most famous speeches and I want to point out a technique he uses in it - he uses repetition in a way that creates an emotional response in the reader or listener.

"This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd 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,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,

It's the kind of speech you think Winston Churchill might have made. In fact one of Churchill's best known speeches copied its structure from this speech, as well as echoing its strong patriotism and sense of defending an island realm.
"...we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender"

youtube Churchill's speech
the key part starts at I:16, though the whole segment makes interesting listening.



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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
Quote:
I sort of wonder why Richard didn't allow the duel between Mowbray and Bolingbroke to go ahead. Mowbray being a seasoned soldier it's not unlikely he would have killed Bolingbroke and that would have been the end of any threat to the crown from him.


Yes, I wondered this too - either way he would have got rid of one of them for good, and with a bit of luck it might have been Bolingbroke. Could have saved him a lot of trouble



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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
An interesting point is that in "Henry IV", Lord Northumberland, Harry Percy and the others protest that they only supported Bolingbroke in the first place in order to restore him to his rightful inheritance - not to overthrow Richard. They used this argument to justify their later rebellion against Bolingbroke as king. However here in Act 2 we have Northumberland , after complaining about the "most degenerate king", declare:

"If then we shall shake off our slavish yoke,
Imp out our drooping country's broken wing,
Redeem from broking pawn the blemish'd crown,
Wipe off the dust that hides our sceptre's gilt
And make high majesty look like itself,
Away with me in post to Ravenspurgh;
But if you faint, as fearing to do so,
Stay and be secret, and myself will go.
ROSS
To horse, to horse! urge doubts to them that fear.
WILLOUGHBY
Hold out my horse, and I will first be there."

There seems little doubt here that they're much more interested in overthrowing the king than in restoring Bolingbroke's lands, however much they try to wriggle their way out of it later.



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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
Hi Jetsam, Lots of interesting ideas in your posts.
jetsam wrote:
There seems little doubt here that they're much more interested in overthrowing the king than in restoring Bolingbroke's lands, however much they try to wriggle their way out of it later.

They were only too willing to avail of the opportunity to overthrow Richard.
From the very outset the spectre of revolution follows Richard. There's the Peasant's revolt with it's radical egalitarian threat to the traditional orders of rights and privileges based on birth and the structures maintaining this order whether monarchy,church or traditional received law.
The king alone would be exempt, but there is just another small step to the monarchy itself being abolished once all underpinning it is removed.
The Lords appellant rebellion is couched in the language of the court favourites misleading the young king to act contrary to their rights through taxation for selfish ends.
The executions of many of these is a direct revolutionary challenge to the rule of the king himself though framed in such a way as to excuse the king of direct blame for this.
Again there is an underlying threat that should Richard pursue such a course he would not always be excused in this way.
Richard's response is to put down these threats violently and continue in the same vein as his early advisers.
As Bevington points out, Richard himself subverts the traditional order of bloodline based patrimony, by illegally seizing Bolingbroke's inheritance.Could not his own rights be next?
And Gaunt's charge is one of further subversion of the 'natural' almost divine order by turning the monarch into a landlord and the subjects mere tenants bled dry by the parasites and caterpillars of the king.
Richard doesn't inspire loyalty but tries to enforce it.
The Welsh given their history would be extremely ambivalent about 'loyalty' to any English king, least of all one like Richard.
I think Shakespeare suggests this by the rumour of Richard's death being enough to send them all home.No one waits around longer than necessary to check this information.
There is something pathetic about Richard's conjuring the earth to fight for his kingdom.No flesh and blood will and Richard realises this grim reality but seeks fleeting hope in the aura of his divine prerogative.
All he now has left to cling to,it seems.



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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
Just touching on the divine right of kings from a biblical perspective.
In the new testament both Paul and Peter write requiring obedience by Christians to "the powers that be" as being ordained by God for the maintenance of law and order.Whoever resists then, resists the ordinance of God.
In the old testament there is the theocracy Israel,with kings anointed by prophets. These kings though could be challenged by the prophets as God's mouthpiece, and even removed from power as King Saul was, though he retained some protection as the anointed of God.
Of course in the new testament,Christ's kingdom is "not of this world" but a spiritual kingdom defined by obedience to the rule of Christ as revealed in his teachings.
Over time this distinction became blurred with the rising power of bishops and popes who colluded with or opposed kings and pretenders for largely political,financial and personal gain.
This resembled black farce at times with feudal lords murdering and deposing local kings and then being welcomed in Rome by a Pope who anointed them ceremonially as defenders of "Christendom." It might be an heir of a king or it might be a usurper.

In England at the time of Richard this was the model. The arch-bishop of Canterbury would anoint the king ceremonially. Of course kings could appoint or depose arch-bishops.
In any event the perception was rooted in the theocratic model of Israel, but without a prophet to challenge the king it provided carte blanche to these kings to act with impunity protected by the distorted concept itself.
Ultimately there is no guaranteed divine protection for worldly kings, and it's a kind of self deception by Richard to presume he can act oppressively and every thing will still be fine.
An oppressive emperor or king could not be overthrown by Christians who took the new testament seriously. Nevertheless, not everyone thought this way and history is littered with revolutions and coups.
Gaunt gives voice to his view of England as especially blessed and another Eden favoured by nature and God.
Richard though from this perspective, is destroying and polluting this garden with caterpillars and weeds and betraying his role as anointed preserver of a sacred trust.
Disastrously for Richard, even in this world where the king is perceived as anointed by God, even this can not salvage his crown. Such tragically, is the measure of his misrule.



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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
Flann 5 wrote:
. . . In England at the time of Richard this was the model. The arch-bishop of Canterbury would anoint the king ceremonially. Of course kings could appoint or depose arch-bishops.
In any event the perception was rooted in the theocratic model of Israel, but without a prophet to challenge the king it provided carte blanche to these kings to act with impunity protected by the distorted concept itself.

Great comments!

As Flann says here, the divine right of kings is an idea that goes way back. In Shakespeare's time, they still held a view that goes back to the Greeks that everything has its proper place and the world has a proper order. On the Great Chain of Being, God and angels were above men, and men were above animals, animals were above plants, etc. Importantly, a King held a special place as a divine being, but he was also human. Sound familiar? I think Bevington touches on this duality in the introduction.

The final scene in Act 2 bears special notice. And it's short enough that I'll just quote it in its entirety.

Quote:
SCENE IV. A camp in Wales.
Enter EARL OF SALISBURY and a Welsh Captain

Captain
My lord of Salisbury, we have stay'd ten days,
And hardly kept our countrymen together,
And yet we hear no tidings from the king;
Therefore we will disperse ourselves: farewell.

EARL OF SALISBURY
Stay yet another day, thou trusty Welshman:
The king reposeth all his confidence in thee.

Captain
'Tis thought the king is dead; we will not stay.
The bay-trees in our country are all wither'd
And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;
The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth
And lean-look'd prophets whisper fearful change;
Rich men look sad and ruffians dance and leap,
The one in fear to lose what they enjoy,
The other to enjoy by rage and war:
These signs forerun the death or fall of kings.
Farewell: our countrymen are gone and fled,
As well assured Richard their king is dead.

Exit

EARL OF SALISBURY
Ah, Richard, with the eyes of heavy mind
I see thy glory like a shooting star
Fall to the base earth from the firmament.
Thy sun sets weeping in the lowly west,
Witnessing storms to come, woe and unrest:
Thy friends are fled to wait upon thy foes,
And crossly to thy good all fortune goes.

Exit


This scene is just a conversation between a Welsh captain and the Earl of Salisbury, but one that shows the cosmic significance of a King being deposed, representing a shift in the Great Chain and a world that suddenly goes topsy turvy.

Meteors occlude the stars, the moon appears bloody, rich men look sad and ruffians dance and leap. These are all bad omens foreshadowing Richard's fall to the "base earth." The two men naturally assume that Richard is already dead, and maybe he is in a way.

I've always enjoyed Shakespeare's cosmic viewpoint, using astronomical metaphors to show that we are all connected in an orderly universe. Bad things happen if that natural order is disrupted. The two men in this scene know that there will be storms to come, woe and unrest . . .

We see very similar themes in Macbeth and Hamlet and King Lear. When kings fall, there's going to be hell on earth. It's possible that Shakespeare is propagandizing to some extent, playing up to Elizabeth's (and later King James') divinity. Making it clear that deposing monarchs is a very bad idea. But if so, the Bard propagandizes so well and poetically.


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Thu Jan 08, 2015 1:59 pm
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Post Re: Richard II - Act 2
geo wrote:
We see very similar themes in Macbeth and Hamlet and King Lear. When kings fall, there's going to be hell on earth. It's possible that Shakespeare is propagandizing to some extent, playing up to Elizabeth's (and later King James') divinity. Making it clear that deposing monarchs is a very bad idea. But if so, the Bard propagandizes so well and poetically.

Hi Geo, I suppose as a working playwright Shakespeare had to know which side his bread was buttered on.
I think he is quite detached generally and acutely observant of human behaviour.
I'm sure you know that Elizabeth's court censored parts of Richard the second, as they construed it as dangerously subversive to the monarchy.So is it propaganda or the expression of real characters in that culture and time?
Even the soaring patriotic rhetoric of Gaunt's speech is counter weighted by Gaunt's consideration of the conquest of other nations and peoples as glorious.
I doubt Shakespeare would have shared this view of war and conquest.
One of the lords,I forget who, complains against Richard's ill gotten,farmed revenues contrasted with the loot they had extracted nobly by "blows!"
The beauty of the thing is the wholehearted conviction of various characters,however right, wrong or misguided they may be, which lends a natural eloquence to their speeches,I think.
Thanks for your thoughts here Geo and Jetsam. It's good to get different perspectives and thought provoking ideas.

Interesting the comparison between Gaunt and Churchill's speeches. The B.B.C. at one point used Gaunt's speech as part of their coverage to inspire England's attempts to succeed in the recent soccer world cup.
Maybe they would have done better with Churchill's.
We shall fight them on the football fields! Red cards all round,I fear.



Last edited by Flann 5 on Thu Jan 08, 2015 7:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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jetsam
Thu Jan 08, 2015 7:01 pm
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