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Richard II Essay: The Characters of Bolingbroke and Richard II

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The Characters of Bolingbroke and Richard II

 

"What tongue speaks my right drawn sword may prove" is the sentence which concludes a short speech delivered by Henry Bolingbroke to King Richard II (1.1.6). These words are but the first demonstration of the marked difference between the above-mentioned characters in The Tragedy of Richard II. The line presents a man intent on action, a foil to the title character, a man of words.

            When Bolingbroke first appears in the play, he is accusing Thomas Mowbray of treason and then states that he is ready to act upon his accusations, to draw his sword against Mowbray. He declares, "Besides I say and will in battle prove . . ." (1.1.92, emphasis mine). Richard yields to the request of trial by combat. It is a ruling on which he later reneges, pronouncing banishment on the two parties rather than allowing their confrontation.

            This is a prime example of Richard using his authority by way of rulings and pronouncements rather than action, even to the point of disallowing an action. Bolingbroke, on the other hand, is quite ready to do battle no matter what the consequences. Moments before Richard puts a stop to the proceedings, Bolingbroke says, ". . . let no noble eye profane a tear / For me, if I be gorged with Mowbray's spear" (1.3.58-59). Here is a man who is resolved in his intent.

            To be sure, even in the ensuing banishment, Bolingbroke is not hindered. When he learns of the seizure of the estate of his dead father, John of Gaunt, by Richard, he comes back to England despite the ...


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...essing anyone who was around or even just addressing himself. However, Bolingbroke is not a man of many words; he feels the need to physically atone for his part in the murder, "To wash this blood off [his] guilty hand" (5.6.50).

            Nevertheless, as a man of action, Bolingbroke has achieved for himself the goal of retrieving his father Gaunt's estates and much more. He, in the end, is king, King Henry IV. And though Richard as king was full of pomp and ceremony, those things were no match for ambition carried to its fullest. His strong words belied incompetence as a ruler, and he could not hold his position. It seems that it was inevitable that Bolingbroke would be the victor at last. Richard should have taken more note of his usurper, before he was such, this man he called "[Gaunt's] bold son" (1.1.3).


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