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Biblical Figures and Ideals in Shakespeare's Richard II Essay

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Biblical Figures and Ideals in William Shakespeare's Richard II


William Shakespeare's Richard II tells the story of one monarch's fall from the throne and the ascension of another, Henry Bullingbrook, later to become Henry IV. There is no battle fought between the factions, nor does the process take long. The play is not action-packed, nor does it keep readers in any form of suspense, but rather is comprised of a series of quietly dignified ruminations on the nature of majesty. Thus, the drama lies not in the historical facts, but in the effects of the situation on the major characters and the parallels drawn by Shakespeare to other tales. The outrage felt by Richard and his fellow royalists is not due from a modern sense of personal loss, but from the much more important sense of loss of order, which came most predominately from the strictly Catholic sensibilities of the time. In Richard's time kings were believed to be divinely appointed and "not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm off from an anointed king" (III.iii, 54-5). This disparity between the perceived will of God and the way in which the events unfold creates trouble in the minds of the characters and the audience. Shakespeare makes it clear that this is not just a simple switch of power, rather a series of events whose meanings and effects penetrate far deeper than the mere surface of the story.

Although not as advanced in its stagecraft as many of Shakespeare's other plays, the intricate web of metaphor and poetry in Richard II makes it perhaps the most meaningful and intense of the historical plays. Richard is not the sniveling villain a lesser playwright might have made him, but a philosopher and a poet whose ideas of majesty have been c...


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...49-50), desiring to repent his sin toward Richard in Jerusalem.

The historical reality of this story is merely that a bad king was replaced by a better one. However, Richard II is not merely a play about a few men long dead; it is about betrayal, dignity, sacrifice, and redemption. Seen through Shakespeare's eyes, the story is not even only about the characters contained in it, but about biblical figures and ideals that enrich the play, allowing this drama to speak to its readers no matter their location in time and space and enticing all to say, of Richard, as of Christ of Shakespeare: the King is dead, long live the King.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, W. "The Tragedy of King Richard the Second." The Complete
Classic Shakespeare. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Johanovich, Publishers, 1997

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.


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