Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Richard II

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This control over language and ceremony by Richard never is more apparent than in this scene. He brilliantly tells Bolingbroke, Here cousin, seize the crown. On this side my hand, on that side thine (4.1.17). Two hands on the crown, two men holding the same crown, symbolically represents the fact that with the usurpation of the throne Bolingbroke will split England in what will eventually lead to the War of the Roses

Richard, now utterly alone, transforms into a tremendously powerful orator. He continues to compare himself with Christ, saying

Richard for the first time abandons language in this final act. Throughout the play he has not fought with anyone, preferring instead to defend himself with language. However, in scene five he becomes the aggressor, succeeding in killing two men before being killed himself. This change in Richard, from using language and ceremony to adopting war and violence, comes too late for him. Had he chosen to fight earlier in the play, history might have been different.

The death of Richard is a significant liability for Henry IV, because it puts him

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for it calls on a wide range of emotion, and--like the earlier scene of Richards meeting with Bolingbroke--an opportunity for the actor to perform someone who loves performing. You will probably have noticed that Richard enjoys creating the roles that he is forced, or chooses, to play, and in this scene he has centre stage. In a sense he becomes the stage director for the scene, shaping the way that the others respond.

Images of Fortune and the Self

Richards first act as stage director is to trick Bolingbroke into physically seizing the crown from him, symbolically representing the struggle for power--the crown--in visual terms. Having caught Henry in this compromising position, Richard explores their relationship in another image that was traditionally used to represent the inevitable movement of Fortunes wheel.

Is Richard creating a ritual for his uncrowning?

Is he searching for a new role now that he has lost his identity as king?

Is the passage again portraying a character who revels in self-pity?

His imagery again picks up the correspondence between sun and king, as for the first time Bolingbroke is likened to the sun

Notice again that he does not know what to call himself now he is not the king. In his search for identity he calls for a mirror, and in a passage that recalls some of Marlowes most famous lines he fails to find an answer in the visual reflection of his face and smashes the mirror he has asked for.

When Richard left for Ireland he was a figure of little sympathy. He was seen to be selfish, even cynical in his actions, and had abused his position of power. In . . Richard returns, and as his power is stripped from him we are forced to reassess our response. As the scene unfolds Richard is confronted with a succession of disappointments and in effect gives up.

He begins by affirming his role as King. He is the mother, the nurturer of England (8-11), and he calls on the earth itself--in its spiders, toads, and adders--to protect him (14-).

It is specifically designed to give a heightened quality to the language and to those using it. Whatever the reaction of those around him, Richard (or Shakespeare) is building a sense of himself as an epic hero, supported by God in his role of king by divine right

Richard flamboyant both in his public persona of defiance and in his private asides of self-pity.

Gaunts Speech Act , Scene 1

Gaunt compares Richards lifestyle to a violent fire (4)

Thus the speech is a rhythmic tour de force. At the same time, Shakespeare works in a series of images that reverberate elsewhere in the play. England, separated from the rest of the world by the Channel, is patriotically and triumphantly celebrated at the very moment that Gaunt bewails its decline under Richard. It is compared to Eden (4); later in the play you will find many Biblical references both in the garden scene (. 4) and in the many places where Richard refers to himself as a Christ figure. It is a little world (45) a microcosm of the greater world and a potential image of the ideal order that (according to the Tudor Myth) was about to be disturbed by the succeeding events. It is personified as a fertile female, with a womb (51) that brings forth epic heroes and crusaders. It is a dear land (57), dear both in the sense of being beloved and of high value (expensive)--but it is being exploited by Richard rather than nurtured.

Look at the rest of the scene, and observe the dynamic between young Richard and old Gaunt. Consider especially the play both of them make on the idea of physical and metaphorical sickness. (Look back to 1. 1. 15-157 where Richard plays the role of physician in trying to heal the breach between Bolingbroke and Mowbray.)

The first occasion when Richard failed as King to govern wisely--the murder of Thomas of Woodstock--occurred before the play began; the second--Richards stopping the challenge between Bolingbroke and Mowbray--is left ambiguous and unexplained; but the third--Richards seizing of the property of the Lancasters--occurs in this scene, and for the first time the extent of his irresponsibility is made very clear. Gaunts death is greeted almost flippantly by the young king, and his immediate confiscation of the wealth of one of the countrys oldest families spurs York to an eloquent and reasoned defence of the principle of order. If Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford and the son of the Duke of Lancaster, does not inherit his fathers lands and titles, Richard is challenging the same rule that gave him the right to govern England, by inheritance from his father the Black Prince and his grandfather Edward III (see especially 15-1).

York concludes with another prophecy if Richard goes ahead with his seizure of Herefords lands, he will pluck a thousand dangers on [his] head (05). Shakespeare underlines the accuracy of Yorks words as Richard leaves the stage, leaving a group of disaffected nobles to begin to plot against him (not altogether surprisingly, since their own lands will be as insecure as Bolingbrokes).

What is your reaction to Richard at this point in the play?

Think of him both as a character (list what you see as the characteristics you find in him so far), and as the expression of a role, the king of England (list the way he is fulfilling--or failing to fulfill--his expected function).

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