In Richard II, the divine right to rule is a contentious issue. In each play by Shakespeare, the kings are susceptible to certain errors that stem from divine rule or from flouting it, and seizing power on their own. For instance, Richard II has believed his entire life that his kingship is a gift from God and that his actions are an extension of God’s will. By believing that everything he does is an act of the lord, he alienates himself from his subjects and ends up losing his throne to Henry, who does not have the authorization of the lord, but is more politically minded that Richard. This creates a question that spreads through many of the history plays that Shakespeare wrote; is it divine right or power that allows one to rule? This struggle leads to a myriad of issues throughout Richard II and contributes extensively to these representative works of some of England’s famous rulers.
Shakespeare starts with King Richard in the play Richard II who, having ...view middle of the document...
He states, “Put we our quarrel to the will of heaven” (Richard II 1.2.6) which suggests that he does not want to interfere in a matters that he thinks should only be decided upon by the Lord. He claims that Richard is a “substitute” for God and even though he is obviously upset about the loss of his brother he says, “God’s is the quarrel, for God’s substitute, His deputy anointed in His sight, Hath caus’d his death, the which if wrongfully, let heaven revenge, for I may never lift an angry arm against His minister” (Richard II 1.2.37-41). By using the reference “His” minister Shakespeare suggests that Gaunt sees Richard as God’s ordained minister, which means it is beyond Gaunt’s power to revenge himself upon him.
The Idea of Richard being protected by God’s will gains even more support when Church officials become involved. For example, the powerful Bishop of Carlisle, when discussing Richard’s fate, claims that Richard is still the God-chosen leader of England, He invokes Richard’s name, calling him in one of the important quotes from “Richard II”, “the figure of God’s majesty, His captain, steward, deputy elect, Anointed, crowned, planted many years” (Richard II III.ii.125-127). This passage is important because he refers to Richard as God’s chosen leader in multiple ways. He refers to him as ‘captain’ suggesting that he leads the military in God’s stead. Then he also uses the term ‘planted’ which suggests being part of the Earth and very soil of England.
The idea that Richard has the divine right to rule is never really contested, if anything, Richard is the one who ends up questioning it. He begins to wonder what will happen if he is no longer king, and then when he is actually dethroned, he does not know what to do or who he is without being a king. Readers see this conflict of identity towards the end of the play when King Richard says:
Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented. Sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am. Then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king’d again, and by and by
Think that I am unking’d by Bullingbrook.
And straight am nothing. But what e’er I be,
Nor I, nor any man that but man is,
With nothing shall be pleas’d, till he be eas’d
With being nothing. (4.4. 31-41).