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 .
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            At first, Richard is certain in his position--"Bolingbroke. . . / Shall see us rising in our throne, the east, / His treasures will sit blushing in his face" (3.2.47, 50-51)--then quickly loses confidence. At some news of Bolingbroke's progress, he says dishearteningly, "Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke's, / And nothing can we call our own but death" (3.2.151-152). And at further news that the Duke of York allied with Bolingbroke, Richard completely abandons hope--"Discharge my followers: let them hence away, / From Richard's night to Bolingbroke's fair day" (3.2.217-218); Richard's sun has set.

            With nobles on his side, Bolingbroke's actions to claim his father's estates then become acts of usurpation. He soon holds court at Westminster Hall where a discouraged Richard abdicates the throne. Bolingbroke reacts to this by planning his coronation. Meanwhile, Richard is left to bemoan his sorry state with words that are quite melodious and very poetic, but they are just words: "With mine own tears I wash away my balm, / With mine own hands I give away my crown, / With mine own tongue deny my sacred state, / With mine own breath release all duty's rites" (4.1.7-10). Richard's action in this scene, dashing the mirror to the ground, is nothing when compared to the

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