The opening scene of Richard II can be illuminating on countless counts. On the one hands, Richard II, as king, appears to be acting out in full, his role as supreme arbiter of the territory, by presiding over an appeal for treason. This medieval trial needs the occurrence of the king as both ruler and immediate dispenser of justice.

On the other palm, as the scene unfolds, we slowly but surely learn that what is being undermined isn’t simply the respective reputations of the rival nobles, Bolingbroke and Mowbray, however the very statements of the king himself to his Divine Right to rule. We uncover that what they are fighting about may be the murder of Thomas of Woodstock, Richard II’s uncle. Bolingbroke appears to know that Richard had secretly ordered Woodstock’s death. Obviously, it is difficult for Bolingbroke discover how to write a personal narrative essay to accuse Richard immediately of his own criminal offense.

Nevertheless, his solution, amounts to a thinly-veiled accusation: he accuses Mowbray of murdering Woodstock while under his custody – understanding full well that Mowbray himself was undertaking Richard’s instructions. In the meantime, for the same purpose, Mowbray cannot publicly name the guilty guy and resorts to a flawlessly traditional game of returning Bolingbroke’s insults and accusations. The in any other case perfectly conventional option proposed by the king, a joust, is really as much deployed in security of his royal vitality, as offered as an honorable remedy for noblemen.

At the very point in time when the king appears to be at his most powerful, we can currently discern how precarious this hold on power really is and on what it rests: a conflation of political and divinely ordained authority.

The implication of the idea of the Divine Privileges of Kings is definitely that any concern to royal electricity is unthinkable because it is not merely treason, as viewed in other cultures, but also tantamount to blasphemy. This becomes clear in scene 3 when Richard realizes that he may soon reduce his crown. Richard won’t acknowledge that royal ability relies on human, rather than divine intervention:

Not all of the water in the rough rude sea

Can wash the balm from an anointed king.

The breath of worldly males cannot depose

The deputy elected by god, the father. (3.2 50-53)

The notion that the ceremonial anointment of the king is normally divinely ordained and cannot be outdone is acted out in its complete pathos when Richard II practically uncrowns himself in Act 4 in a bizarre mirror-ceremony.

On the facial skin of it, Henry V as a character could not be more not the same as Richard II. Unlike Richard who simply ignores his topics and provokes their rebellion through unwise plans, Henry is a lot more charismatic and common, while at the same time, politically a lot more astute. Through a combination of eloquence and bravery he is able to inspire and unite his kingdom against an external enemy in a manner that Richard could only have ideas on how to write an informative essay dreamt of.

Henry’s political expertise are most in proof in 2.2 when he plays a fairly Machiavellian trick on the plotters Cambridge, Grey and Scrope. Henry asks their view on whether he ought to be lenient to traitors. Having received the anticipated, hypocritical responses, Henry pretends to hand them their written armed service commissions – to be completed as his faithful topics. In fact, they happen to be letters informing them that Henry is aware of of their plot. They will be promptly arrested.

This is far from being an isolated example of Henry’s cunning side. During a pause in the struggle in 4.1, he disguises himself as a prevalent soldier and mixes with his infantry, engaging them in discussion. Their talk centers around the respective functions of king and subject. Henry maintains that despite the apparent gulf, the king is certainly fundamentally the same as the common man:

I think the King is but a man, as I am. The violet smells to him since it doth if you ask me;

the element shows to him as it doth to meHis ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a guy, and even though his affections are larger mounted than ours, yet if they stoop, they stoop with the like wing. (4.1.99-104)

Yet a few lines later on, he contradicts himself by countering Williams and Bates’ (the common soldiers) argument that the king also has greater moral responsibility that is included with electricity. Henry repudiates his earlier assertion of shared humanity by asserting his distinctive position as king:

Twin-born with greatness: subject to the breath

Of every fool, whose sense forget about can feel

But his personal wringing. What infinite heartsease

Must kings neglect that exclusive men enjoy?

(4.1, 216-219)

The implication is that due to his divinely ordained kingship, Henry’s actions cannot be held to bank account and scrutinized on a single level as commoners. Henry wants to keep a problematic and dubious distinction between his private kingly violence and the violence of common men, which is merely criminal. It becomes obvious that Henry not only likes power games, but really wants to write the guidelines of the game too. This becomes apparent after, when he pardons Williams’s (unintentional) obstacle to himself as the king.

This scene is afterward deployed to illustrate royal magnanimity. To these good examples could be added Henry’s wooing of Catherine in 5.2. Whether or not Catherine is won over is certainly frankly irrelevant because actually, the French King had already, in scene 3, presented Catherine to Henry before his invasion of France. The wooing picture is as a result, strictly, superfluous.

Back to: Example Essays…


We have seen how in both takes on, the notion of the Divine Rights of Kings is certainly mobilized to defend and expand royal prerogatives. In Richard II, Bolingbroke’s rebellion is certainly portrayed as inherently unnatural since it is usually both treacherous and blasphemous. Yet it is plain how ineffective a monarch Richard can be. In Henry V, royal power is moreover portrayed as god-given but as we’ve seen it deployed we are forced to confront the gulf between virtuous kingship and effective statecraft predicated on the Machiavellian unit. Both plays raise the question that why is someone an efficient king is quite far removed from what makes a morally admirable one.


King Henry V – Arden Shakespeare, 1995

Richard II – Arden Shakespeare, 2002

Hamilton, Donna, The Express of Legislation in Richard II Shakespeare Quarterly 34 (1983): 5-17

Greenblatt, Stephen, Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and its Subversion, Henry IV and Henry V. Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism. Ed Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985.