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The notion of kingship in shakespeares history plays

Representations of Kingship and Power in Shakespeare's Second Tetralogy Amanda Mabillard Since it is impossible to know Shakespeare's attitudes, beliefs, and play writing methodology, we can only present hypotheses, based upon textual evidence, regarding his authorial intention and the underlying didactic message found in the second tetralogy of history plays.

In constructing his history plays, Shakespeare most likely relied upon the Chronicles of Froissart, and, primarily, Holinshed, but he altered and embellished the material found in these sources. Through an examination of both the plays and Shakespeare's sources, we see that many of the changes are implemented to promote a deliberate political philosophy.

The plays make the statement that the best possible ruler must be both anointed and politically shrewd. A monarch's license to rule is not based simply on his or her divine right of succession, but also on his or her ability to shoulder the responsibility that comes with being divinely appointed — to lead the people wisely, placing the welfare of the nation above personal desire.

This philosophy seems to be a combination of Tudor and Machiavellian theories on the nature of kingship and power. Moreover, it is possible that this didactic message linking all four history plays in the second tetralogy was constructed as a reaction to the succession problem and the potentiality that The notion of kingship in shakespeares history plays and her council might choose an heir lacking in one or both of these areas. Thus, the plays, to a large extent, can be read as a collective guide to help Elizabeth select the next ruler of England.

In order to assess the credibility of the argument that the plays contain the didactic message that a ruler needs the combination of divine right and leadership qualities, we must examine the three main characters, Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V, as found in the chronicles and in the plays.

The historical events of Richard's reign are kept in sequence and no significant changes are made to his character.

List of Shakespeare’s History Plays

However, it is the small and subtle changes to the chronicles that so effectively reshape the focus of the play from a simple report on history, to a dramatic lesson on the responsibilities of monarchs.

Many of the embellishments Shakespeare makes to the information he found in Holinshed's Chronicles are directed towards stressing and reaffirming Richard's status as a divinely sanctioned king.

The first and most striking example is the way the character of Gaunt changes. Shakespeare's portrayal of Gaunt is one of the few instances where he dramatically alters the source material of Holinshed1.

In the Chronicles, Gaunt is a disorderly and rapacious magnate. However, in Richard II, Gaunt is the voice of reason, wisdom, and, above all, patriotism. It is likely that Shakespeare relied on the Chronicle of Froissart for his characterization of Gaunt.

The following passage from Froissart's Chronicle shows the similarities: The duke of Lancastre was sore dyspleased in his mind to se the kynge his nephewe mysse use himselfe in dyvers thynges as he dyd. He consydred the tyme to come lyke a sage prince, and somtyme sayd to suche as he trusted best: Our nephue the kynge of Englande wyll shame all or he cease: The Frenchman are right subtyle; for one myschiefe that falleth amonge us, they wolde it were ten, for otherwise they canne nat recover their dommages, nor come to their ententes, but by our owne means and dyscorde betwene ourselfe.

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And we se dayly that all realmes devyded are destroyed. John Froissart, Chronicles [London: In these passages from Froissart is a Gaunt who greatly resembles Shakespeare's character, but Shakespeare further enhances Gaunt's patriotism and loyalty to the king in order to place the emphasis on Richard's divine right to rule. In many of his speeches in the play, Gaunt emphatically expounds the importance of the Divine Right of Kings.

Gaunt knows Richard was an accomplice in the murder of Gloucester, but still he refuses to support any action that would put Richard's crown at risk: To stir against the butchers of his life!

But since correction lieth in those hands Which made the fault that we cannot correct, Put we our quarrel to the will of heaven. I, ii, 3-6 God's is the quarrel; for God's substitute, His deputy anointed in His sight, Hath caused his death; the which is wrongfully, Let heaven revenge; for I may never lift An angry arm against His minister. I, ii, 37-41 Protecting Richard's position as God's vicegerent is extremely important to Gaunt. For whatever crimes Richard has committed, it is the responsibility of God alone, not Richard's subjects, to judge and punish him for his offenses.

Gaunt's condemnation of disobedience to Richard because of Richard's divine right to the crown exemplifies the Tudor political thought of the sixteenth century.

The Tudors adopted the theory of the Divine Right of Kings in the attempt to maintain a strong government, and to counter the Papal authority as the state attempted to break away from the church. The theory became the foremost doctrine of the time regarding the nature of kingship, and rests on four main statements: The vehicles for the expression of Tudor propaganda were usually homilies and sermons.

It declares the following: It is intolerable ignorance, madness, and wickedness for subjects to make any murmuring, rebellion or insurrection against their most dear and most dread sovereign Lord and King, ordained and appointed by God's goodness for their commodity, peace, and quietness.

As quoted in B. Joseph, Shakespeare's Eden [London: God hath sent us a noble king in this his visitation; let us not provoke against him. Let us beware; let us not displease him; let us receive with all obedience and prayer the word of God. I hear say ye walk inordinately, ye talk unseemly, otherwise it becometh Christian subjects: I will not make the king a pope; for the pope will have all things that he the notion of kingship in shakespeares history plays taken for an article of our faith.

I will not say but the king and his council may err; I pray daily that they may not err. It becometh us, whatsoever they decree, to stand unto it, and receive it obediently. Hugh Latimer, Sermons [Cambridge: Bolingbroke will make countless other English men and women feel the repercussions of his act of deposing the rightful King Richard. Gaunt's transformation from Holinshed's greedy aristocrat who cares little for the commonwealth into Shakespeare's patriotic voice of Tudor England is the most significant example of Shakespeare's additions and alterations implemented to stress the importance of Richard's ordained right to rule.

However, there are other additions in the drama that also work to this end. In Holinshed's Chronicles, it is reported that York is left in charge while Richard is in Ireland, and that he raises a small army to confront Bolingbroke and his men.

But it is in vain because York's army refuses to fight against the beloved Bolingbroke.

  • Henry can now assume his "lion persona" Machiavelli, p;
  • What will make [the ruler] despised is being considered inconstant, frivolous, effeminate, pusillanimous, and irresolute;
  • Oxforrd University Press, 1918;
  • These passages echo the words of Machiavelli;
  • All furnish'd, all in arms, All plumed like estridges that woo the wind; Bating like eagles having lately bath'd, Glittering in golden coats like images,;
  • A ruler who succeeds in creating such an image of himself will enjoy a fine reputation; and it will be difficult to plot against him or to attack him.

York then "came foorth into the church that stood without the castell, and there communed with the duke of Lancaster" Holinshed, Chronicles [New York: York's feelings are ambiguous in this passage. He clearly obeys his orders and tries to fight Bolingbroke, but he seems to change sides and join Bolingbroke without compunction or hostility.

Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle! I am no traitor's uncle, and that word 'grace' In an ungracious mouth is but profane. Coms't thou because the anointed king is hence. York, in the play, is outraged that Bolingbroke would consider rebelling against Richard.

His speech draws attention to Richard's anointed status. Having no choice, York goes along with Bolingbroke, but he is bitter: Another addition Shakespeare's makes to the drama not found in the sources is a speech given by Richard. Richard's brief initial confidence before Salisbury brings the news that his men have joined Bolingbroke is mention briefly in Holinshed. However, the speech Richard gives is created by Shakespeare, and further illustrates Richard's divine right: Not all the water in the rough rude sea Can wash the balm off from an anointed king.

But the additions also illustrate the importance of legitimacy itself. Richard has gained the throne by the law of primogeniture, and has license to control England because he is a divinely-ordained king.

Although Richard, as we will see, is grossly incompetent at managing the affairs of the realm, he is legitimate; he has right on his side, and, therefore, he has one of the qualifications that make a successful ruler. What Richard is lacking is the ability to make shrewd political decisions.

The Problem of Kingship in Shakespeare’S History Plays

He is ordained and has the rightful authority and obligation to lead his subjects, but, being weak and self-absorbed, he cannot fulfill his duty. His ineffectiveness is shown in the Chronicles of Holinshed, but to a far lesser extent than in the play. Many additions Shakespeare makes to Richard II are designed to emphasize Richard's divine right, but so too are many passages added that bring to light Richard's flaws in the area of governance.

Subsequently, the additions illustrate that Richard is not the best possible ruler because he does not have the combination of legitimacy and political savvy. It seems a necessary decision in the Chronicles — Richard desires to end the argument, and no other motive of Richard is implied. But in the play, Richard makes the following speech after Bolingbroke is banished that impugns his motives behind the removal of Bolingbroke: He is our cousin, cousin; but 'tis doubt, When time shall call him home from banishment, Whether our kinsman come to see his friends.

Ourself and Bushy here, Bagot and Green, Observ'd his courtship to the common people— How he did seem to dive into their hearts With humble and familiar courtesy.

As were our England in reversion his, And he our subjects' next degree in hope. Although severely punishing a man so beloved by the people for a minor offense is political folly, Richard does not seem to take this into consideration.

He shows his weakness as a ruler by allowing his emotions to shape his decisions. This passage also illustrates that Richard has not been able to interact effectively with the English people; he has done nothing to gain their support.

This estrangement from the common people is politically disastrous. In both the play and The Prince we see that the ability to influence public opinion is the key to political success, a concept that Richard cannot grasp. Holinshed's Chronicles recount how Richard had to 'farme the realm' and impose blank charters on the people as a source of revenue: Holinshed does not say for what purpose Richard used the money.

Shakespeare, however, adds the following passage: We will ourself in person to this war; And, for our coffers, with too great a court. We are enforc'd to farme our royal realme, The revenue whereof shall furnish us Our affairs in hand. If that come short, Our substitutes at home shall have blank charters.

I, iv, 41-48 To take the money of his already poverty-stricken subjects and use it to finance the war in Ireland is a politically-disastrous decision.

It is likely no coincidence that Shakespeare chooses to emphasize Richard's use of the money for a cause so unacceptable to the people.

  • March is still one of Henry's enemies right to the end;
  • All furnish'd, all in arms, All plumed like estridges that woo the wind; Bating like eagles having lately bath'd, Glittering in golden coats like images,;
  • Even when Hal simply challenges Hotspur to a duel, he receives praise;
  • Bolingbroke will make countless other English men and women feel the repercussions of his act of deposing the rightful King Richard;
  • First of all, he began the campaign.

Richard's lack of political ability is also the basis for the inclusion of a speech by York in the play. In Holinshed's Chronicles, it is reported that York was displeased with Richard, but the reason why he was displeased are not given.

  • Subsequently, the additions illustrate that Richard is not the best possible ruler because he does not have the combination of legitimacy and political savvy;
  • The servants, in keeping with the play's message that the deposition of a king is always wrong, do not condone the usurpation by any means — they simply wish things had been different;
  • O, if you raise this house against this house, It will the woefullest division prove That ever fell upon this cursed earth.

In Richard II however, Shakespeare's provides us with this information, giving a detailed account of Richard's faults: Thy deathbed is no lesser than thy land, Wherein thou liest in reputation sick.

A thousand flatterers sit within thy crown, Whose compass is no bigger then thy head. O, had thy grandsire with a prophet's eye Seen how his son's son should destroy his sons, From forth thy reach he would have laid thy shame, Deposing thee before thou wert possess'd. These passages echo the words of Machiavelli: What will make [the ruler] despised is being considered inconstant, frivolous, effeminate, pusillanimous, and irresolute: