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How Does Shakespeare’s Richard II Put Politics On Stage?
On Literature in History 2: Richard II
Richard II is a play of sensibility, which is unique in Elizabethan literature for two reasons; firstly it looked to the 14th century for inspiration and secondly it emphasised the importance of emotions. This switch in narrative focus makes Richard II a play, which is concerned with the exploration of personality and intrigue, as opposed to merely dramatically relating historical action. Shakespeare was writing in the Elizabethan age; which preceded the demotion of the monarchy to status of figureheads. For this reason then England’s entire political system was autocratic and revolved around the present King or Queen, they had absolute power. For this reason an evaluation of monarchy, was an evaluation of politics. Hereditary and divine rights endorsed their power. Shakespeare employs the tragedy of King Richard II to offer us a political critique of his contemporary sovereign, Queen Elizabeth I. He raises the question of whether hereditary title and supposed divinity of office are legitimate foundations for a just political system. In this way Richard II not only puts politics on stage, but on trial.
The importance of lineage is prevalent throughout the text; in the character index each individual is defined in relation to their ancestral extraction . This can be seen clearly as the characters interact
Mowbray: “Setting aside his high blood’s royalty
/I do defy him, and spit at him.” (I.I.58-60).
As I have said above Richard II is being employed in this play to offer us a critique of the legitimacy of hereditary rule, the controversy surrounding his own coronation makes him the perfect candidate for dramatisation. He became King of England at the age of eleven, in accordance with the legal doctrine of primogeniture...
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