Richard the Second: Midpoint

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Richard the Second.

There are 2755 lines in the play, so the midpoint takes place at line 1378, which occurs in Act Three, Scene Two.  Bolingbroke has landed in England, and is gathering strength. Richard, assumed dead by some of his Welsh supporters, finally returns from his Irish campaigns, and, when confronted with news of Bolingbroke’s rise, responds,

                            Know'st thou not
That when the searching eye of heaven is hid,
Behind the globe, that lights the lower world,
Then thieves and robbers range abroad unseen
In murders and in outrage, boldly here;
But when from under this terrestrial ball
He fires the proud tops of the eastern pines
And darts his light through every guilty hole,
Then murders, treasons and detested sins,
The cloak of night being plucked from off their backs,
Stand bare and naked, trembling at themselves?
So when this thief, this traitor, Bolingbroke,
Who all this while hath revelled in the night
Whilst we were wandering with the antipodes,
Shall see us rising in our throne, the east,
His treasons will sit blushing in his face,
Not able to endure the sight of day,
But self-affrighted tremble at his sin.
Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off from an anointed king;
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the Lord:
For every man that Bolingbroke hath pressed
To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown,
God for his Richard hath in heavenly pay
A glorious angel: then, if angels fight,
Weak men must fall, for heaven still guards the right.

— III.ii.36-62

This speaks to Richard’s key assumption of his power, or as Carlisle says: “That power that made (Richard) king // Hath power to keep (him) king in spite of all … heaven” (III.ii.27-28,29). We’re talking the Divine Right of Kings here, ladies and gents. Only God can choose who is King.

Look at the language Richard uses: “an anointed king,” “the deputy elected by the Lord,” “a glorious angel.” Richard, though scared and seemingly weak, takes comfort and refuge in this sacred and overriding concept: “The breath of worldly men cannot depose” Richard. He is safe.

Of course, from a purely historical perspective (both from our twenty-first century, and Shakespeare late sixteenth century), we know this to be laughable. God cannot save his throne.

Richard may be arrogant, but is he delusional?

While Richard’s throne and reign cannot be saved, what happens when this righteous order of kingship is overthrown?

England descends into chaos, a political deathspin and upheaval. As we shall see in later plays, Bolingbroke’s health declines, his son — even the great and heroic King Henry the Fifth — dies young, and his grandson… well, we saw last year that story doesn’t end so well.

When this Divine Right is overturned by a man, the War of the Roses begins. It’s a conflict that cannot end until a demon, hell, the Devil himself in the person of Richard the Third is slain. Only then, is all set right, and the Tudor house, the ruling line of the contemporary Elizabeth Rex, is put on the throne of England.

God, not Satan it seems, is in the details…

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