Richard became king at the age of ten, taking over for his father, Edward the Black Prince, who predeceased his father. This elevation gave the boy authority over all nobles, including his uncles. Once crowned, Richard’s right to rule and to have his commands obeyed was supported by the order of God. It was believed that the king’s power was issued directly from God, and the king served as the representative of God on Earth. To resist the will of the king was to set oneself against the order of the universe and the will of God. Therefore, the king ruled by divine right, and this belief served as Richard’s primary weapon.
Richard is a king, not simply a man, and this play is about the claim of a king. Most of Richard’s actions have to do with the act of kingly power or the failure to act. The matter of Gloucester’s death proves that Richard is not just. As long as Richard is king, he is just the landlord of England. Richard is unjust towards Gaunt and replies with rage and threat, A lunatic lean-witted fool.”
His coldness at the passing of a great man is shocking, but with his next lines, he moves from the insensitive to the illegal. When he seizes Gaunt’s possessions, he breaks the law and deprives Bolingbroke of his inheritance. He strikes at the foundations of his own power but still believes that he is right in everything that he does. If Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford and the son of the Duke of Lancaster, does not inherit his father’s lands and titles, Richard is challenging the same rule that gave him the right to govern England by inheritance from his father, the Black Prince, and his grandfather, Edward III. When King Richard lands on the coast of Wales, he is aware of the existence of the rebellion but convinced that the nature of the kingship will protect him.”
Not all the water in the rough, rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king. 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.
Richard’s elaborate comparison of the king to the sun leads to his belief in divine right. Many qualities of this quotation reflect Richard’s character. He sees himself as the glorious fire, which is parallel to the traditional image of the king as the sun. When Richard removes the crown, he does so with a poetic flair that intimates he, a divinely ordained king, will always possess a majesty that Bolingbroke, forever a usurper, can only dream of: With mine own tears I wash away my balm, With mine own hands I give away my crown.”
The implication is that only a lawful king can follow this ceremony, and Bolingbroke will never have such status. He will forever be smaller than Richard, who concludes his performance with a line of forgiveness. Though I did wish him dead, I hate the murderer.
Henry banishes the knight from his presence and decides on a voyage to the Holy Land to compensate for his guilt. He has killed a king, the Lord’s ordained, and it is a crime that will cast a dark shadow over England for a long time to come. I believe that Shakespeare wrote this play with the belief in divine right.
Shakespeare is writing this play for the Queen’s pleasure, and his views cannot be so drastic, or he could be beheaded. There are many references to God in relation to Richard and divine right. When Richard gives up his crown, he also loses his identity. We should hate Richard for being a weak ruler and love Bolingbroke for being strong and able to take a stand on the many issues Richard could not, but the reverse happens at the end of this play.