Essay on Honor in Richard II

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The Importance of Honor in Richard II

The tension-charged exchange between Bolingbroke and Mowbray in the first scenes of Richard II provides exciting action for the audience, and gives a glimpse into trial by combat and the importance of honor in Shakespeare's plays. Trial by combat, or a judicial duel was a traditional way to settle disputes in England and Europe for many generations. People dueled to defend their own honor, and to prove personal claims against the honor of others. Honor. Honor is the accumulation of virtuous deeds that instills a respect in others and in you. Possessing, seeking, and defending the elusive trait of honor are crucial elements of Richard II.

The concept of honor has different meanings
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in Council 29). Are we to belief that honor is an instinct or inborn trait that magically appears? To the Elizabethan audience, birthright would still initially guarantee honor, and respect for a noble, honor that could be lost if it was not maintained or if the gentleman's good name became dirtied. Mowbray

despairs over his lost honor, "I am disgraced, impeached, and baffled here,/Pierced to the soul with slander's venomed spear" (Richard II 1.1.170-171). Honor, being an extremely important commodity in Elizabethan England, was something to fight over.

In Richard II, Mowbray and Bolingbroke are set to have a judicial duel to the death. The duel is judicial because the winner, the survivor, is credited with being true and virtuous. The loser, in death, forfeits claims to honor and innocence. They have told Richard their charges against their rivals, and are prepared to defend their honor, and innocence through personal combat. Their honor, their accumulation of virtuous deeds, has been soiled by the accusations brought against them. Slanderous comments and claims were not to go unheeded; in fact, Mowbray and Bolingbroke refuse to throw their gages up to King Richard and settle their quarrel peacefully. Mowbray pleads with Richard to be allowed to prove his innocence and defend his honor:

Mine honor is my life, both grow in one;

Take honor from me, and my life is done;

Then, dear liege, mine honor let me try;

In that I
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