Richard II Eclipsed By Henry Bolingbroke

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I: Deposing “God’s Elected Deputy”: Richard II Eclipsed by Henry Bolingbroke Let us begin with Richard II and Richard’s extra-legal actions in act 1. As we shall see, though Richard here seizes the exception and establishes himself as sovereign over English law, his actions create a dangerous precedent that will eventually prove the king’s undoing. The play famously begins with King Richard mediating an argument between Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray. As Katherine Eisaman Maus explains, the two “are fighting about the murder of Thomas of Woodstock;” though “Bolingbroke knows that Richard secretly ordered Woodstock’s death,” he nevertheless “cannot say so, [and must] pic[k] Richard’s agent Mowbray for his target” (“Introduction to Richard II,” 973). Richard, cognisant of his own guilt in Woodstock’s death, cannot allow the matter to proceed legally, and defers judgement in favour of a trial by combat—an already antiquated means of determining whose cause was right that acts under the presumption that God will favour the just cause and allow the innocent man to win (973). Richard, however, senses that Mowbray’s loss would “fright fair peace / And make us wade even in our kindred’s blood”—that is, ignite civil war—and so of necessity asserts his own authority over that of his own laws: he diffuses the situation by ‘mercifully’ banishing the combatants from the realm and thereby preventing further crisis (1.3.131-132). In so doing he rises to Schmitt’s hypothesised role of

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