Richard II

Language in Richard II College

Richard II by William Shakespeare is a historical play that chronicles part of the rule and eventual downfall of King Richard II of England. Simultaneously, the play also showcases the rise of Henry Bolingbroke to the throne. Shakespeare employs several recurring images relating to breath, speech, tongues, words, and names in his work, all of which contribute to the major political themes that arise through the conflict between Richard and Bolingbroke. Through imagery relating to language and speech, the two main characters are sharply contrasted, as are the ideas of what a successful monarch is. Richard is cast as an ineffective yet poetic ruler, while Bolingbroke is portrayed as a man of swift action. The emphasis on language in the play, which is essentially given as much weight as life itself, helps to establish Shakespeare’s central question of what makes for the ideal English monarch.

Early in the play, Mowbray introduces the importance of language and speech during his interaction with King Richard II. Immediately following his banishment from the kingdom, Mowbray is appalled at his punishment and remarks that his “tongue's use is to me no more/Than an unstringed viol or a harp” (I.iii.161-2). Without the ability to...

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