The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1478 Monday, 21 July 2003
From: Keith Hopkins <
Date: Sunday, 20 Jul 2003 21:06:26 +0100
Subject: Richard and Bolingbroke
Ed Taft wonders why Richard allows Bolingbroke centre stage to make his
charges. I think we should be clear here that these were formal legal
allegations made before the king who in medieval law was the fount of
We are not talking here of some piece of tittle tattle or gossip that
Richard stupidly allows to get out of hand. They two men appeared before
Richards as he says (to appeal each other of high treason) you really
can't get more serious than that and the penalties for traitors his
guilt was proved either by judicial process or trial by combat was
horrifying in the extreme.
It is inconceivable that Richard did not know the purport of
Bolingbroke's allegation before he made it / it would never have got to
the stage it did, unless Richard was fully aware of the nature and
ramifications of Bolingbroke's charges.
The point is Richard could head off or settle beforehand these charges
made by one of the most powerful magnates in England, though doubtless
he tried, because Bolingbroke was determined for the reasons I have
suggested to move his 'tanks on to Richards lawn'.
Richard's questioning of Gaunt, I think, is ironic in the sense that
Richard knows full well why Bolingbroke was bringing the charges, ie.
Bolingbroke was aware like many others that Richard had ordered the
death of Gloucester which had been arranged by Mowbray and Richard in
effect is saying, I know why your son is bringing these charges in a
kind of knowing complicit way. As to Mowbray's death on crusade it
should not be forgotten that Mowbray was a soldier by profession so that
it was fairly natural that he would be caught up whilst travelling
through North Italy in the titanic struggles between Christendom and
the Turks. I am not sure anything could be read into this about
acknowledging his guilt and trying to expiate his sins for the murder.
Certainly he may well have been fighting as a mercenary like the Swiss
did and therefore under an element of compulsion for a foreign master
and for financial reward.
Turning now to Michael Egan's fascinating post and the subsequent
discussion or arguement with Mr. Lloyd, I think I have to say that the
time is now propitious for a complete revaluation of the undoubted links
there are between Woodstock and Richard II, and as I make clear in my
detailed footnotes to the latter play in my soon to be completed book on
all Shakespeare's Roman and English History plays.
It seems to me that a lot of critical comment hitherto has focused on
the links between the two plays, but by assuming that Woodstock was by
an anonymous or hand other that Shakespeare's, we have I think been led
into a lot of unnecessary difficulties, when differences though there
are, the similarities between the two plays stylistically,
linguistically, and thematically are so strong as to make a powerful
case that the most straightforward explanation is also the most
plausible, i.e. that the two plays were written by the same dramatist
and that Shakespeare was that person. I would take an earlier date for
the writing of the play of around 1591 because the rougher style and the
subject matter fits the historical canvas that Shakespeare was
portraying in his chronicles, and moreover, thematically it is difficult
to fully understand the first two acts of Richard II without a knowledge
of Woodstock, or at least, of the themes that predominate there. It is
not a question that one cannot understand the one without the other, but
that thematically they read as two parts, one the sequel of the other.
I really find it astonishing having had to research the point for my
book, that the anonymity of Woodstock has been so long maintained when
the claims for Shakespeare's authorship which are strong has received
such relatively little critical attention. I would respectfully agree
therefore with Michael Egan's view that we are dealing here with an
early play that does link with Richard 11 and can be attributed with
reasonable confidence to Shakespeare.
Gloucester was a central talismanic figure in Richards reign and for
many years the bane of his life.
Bolingbroke's attack on Mowbray was a fairly open charge that he was
holding the murderer of Gloucester, i.e. Richard to account for the
crime. Shakespeare's audience cannot be assumed to have been aware or
even read about in Hollinshed the earlier part of Richards reign in
which Gloucester largely figured, and which were largely obscure events
that happened two hundred years previously.
Bolingbroke's charges were well orchestrated, carefully planned moves
designed to checkmate Richard. In a sense Bolingbroke was challenging
Richard's legitimacy, because by attacking the killers of one of the
sons of Edward 111, he is effectively saying that Richard in a way, is
not one of the true descendants of Edward III, and therefore not fit to
This links up with Ed Tafts point about Bolingbroke supporting the
Duchess of Gloucester and explains that speech of the Duchess when she
talks about Edwards seven sons being 'seven vials of his sacred blood'
with no mention of Richard. Bolingbroke in a coded way, but understood
by Richard, is saying that Richard is a traitor to the inheritance of
Edward III and his own great father , the Black Prince. It is
extraordinarily difficult for Richard to defend himself from these
attacks. Bolingbroke is also of course linking Mowbray as Richard prime
accomplice in murder and saying that non the less, even in view of his
nefarious services to his sovereign Richard is not keeping faith with
Mowbray and still holds him responsible for his earlier involvement with
the Appellants. Such is the power and cleverness of Bolingbroke's
assault and his eminent position in the land that all Richard can hope
to do is temporarily defuse the situation, which is what he does.
Even if Mowbray were to have won as the rebels in Henry 1V time suggest,
that could have had an even worse potential effect by inciting
Bolingbroke supporters to open revolt and be seen to have effectively
whitewashed what was commonly believed to have been the royal murder of
one of the most important men in the land.
It is a bit rich to say the least for Bolingbroke to accuse Mowbray of
"plotting all the treasons for these eighteen years in this land", but
then attack was always the best form of defense.
I look forward to the new attribution by Mr. Egan of Woodstock to the
pen of Shakespeare under the title, Richard II, part 1, in his edition.
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