Divine Wrong?

Like many of my fellow classmates, I too found the text difficult to understand, but there was one thing that interested me: the idea of divine right and its effects on the decisions of the characters in the play. Divine right is the idea that certain bloodlines are chosen by God to rule, and this lends itself to allow people to rule who may not be the best choices for the throne. King Richard is an apt example of this, seeing as the choices he and others make in response to him often do not reflect the morality befitting a king.

In Act I, Scene ii, the Duchess of Gloucester approaches Gaunt to avenge the death of her husband, who is also Gaunt’s brother, and it is believed that King Richard secretly has something to do with it. Gaunt says he can not intervene because the king has been appointed by God, and he does not want to have to answer to God for his actions. It seems that he bases his logic solely on this idea of divine right, and this stops him from being able to do what may be right.

What is right, it seems, is not always what this “divinely” appointed king is after. When trying to solve the dispute between Bullingbrook and Mowbray, he originally leaves them to duel. However, on the day in which they have their duel, Richard comes in and decides to banish both of them from England for ten years. Richard’s indecisive nature shows that he may not be the best fit for king. To make it worse, Richard then reduces Bullingbrook’s sentence from ten to six, saying that he takes pity on Bullingbrook’s father, John of Gaunt. As Bullingbrook points out, it doesn’t matter whether the banishment lasts six years or ten, for his father will be dead before he can return. This futile action shows that Richard is not the most thoughtful king.

However, this divine bloodline does lend itself to some interesting effects. In Act II, scene i, shortly after the banishment, John of Gaunt dies. Soon after, in Act II, scene iii, Bullingbrook returns to England to get revenge for the wrong done to him at the hands of King Richard. When chastised by his uncle, The Duke of York, Bullingbrook replies “As I was banished, I was banished Herford; But as I come, I come for Lancaster” (2.3. 112-113), showing that he has taken advantage of his father’s death and circumvented his banishment as Herford, for he has now inherited his father’s title as the Duke of Lancaster.

The same faulty rule that made Richard king allows Bullingbrook to defy the king’s decree and give him a chance to wreak his vengeance. While it may not necessarily be fair, it does make for these interesting dilemmas and moments in the play, creating tension between powerful relatives. Divine right, it seems, hardly leads to positive effects but often leads to interesting situations.

-Jon Farrell