Past and present

Of the two heroes Bullingbrook is the man who can master the new rules and who is therefore expected "to make majesty look more like itself" (2.1 .295). His major quality is his capacity to act efficiently, while Richard cannot. The latter can only lament and pity himself in wordy eloquence. Even his closest followers, such as Bishop Carlisle, lose patience with him and urge him to act rather than wait.:

My lord, wise men ne'er sit and wail their woes,

But presently prevent the ways to wail. (3.2. 178-180)

Richard's first response to this pressure is to pluck up his courage, only to loose heart a few minutes later when he decides to go to Flint Castle "to pine away" and consequently order to discharge the army.

The historical Richard, at least as presented in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, does not seem to have lacked this much in determination and manly courage. Comparing Shakespeare's play with its major source, i.e. Holinshed's text, we find out that Shakespeare left out certain significant data in order to stress the king's inability to act in a heroic way. His Richard goes to Flint Castle and cowardly surrenders to Bullingbrook without putting up any fight, whereas Holinshed's Richard was actually trapped into going to Flint Castle. (Gurr, 16) In Shakespeare's play Richard has the opportunity to act but cannot bring himself to use it, which makes his fall appear more obviously self-inflicted.

Jean Howard and Phyllis Rackin read Richard's inability to act as proof of his effeminacy. The difference between Richard and Bullingbrook is constructed in terms of the ideology of gender difference: "the binary opposition personalized in the conflict between Bullingbrook and Richard is implicated in an early modern ideology of `masculine' and feminine'". (Howard and Rackins, 142) Richard is effeminate because he prefers words to deeds and has no taste for battles. His rapid fluctuations from overweening confidence to the depth of despair (3.3) recall early modern misogynist denunciation of feminine instability. Even his virtues are represented in feminine terms: Howard and Rackin show how York's sympathetic description of Richard's behaviour in adversity — his "gentle sorrow" and "His face still combating with tears and smiles,/The badges of his grief and patience" (5.2. 31-3) draws on the same discourse of the suffering feminine virtue as the description of Lear's Cordelia smiling and crying at the same time as "patience and sorrow strove/ who should express her goodliest" (4.3.16-17). (Howard, 143)

The gendered opposition between Richard and Bullinbrook reproduces the opposition between a degenerate and effeminate present and the masculine, valiant past. The latter is the past Gaunt invokes in order to rebuke the degraded king. It is the past of crusaders or of the conquerors of French territories, who would be outraged to see their descendant waste away England's resources and yield territories on compromise.

The antithesis Gaunt constructs between a warlike, masculine historical world and a degenerate, effeminate present employs exactly the strategy that Thomas Nashe describes as the virtue of the history play — the representation of a "valiant" world of English "forefathers" of ours".(Howard, 148) The history plays appeal to the very nostalgia for the masculine world of the past that Gaunt gives voice to in his speech.

What was it that had produced the nostalgia for the chivalric, militarised virtues of the feudal past among Shakespeare's contemporaries? Richard Halpern points out the fact that "the aristocracy felt emasculated by conversion from a militarised to a consuming class". This anxiety was heightened during Elizabeth's reign by the presence of a female monarch and by the queen's transformation of the medieval culture of aristocratic honour from martial service to courtly display.[7] Richard's Italianated followers who indulged in luxury and aped a fashion that the English considered to be degrading is a comment upon what was perceived to be a threat to 16th century nobility. This was not the case with Richard's own contemporaries. The figure of the "Italianated Englishman " was a familiar object of satire in the sixteenth but not in the fourteenth century. (Ure,49)

Our understanding of the difference between Richard and Bullingbrook as an opposition between past and present needs further nuancing. Mention should be made of the fact that earlier critical thinking on the two characters also considered them in terms of the past -present opposition between , but placed in different positions. It was Richard who was said to stand unambiguously for a glamorous yet outdated past whereas Bullingbrook represented the lustreless yet more efficient present. Tillyard, for example considered Richard II, to be "the last king of the old medieval order".[8] His "essential medievalism" is pitted up against Bullingbrook's embryonic new world. (Tillyard 257) Cultural materialists of the eighties and nineties pointed out that much of the glamour previously injected into Richard may have been a projection of the critics' own nostalgia for a past of plenitude, a plenitude whose loss was particularly painful in the post-war period. [9] Shakespeare's emphasis on Richard's belief in the divine origin of kingship and in the essential sanctity of the king's hereditary right seems actually to have made him look rather "retro" to the Elizabethan audience, though this claim was constantly insisted upon and was refurbished by the absolutist ideology. The medieval world that Richard belongs to and which Tillyard describes as "the old brilliant medieval England of the last Plantagenet in the authentic succession" is shown in the play to be in a process of dissolution. (Tillyard, 262) Its rituals, meanings and correspondences fail to ensure general consent any longer. The very fact that the Duchess of Gloucester can ignore the king's position as God's deputy and presses Gaunt to oppose him, is a case in point. Richard's most outspoken accuser next to Bullingbrook, the duke of Gaunt, charges him with having forfeited traditional values in favour of the ethos of the market: the king, states Gaunt, is no longer a paternalistic ruler, but a "landlord" who looks upon land is a source of profit rather than of responsibility.[10] Richard is both a figure of the past and one of the present. And so is his opponent, Bullingbrook.

Rather than a contrast between two homogeneous worlds —the glorious past and the degraded present— we are confronted with contradictory versions of the past . The version of the past embodied in the figure of Bullingbrook, was more attractive to Shakespeare's contemporaries because it alleviated some of their the anxieties and at the same time incorporated values which were just emerging.

Bullingbrook's charismatic appeal is partially derived from the nascent sense of national identity and patriotism that he is associated with. (Howard, 147) Shakespeare insists on the large popular support that he enjoys, with people from all walks of life, young and old, male and female, coming to join him. What motivates them is Bullingbrook's identification with England. Unlike Richard who uses his country as a source of cash to provide for his pleasures and pursuits (see Gaunt's reproach), Bullingbrook looks upon England as "mother and nurse to him"(1.4.306). There is, however, a detail, which is usually glossed over by critics, namely the fact that Bullingbrook is heading a foreign army upon his return to England. When he lands at Ravenspurgh, his army is mostly French. Northumberland describes the aid that Bullingbrook and his followers have received: "all these well furnish'd by the duke of Brittaine/ With eight tall ships, three thousand men of war" (2.1.285-286). The Duke of Brittany was the very duke that Richard had to yield some territories to. Northumberland is careful not to utter the word French as this would spoil the glamour that he is trying to create around Bullingbrook.

Bullingbrook's emphasis on action and performance echoes the discourses of the emerging culture of achievement. According to this culture, "authority has to be earned " and can no longer be taken for granted as Richard Hooker, an outstanding political and religious thinker of the time, puts it.[11]Richard's effeminate lamentation and indecision vitiates his performance as a prince. Bullingbrook on the other hand is expected to acquire auhtority by means of a vigorous, masculine performance. He is expected to

to redeem from broking pawn the blemished crown,

Wipe off the dust that hides our scepter's gilt,

And make high majesty look like itself. (2.1 293-295),

His performance exhibits a combination of efficiency and force as conditions for successful governing, which strongly smack of the new type of governance that Machiavelli promoted. Machiavelli's theories on power and the use of force represent a subterranean, unacknowledged text, that queries statements that appear to glorify either the present or the past.

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