Richard: I have betrayed myself (4.1.244-252) #KingedUnKinged

NORTHUMBERLAND            My lord, dispatch, read o’er these articles.

RICHARD                                Mine eyes are full of tears, I cannot see,

And yet salt water blinds them not so much

But they can see a sort of traitors here.

Nay, if I turn mine eyes upon myself

I find myself a traitor with the rest,

For I have given here my soul’s consent

T’undeck the pompous body of a king,

Made glory base and sovereignty a slave,

Proud majesty a subject, state a peasant.   (4.1.244-252)

Northumberland is apparently unmoved: my lord, dispatch—get on with it, hurry up—read o’er these articles. It’s all you’re being asked to do. Do it. But Richard’s not done yet, far from it. Pathetic grief—mine eyes are full of tears, I cannot see—can’t read anything at the moment—gives way to (or is joined by) righteous anger, directed both outwards and towards himself. I’m not so blinded by salt water tears (tears are salty, yes, but Richard’s mention of salt water suggests both sheer volume—the sea—and perhaps stings the eyes of the audience too) that I can’t see a sort of traitors here. Sort is not kind of, sort of, but rather a mob. All of you, he says again, are traitors.

But so is he himself, Richard adds, in a characteristically acute and unexpected move. I have betrayed myself too, by agreeing to all this. I have violated my sacred oaths. I have jeopardised my soul, by giving my soul’s consent to this process, this self-undoing that I have so recently described and performed. I have undecked the pompous body of a king (pompous here means full of pomp and ceremony; it’s not pejorative) by stripping off my regalia. And in so doing, I have made glory base, recalling the scene at Flint Castle, when Richard first appeared more or less aloft in glory, often staged in golden or glittering robes or armour, speaking of the sun, and then descended, or fell, to the base court where Bolingbroke and his followers were waiting. I have made sovereignty a slave, proud majesty a subject, state a peasant. I have reduced, lowered, abased myself, and in so doing I have abused the dignity of my office, betrayed a sacred trust. It might seem as if I, Richard, as an individual have cast these things aside, whether voluntarily or not, as if simply resigning from a job. But for a king to consent to deposition: that’s not about employment status, clearing your desk and handing in your badge. It’s a full-blown ontological crisis.

Frankly Northumberland doesn’t stand a chance when Richard’s in this mood (and there is much, much more to come). Bolingbroke, silent, bides his time.


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