Monarchs are known to be among the oldest style of leadership for ruling kingdoms or countries. Usually, a monarch was the supreme head such that no one could question them for fear of the wrath of the ruler. Kings relied on the counsel of a small circle of advisors before they could make a decision. As they are also human beings, not all their choices are right, but people would always have to deal with the consequences. Also, most monarchs were hereditary based on the hierarchy of the royal family. Not anyone could ascend to the throne. As follows, members of the royal family were accorded respect by being future heirs of the kingdom. Some leaders were great for being just, and others were infamous for being ruthless. King Richard II was infamous for making harsh rulings. Inarguably, a king is divine and should unconditionally serve God and his country well. To that end, one is only considered to be a good leader if they rule justly and are concerned about the well-being of their people as is the case with Bolingbroke.
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An analysis of Richard’s character is essential in understanding the context of this argument. Richard is a protagonist in this play where he is first a depicted as a king and later becomes the subject of his cousin Bolingbroke later known as Henry IV. He is described as an individual who settles for the best things life has to offer. A description of his court manifests luxury and affluence. Richard is a ruler who makes irrational decisions without giving much thought on the possible consequences of the actions. For instance, he imposes heavy taxes on his subjects, engages in land usurping, and commits fraud. The crimes against the people will cost Richard his crown because his popularity will significantly decline in favor of Bolingbroke, who is concerned about the subjects’ best interest.
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Also, instead of listening carefully, to the case of Bolingbroke against Mowbray, he gives an ambiguous judgment because he, Richard II, was part of the conspiracy. At first, he tries to quell the quarrel between the two by using the words, “Forget, forgive…conclude and be agreed…” because he is aware of his atrocity in the matter (Shakespeare 1.1). He refuses to listen to the counsel of Gaunt and even proceeds to seizing Gaunt’s property. The action is insensitive and not befitting of a king considering Gaunt was Richard’s regent when he was still a young king. His pride about being God’s deputy and thus unquestionable makes Richard have the courage of acting unfairly against Bolingbroke by banishing him for six years from the kingdom after reducing it from ten years upon realizing Gaunt’s agony (Shakespeare 1.2). To Richard, family ties do not matter because he is only focused on having his way.
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The second protagonist, Bolingbroke, is depicted as an advocate for justice. Bolingbroke Henry is the Duke of Hereford and Lancaster. He makes rational decisions that are in favor of the subjects. His choices are not easily made because Bolingbroke is aware that a king is divine and is God’s representative on earth. He was quite conflicted about not wanting to commit treason and blasphemy while at the same time, he wanted to restore justice for his people. In Act 1 Scene 1, we see Bolingbroke accusing Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk for murdering the Duke of Gloucester.
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Bolingbroke wanted justice served
for the murder of his uncle by pointing out that Mowbray is “foul and
dangerous…” (Shakespeare 1.2). However, his quest for justice is not realized
because Mowbray vehemently denies in plotting the murder as quoted in Act 1
Scene 1 saying, “I do defy him, and I spit at him…Call him a slanderous
coward and a villain.” Undisputedly, Mowbray manifests a degree of arrogance
towards Bolingbroke who is not aware of the king’s involvement in the murder of
his uncle. Mowbray had acted on the king’s orders and was confident that
Bolingbroke would not win the case. In spite of the unfair judgment by Richard,
Bolingbroke chooses patriotism and states that “…though banished, [he is]
yet a trueborn Englishman…” (Shakespeare 1.3). He is determined about
remaining true to his country no matter what he faces in the process. In Act 1
Scene 1, we see him as an individual who values family and even thinks of his
father when he accepts to battle against Mowbray to determine the murder case. Bolingbroke
is quoted saying, “…shall I seem crestfallen in my father’s sight?”
A leader’s legitimate power is
likely to be weakened by being unjust and unfair. By being God’s deputy,
Richard imposes his will instead of following the laws of the land. He
transgresses the laws and customs that govern the process of inheritance by
seizing the property of Gaunt. In so doing, he takes Bolingbroke’s estate. Other
nobles and commoners suffer the same fate because the king was raising funds to
suppress the Irish rebellion. The illegal and forceful amassing of wealth put
the king against his nation.
Richard dares to break feudal traditions by urging Bolingbroke and Mowbray to refrain from their accusations and reconcile. Bolingbroke perceives the attempt as, “such deep sin…” (Shakespeare 1.1). In the same act, Mowbray is equally offended and even informs the ruler that he might have power over him as a King but not over his honor which he vows to defend by stating, “[his] life…shalt command, but not [his] shame….” Without determining the case, Richard takes advantage of his power as ruler and banishes both Bolingbroke and Mowbray. The Earl of Northumberland accuses Richard of being an ineffective leader by relying on the advice of his favorite nobles who are after their interests. When a leader does not abide by the rules of the land, they are telling their subjects that the rules are not essential and should not be regarded highly.
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Following Richard’s shortcomings
as a ruler, Bolingbroke gets an opportunity to fight for a just cause as the
wronged party. He is fighting against tyranny. His reason to revolt resonates
with a majority of the population which had been experiencing oppression by the
king. Bolingbroke is back from exile to claim his inheritance as well as his Lancastrian
title which was stripped from him upon being illegally ousted from the kingdom.
He accuses Richard of being unjust saying, “I am denied to sue my livery
here…And yet my letters patents give me leave…” here Bolingbroke has gained the
courage to challenge the king because Richard has lost his supremacy by being
unjust (Shakespeare 4.1). The open rebellion shows that Bolingbroke is not
willing to let Richard continue the authoritarian rule over the nation. Richard
abused his divine appointment through tyrannical administration, and
Bolingbroke is justified in challenging Richard. Bolingbroke is determined to
steer the country in the right direction by being a just ruler who cares for
In conclusion, it is
indisputable that Richard is drunk with power and practices dictatorship, which
make him a bad leader. His authoritarian rule alienated him from his subjects
and fellow nobles because he was selfish. He is not concerned about serving his
nation justly. On the other hand, Bolingbroke is fighting to fairness
throughout the play. He is against Richard’s tyrannical rule because the reign
is undermining the laws and customs of the nation which seek to protect the
interest of the people. To that end, Bolingbroke is a good leader.
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