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Explore How Religion Is Presented and Developed in Richard Ii and King Lear.

In: English and Literature

Submitted By KirstyLou04
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Both plays, Richard II and King Lear, start by Richard and Lear believing that the gods are on their side and that God put them there for a reason (the divine right of kings). However throughout the plays their attitude towards divine assistance changes and they both realise they will have to pay for their mistakes.

The divine right of kings in Richard II is present throughout the play. In Act 3, Scene 2 Richard says, ‘not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm off from an anointed king;’. Earlier in the play Richard refers to himself as ‘England’ and the common people as the ‘sea’. He thinks that ‘the rough rude sea’ (the common people) cannot get rid of him because he is an ‘anointed king’. This means that he believes that God chose him to be king over everyone else. Shakespeare makes Richard appear, to the reader, as a egoistic, selfish king that doesn’t spare a thought for the common people of England by labeling them as the ‘rough rude sea’. This suggest his relationship with them isn’t good.

In Richard II there are many references to the bible. England is described as ‘this other Eden, demi-paradise’ because Richard is ruining England like Adam and Eve ruined the paradise which God created when they were tempted by the snake. He’s making a ‘demi-paradise’ by making the wrong decisions. In act 3, scene 4 the Queen says, ‘Thou, old Adam’s likeness, set to dress this garden, How dares thy harsh rude tongue sound this unpleasing news? What Eve, what serpent, hath suggested thee, To make a second fall of curse man?’ Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace and changed the world forever. The loss of the crown is seen as a second ‘fall’, by the Queen, for Richard. Richard has fallen from his position as king and this will change England just like Adam’s and Eve’s ‘fall’ changed the world.

Shakespeare portrays Richard as Christ, throughout the play. Richard compares his situation to Jesus’, only his situation is worse. ‘So Judas did to Christ:but he, in twelve, Found truth in all but one: I, in twelve thousand,none.’ Jesus got betrayed by one of his disciples but the other eleven stuck by him however Richard is likening his situation to it but he says he has ‘none’. That all of his ‘twelve thousand’ followers have deserted him and he his left with no one. Another likeness Shakespeare portrayed Richard to have is the way he had his power taken away from him. Nobody wanted to take the blame for it or get dragged down with him. The reader can see this from the lines, ‘Though some of you with Pilate wash your hands’ and ‘Have here deliver’d me to my sour cross.’ Jesus was crucified on a cross just like Richard is being ‘deliver’d’ to his ‘cross’. His followers have ‘washed their hands’ of Richard just like Pilate did when he pardoned Barabbas instead of Jesus. The reader can see that Shakespeare has done this to liken his situation to Jesus’, to show his divine powers.

Unlike Richard II, King Lear was set before Christ so there is no definite references to God or to Christ. However the characters look for Gods in times of need or when things go wrong.

In Act 2, Scene 4, Lear calls upon the heavens to take his side and send down a storm to punish Goneril and Regan because of their betrayal. ‘O heavens! If you do love old men, if your sweet sway show obedience, if you yourselves are old, Make it your cause. Send down, and take my part!’ However in this scene the reader can see that the Gods are making him pay for his wrong doings and bad decisions. Lear is the one that suffers in the storm because he becomes homeless and wanders the heath in the raging storm.

In Act 4, Scene 1, Gloucester finally questions the justice of the Gods, ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport!’ ‘The Gods’ are using the people for fun, as part of a ‘sport’. It’s like they have no purpose so they’re making the people suffer for their benefit. At this point in the play the reader starts to feel sorry for the characters because they seem to always get punished by the gods.

By the end of the play, King Lear realises that the God’s aren’t going to help him. Instead he realises that he is to blame and he will be the person that pays for his mistakes. In Act 5, when Cordelia has been killed, Lear mentions nothing about the Gods.

Both plays have a king who makes wrong decisions right from the start. However they both think because of who they are they won’t have to pay for their mistakes because God is on their sides. Towards the end of the plays it becomes clear that their divine powers will not help them and they too realise this when it is to late.

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