Frittering Away The Kingdom in a Party (Shakespeare’s Richard II)

Frittering Away The Kingdom in a Party (Shakespeare’s Richard II) September 15, 2019

Richard II, at least as portrayed by Shakespeare, frittered away his Kingdom on trivial pursuits and not even the brainless kind. Richard lost his Kingdom by pursuing pleasure over attending to business in the “garden” of England.

One sees this temptation of the “winner” in the athletes who score the big contract and stop working out with the same intensity that got them the dollars. A winner can take his position for granted and stop, destroy everything by frittering away the goodness with small pleasures. I have seen faculty get tenure and functionally retire. We have all seen politicians in “safe seats” that stop governing and start partying.

Richard is a nice man, but he is no gentleman. He harms the garden of England, because he lacks the will and the perseverance to pluck the growing weeds. A party is spoiled when someone points out the roaches on the cake. Can’t we just ignore the pests and have a good time? So Richard allows growing division while he capers with favorites. He papers over problems:

Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be ruled by me. Let’s purge this choler without letting blood. This we prescribe, though no physician: Deep malice makes too deep incision; Forget, forgive, conclude, and be agreed; Our doctors say this is no time to bleed. Good uncle, let this end where it begun.*

Any leader who puts pleasure first will also push for all power to be put in his hands. A positive will be that he will hate conflict and avoid fighting, all to protect the party.

The historical Richard had elevated views of his own importance and the sanctity of his office compared to previous English rulers. The man who uses office as a pathway to a party must elevate himself as far as possible to avoid censure. If Richard were a man, he would be a weak, worthless, wastrel, but as Richard is king, he must be considered. Richard would have all questions ended by being King. The King is beyond the law being the law: Rex Lex.

Sadly, for Richard,  the Christian tradition is Lex Rex and even King David was rebuked by the Prophet. The party must give way to principles! Yet for a time the party-man will make principles look foolish, if he has the power to do so. He can make a peace, partly, painting over the mold, papering over the cracks, and ignoring the parasites.

Nothing spoils Richard’s fun, not even the suffering of the English people. When the leader’s party play by different rules, the peace of the kingdom will be frittered away. The times need not be hard for people to resent the self-serving, self-indulgence, self-dealing in the leader. Resentment cannot build in the starving: they are too busy looking for bread. The outsiders, made so by their hard work and values, look in on the bizarre world of self-indulgence in the “elite” and wonder. Soon the wondering turns to action: the party must end, the roaches revealed.

Yet getting rid of Richard only gave England instability, war, and civil war. Winning cannot justify everything for a Christian and losing can be good for a man as Richard found. God helps us keep the courage of our convictions even when our leaders fritter away the kingdom.

John of Gaunt confronts Richard and says he is sicker than the dying John of Gaunt:

Now He that made me knows I see thee ill: Ill in myself to see, and in thee seeing ill. Thy deathbed is no lesser than thy land, Wherein thou liest in reputation sick; And thou, too careless patient as thou art, Committ’st thy anointed body to the cure Of those physicians that first wounded thee. A thousand flatterers sit within thy crown, Whose compass is no bigger than thy head, And yet, encagèd in so small a verge, The waste is no whit lesser than thy land. O, had thy grandsire with a prophet’s eye Seen how his son’s son should destroy his sons, From forth thy reach he would have laid thy shame, Deposing thee before thou wert possessed, Which art possessed now to depose thyself. Why, cousin, wert thou regent of the world It were a shame to let this land by lease. But, for thy world, enjoying but this land, Is it not more than shame to shame it so? Landlord of England art thou now, not king. Thy state of law is bondslave to the law,

Richard loves flattery and advances flatterers. He sees the land sick, but does not care if he has power. Richard sells out his people to other nations for profit.

God have mercy on the people in any time or place with decadent leadership and better men tempted to revolution.


*Shakespeare, Richard II, Act I, Scene 1. This has good to it, the forgiveness of a Christ, but badly applied. Richard does not get to the bottom of the conflict or even acknowledge that in a broken world some conflicts cannot be resolved easily or neatly. Unpleasantness will ensue, but Richard cannot stand unpleasantness.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!