Tragic victims: entirely blameless for their demise? Or partly responsible for their deaths?

Some interpretations of tragic victims see them as entirely blameless for their demise. Others have suggested that they are at least partly responsible for their own deaths’


To what extent do you agree with this view in relation to two texts you have studied?


Remember to include in your answer relevant comment on the ways the writers have shaped meanings.


  • Shakespeare uses historical interpretation of real Richard and how he could be blamed…with his heavy taxation, confiscation of Gaunt’s lands. Hamartia: TO BLAME!!
  • Use of ambiguity in characterisation of Bolingbroke: preserves sympathy throughout
    • Use of Northumberland and other henchmen to deflect blame: i.e Northumberlan used to arrest Carlisle. A4 S1
  • Use of accusative language “convey, conveyers are you all” Polyptoton here too…plays on irony of Bolingbroke’s “convey” Richard to Tower. Enhances idea that Richard is perhaps only partly responsible: Shakespeare often appeals to the Divine Right of Richard and how his displacement enlists the elizabethan audiences by appealing more to Divine Right A4S1
  • “plume-plucked Richard” York…Shakespeare gives proverbial undertones here: Aeosopian fable: crow that decked self in stolen feathers, was shamed when the other birds plucked them away..c.f richard and his stealing of property, of Bolingbroke’s rightful inheritance: fatal flaw? A4 S1
  • Aristolelian Structure: Perepeteia: first a very stern, authoritative king “by my sceptre’s awe” A1 S1  Divine Right King pg. 190 with the power to banish
    • Banishing of Bolingbroke for only 6 years.
    • Anagnorisis: Richard “down, down I come, like glist’ring Phaeton a3 s3
      • Son of Apollo: borrows fathers chariot, loses control, ends up nearly burning up earth, but Zeus hits him with thunderbolt.
      • Very symbol of rash and youthful imcompetence
      • Myth used to illustrate failure of a king to rule wisely

Shakespeare is careful to balance the sympathies shown towards King Richard, but yet by appealing to Divine Right he suggests that Richard is at most, partly responsible for his own demise. This is created by the rhetoric of Richard and how this is used by Shakespeare to twist Bolingbroke’s words to shun the deposition of a King. After Bolingbroke orders that Richard must be conveyed to the tower in Act 4, the King responds with “convey, conveyers are you all”. By using Polyptoton here, Shakespeare shows the different layers of meaning with the word ‘convey’, meaning to transport someone, or to steal from. In this subtle twisting of phrase, Shakespeare seems to create a defence of Richard against the usurper Bolingbroke, whose actions in removing “god’s deputy” would enlist the sympathy of Elizabethan audiences, who believed vehemently in this doctrine. In this manner, Shakespeare suggests that Richard isn’t totally to blame for his demise, as his dethroning was based on an unjust and unnatural upsetting of an ordained order. Despite the King’s both historical and theatrical seizure of Gaunt’s lands, such a King would not be questioned for it was his prerogative power to rule. Therefore, Shakespeare seems to lean towards placing Bolingbroke as the usurper and rebel for bringing down god’s anointed one.


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