Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 9 : 1 January 2009
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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King Richard II
Analyzing the Political Discourse of Power

T. R. Muralikrishnan, M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D.


An analysis of the speeches made by the titular hero, Richard II of William Shakespeare by making use of critical discourse analysis (CDA) does seem to be worth a study. That shall unravel the nature of power in language as spoken by the protagonist of the play. Richard II (1595) is considered the initial play in a sequence planned as three or four plays about the Lancastrian phase of English history. Shakespeare launched a sequence from the rivalry between Bullingbrook (Duke of Hereford) and Mowbray (Duke of Norfolk) in 1398 to the aftermath of Agincourt in 1415, which covered seventeen years of English political history. Richard II was controversial mainly because of the deposition scene.

Fact and Fiction

Not all facts from history are taken into consideration for building the plot of the play. Richard's days of being a minor are not given any reference. The means by which he met the London rebels, during the times of Peasant's Revolt are not referred to. His attack on the group of people known as Lords Appellant is not given complete coverage. The chief appellant was Richard's uncle Thomas, duke of Gloucester, and the others the earls of Arundel, Warwick, Nottingham and Derby, the last of whom was Richard's cousin Henry, the son of John of Gaunt. The first three were condemned as traitors. Arundel was beheaded, Gloucester murdered in prison, Warwick pardoned after submission. Nottingham and Derby escaped this revenge because they had already come over to the king's side, and were rewarded by being made dukes of Hereford and Norfolk. In 1398, Richard took advantage of a quarrel between the two, stopped them from settling it by the knightly method of trial by battle and exiled both.

The play begins with this particular event. In 1399, when John of Gaunt died, Richard did not allow his cousin Duke of Hereford to return or inherit his father's lands. The play makes ample references to this event directly. Later, as it is given in the play, Hereford landed on the east coast, declaring his right of inheritance. Richard, who was away in Ireland, returned hastily, landed in Wales, only to realize his own sinking status and Henry's growth. Richard surrendered to his cousin at Flint, near Chester, and was forced, like Edward II, to give up the throne, nominally of his own free will.

Like Edward II, too, he died, probably by murder after a short time of imprisonment. In the play it is clearly shown that he was murdered. Thus the direct line of the Plantagenets, who ruled for nearly two hundred and fifty years, came to a miserable end paving way for the Lancastrian dynasty.

Scope and Limit

The present study limits itself to a specific area i.e., the language used by King Richard on various contexts - the opening scene where he addresses the warring nobles; the second act where he admonishes John of Gaunt; the third act where he speaks when he listens from Salisbury and Scroope that many of his close allies have either joined ranks with Bullingbrook or they have been murdered and his speech at the time of meeting Bullingbrook; the fourth act where he speaks at the time of deposition; and his soliloquy in the final act.

Method of Analysis

This Shakespearean text is analyzed using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). CDA seeks not merely to describe language but also to offer critical linguistic resources to those wishing to resist various forms of power. The objective of CDA is to uncover the ideological assumptions that are hidden within the text. Much has been written in recent years about CDA in its broadest sense and it encompasses a number of general tenets and uses a large range of techniques.

Fairclough (1989), Fairclough and Wodak (1997), van Dijk (1998; 2000; 2001; 2004) explain the sources of dominance and inequality observed in the society by analyzing texts. It is to find the discursive strategies utilized to construct or maintain such inequality or bias in different context.

A text according to van Dijk is merely "a tip of the iceberg" and it is the responsibility of the discourse analyst to uncover the hidden meaning of the text. The need is to "examine how the ways in which we communicate are constrained by the structures and forces of those social institutions within which we live and function" (Fairclough: 1989).

It may worth recalling the proposal of Foucault that in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures, whose role is to avert its powers and its dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality. Language is seen as creating and being created by social identities, social relations and systems of knowledge and beliefs.

A Range of Techniques

The relevance of this analysis is primarily because of the fact that the political identity and social privileges of the King meet with a drastic dilution and that is explicit in the discourse of the protagonist. Out of the range of techniques used in CDA, the present study would choose the following to conduct the analysis.

a) Setting and interactional control: i.e., where the event occurs, who controls the agenda, who initiates and terminates the interaction, ways of turn-taking, who selects the topic, who asserts authority, etc.

b) Ideological assumptions: i.e., how dominance is institutionalized, how is power enacted, sustained and legitimated. The dimensions, levels, structures, strategies, or moves in which ideologically based beliefs exhibit themselves in discourse.

c) Discourse organization: i.e., sentence coherence, rhetorical features and metaphors used etc.

d) Positive self- representation and negative other-representation

e) Discursive moves such as comparison, euphemism, implication, self-glorification derogation, polarization, Us-Them, presupposition, vagueness, victimization.

The Elizabethan audience was given a dramatic unfolding of political events, which happened a century ago, and the dramatist knew that the people had to witness the fall of a historic figure from the high pedestal of 'God-given' authority. The society was still under despotic regime and the medium of drama being a popular one should not propagate the idea of revolt against the highest authority. Shakespeare, as one can realize, had to 'balance' the two. In this context, we have to look into the means by which Shakespeare developed the discourse of politics which carried highly 'sensitive' content.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Language Shift Among Singaporean Malayalee Families | A Comparative Study of Gojri Double Verb Constructions | Trade in the Madras Presidency, 1941 - 1947 A Doctoral Dissertation | Conceptualization of Nationalism through Language - An Analysis of Malaysian Situation | Status of Urdu and Efforts and Strategies for Its Inclusion in the Mainstream of Indian Life | Language Learning Strategies - An Evaluation of Compensatory Strategies | Marriage and Self in the Selected Works of Henry James and Jayakanthan | King Richard II - Analyzing the Political Discourse of Power | Engaging Autobiography as an Expression of Self - Maya Angelou's Autobiographies and Her Black Self | Onomatopoeic Words in Manipuri | Historical Growth of Short Stories in Tamil and Telugu - A Comparison | The Gujral Committee Report on Urdu | HOME PAGE of January 2009 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

T. R. Muralikrishnan, M.A. M.Phil., Ph.D.
M.E.S College
Aluva 683107
Ernakulam District
Kerala, India

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