Tag Archives: ruler

Thoughts on “Richard II” by William Shakespeare: Divine Rule and Tyranny

This was my first time reading this play, and it was very intriguing. King Richard II is a complex character, who in my eyes is both despicable and pitiable. While he is definitely a tyrant and blinded by his authority and power, he is also kind of simple and easily played by manipulative individuals in court. It was almost like you start out hating him, but as the play unfolds, you realize that he, like everyone, is not all bad, but has made bad choices and often lacks the foresight to anticipate the consequences of his actions.

Anyway, for this post, I figured I would focus on issues of divine rule and tyranny as expressed in the play, a topic whose importance never seems to diminish.

Early in the play, Richard asserts that he is a divine ruler, and that “sacred blood” flows through him. He also hints that he is just and acting in the best interest of the realm.

Mowbray, impartial are our eyes and ears:
Were he my brother, nay, my kingdom’s heir,
As he is but my father’s brother’s son,
Now, by my sceptre’s awe, I make a vow,
Such neighbour nearness to our sacred blood
Should nothing privilege him, nor partialize
The unstooping firmness of my upright soul:
He is our subject, Mowbray; so art thou:
Free speech and fearless I to thee allow.

(Act I, scene i)

Tyranny and hypocrisy often occur in conjunction, and this is the case with Richard. While he ascended to the throne because of heredity (essentially, he inherited the throne), he is quick to deny another person’s inheritance, as evidenced by his swift seizure of Gaunt’s estate to fund his military campaign.

The ripest fruit first falls, and so doth he;
His time is spent, our pilgrimage must be.
So much for that. Now for our Irish wars:
We must supplant those rough rug-headed kerns,
Which live like venom where no venom else
But only they have privilege to live.
And for these great affairs do ask some charge,
Towards our assistance we do seize to us
The plate, corn, revenues and moveables,
Whereof our uncle Gaunt did stand possess’d.

(Act II, scene i)

York is quick to point out the hypocrisy in Richard’s actions, warning him that to follow this course will have repercussions.

O my liege,
Pardon me, if you please; if not, I, pleased
Not to be pardon’d, am content withal.
Seek you to seize and gripe into your hands
The royalties and rights of banish’d Hereford?
Is not Gaunt dead, and doth not Hereford live?
Was not Gaunt just, and is not Harry true?
Did not the one deserve to have an heir?
Is not his heir a well-deserving son?
Take Hereford’s rights away, and take from Time
His charters and his customary rights;
Let not to-morrow then ensue to-day;
Be not thyself; for how art thou a king
But by fair sequence and succession?
Now, afore God–God forbid I say true!–
If you do wrongfully seize Hereford’s rights,
Call in the letters patent that he hath
By his attorneys-general to sue
His livery, and deny his offer’d homage,
You pluck a thousand dangers on your head,
You lose a thousand well-disposed hearts
And prick my tender patience, to those thoughts
Which honour and allegiance cannot think.

(Act II, scene i)

It is this disregard for the rights of others and the hubris of thinking himself above his subjects which is Richard’s tragic flaw, leading to his demise.

This is a critical lesson for leaders today, both in the political and business spheres. The moment you place yourself above others, and deny another person’s rights to advance your own goals and initiatives, you set yourself up to be knocked down. Every action has a consequence, be it good, bad, or indifferent. Nothing occurs within a vacuum, and leaders would do well to remember this.

Thanks for stopping by.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 17” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence
the people are barely aware.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

When you are lacking in faith,
Others will be unfaithful to you.

The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words.
When his task is accomplished and things have been
completed,
All the people say, “We ourselves have achieved it!”

This is profound advice for leaders. You hear echoes of this wisdom in almost every seminar on leadership: provide autonomy for those under you; those who lead best are those who lead least; great leaders inspire others. The list goes on and on. But essentially, it is all the same—an effective leader is one who enables others to succeed. Tyranny and control only breeds resentment and revolt.

I really don’t feel there is any need to elaborate more on this passage. It is pretty clear. I only hope our next leader embraces these values.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 16” by Lao Tzu

LaoTzu

Attain to utmost Emptiness.
Cling single-heartedly to interior peace.
While all things are stirring together,
I only contemplate the Return.
For flourishing as they do,
Each of them will return to its root.
To return to the root is to find peace.
To find peace is to fulfill one’s destiny.
To fulfill one’s destiny is to be constant.
To know the Constant is called Insight.

If one does not know the Constant,
One runs blindly into disasters.
If one knows the Constant,
One can understand and embrace all.
If one understands and embraces all,
One is capable of doing justice.
To be just is to be kingly;
To be kingly is to be heavenly;
To be heavenly is to be one with the Tao;
To be one with the Tao is to abide forever.
Such a one will be safe and whole
Even after the dissolution of his body.

This passage seems to reiterate a common theme in the text, that one must clear his or her thoughts in order to become in tune with the deeper spiritual self. But there are a couple things that stand out in this chapter, particularly in the second stanza.

First, it appears that this passage is directed to rulers at the time Lao Tzu lived. I listened to a podcast recently that said China, in the time of Lao Tzu, was undergoing social instability and that the writings of both Lao Tzu and Confucius were in response to the social changes that were under way. So it seems that here, Lao Tzu is offering guidance to rulers on how to best govern the citizens, by tapping in to the deeper spirituality and using that as a guide for making decisions on how to rule.

The other thing that stood out for me was the final three lines, asserting that by becoming one with the Tao, you essentially attain immortality of the soul. I cannot help but wonder if this is more like maintaining consciousness once you pass on to the next realm of existence after death. I do not profess to know Chinese thoughts on reincarnation or the afterlife, but it seems that there is some belief in the eternal quality of the soul. If anyone has insight into this area, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment in the section below.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful day!

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