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COMPARATIVE 9V9ÎY19 Volume 38 Nos. 2, 3 · Summer/Fall 2004 Magic Mirrors in Richard II Robert M. Schüler Almost fifty years ago, Ernst Kantorowicz opined radier enigmatically . that thelookingglass in RichardITs deposition scene (act4,scene 1) "has the effects ofa magic mirror."1 While much critical energyhas been well spent on the rich iconographie tradition of the mirror—as symbol of both truth telling and falsity, of both vanity and self-knowledge— Kantorowicz's suggestive intuition has remained unexplored.2Yet,to ask why King Richard's mirror does seem somehow magical is to activate some ofthe deposition scene's most powerful dramatic effects. One way to understand the mirror's magical aura is to recognize the mirror episode as the climax in a sequence of threeritualized"magic mirror" spectacles that Richard deliberately imposes on Bolingbroke's would-be "resignation"scene. (Shakespeare's imagination also deliberately imposed them, for none of these incidents is traceable to his sources.) In each of these—the joint crown-holding tableau, Richard's formally enacted "decoronation," and the mirror episode proper—Richard conjures up specular images designed to have specific "magical effects" on the stage audience and on Bolingbroke in particular. His aim in the first two is to expose the contrived proceedings for what they are: a ceremonialized 151 152Comparative Drama theft, a demonically inversive theater of state befitting Bolingbroke's upside-down "new world" (79). In the third ofthese spectacles, embedded in a cluster ofechoes from DoctorFaustusthat evoke contemporary magical practices and witch beliefs, Richard deploys the stage-property mirror in two complementary ways. As iconic symbol, it enriches the political andmoral meaningsoftheprecedingmagic mirrorshows,which now coalesce within its frame. As literal looking glass wielded ritualistically , it enables Richard to simulate Elizabethan mirror magic in a last effort to identifyand indict Bolingbroke as demonic thief. However,while Richard's "magic" fails to move his onstage audience, it brings about an unexpected inner transformation.For in each ofthe"magic mirror"spectacles calculated to reflect Bolingbroke's demonic treason, Richard also glimpses himself. As a result, the mirror episode proper is charged not only with Richard's animus toward Bolingbroke and his craving for selfjustification but also with an anguished and courageous determination to confront his own moral being, his own demons. Situated at the play's climax, the scene's "magic mirrors" therefore bear heavily on Richard's characterization and on Shakespeare's representation of history both within and beyond the play. Let us begin bylookingbrieflyatthe ceremonial framing ofthe whole scene, for it defines the imaginative, moral, and political context for Richard's mirror magic. Act 4, scene 1, begins with the formal entrance of "Bolingbroke with the lords" and others, named and unnamed, to "Parliament." Despite the panoply of august persons (peers, senior ecclesiastics), herald, attendants, and officers, however, the imposing scene is a false shadow ofthe authority it pretends to embody. Holinshed reports that Bolingbroke had summoned Parliament"vsing the name of king Richard in the writs directed forth to the lords,"3.as Shakespeare's Henry has also done. The result can only be self-contradictory and selfinvalidating , as Charles Forker suggests: "The judicial body that the usurper assembled to convict Richardofunfitness to rulehad to be called in the name of the figure it was proposing to unseat."4 Hence there is a gap between true and pretended authority that the appropriation of traditional setting, paraphernalia, and ritual cannot disguise. Indeed, such an appropriation is itself incriminating; for the scene's "judicial function," says Andrew Gurr, Robert M. Schuler153 would require the royal regalia to be carried at the head of the procession, before the new judge Bullingbrook. It would also require the presence of the throne, since Parliament was formally rex in parliamento.... Bullingbrook should appropriately occupy the throne here as Richard did in 1.1. On the evidence of [line] 1 13 ["In God's name I'll ascend the regal throne"), however, he must stand uncomfortably in front of the empty seat while acting as judge.5 The very setting, however "stately," is therefore a parody of "state"; it literally and aptly"sets the stage" for a series of ritualistic travesties. The first is a mockery...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 151-181
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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