Shakespeare's Tragedy of King Richard II drips with references to the divine right of kings and the appropriate response of passive obedience by a king's subjects, as it explores the implications of Richard's involvement in the murder of Thomas of Woodstock, Duck of Gloucester, and Bolingbroke's revenge for that murder: the overthrowing of King Richard II. Numerous characters speak of the strong parallel between God and the king, but none approach the subject quite as directly as the Bishop of Carlisle does in his speech condemning Bolingbroke's acceptance of Richard's invitation to ascend the throne in Act IV, scene 1 of the play.After meeting with Bolingbroke at Flint Castle and agreeing to return his land and inheritance to him, King Richard asks Bolingbroke if he must return with him to London. Bolingbroke says yes, and Richard understands that he must resign the throne.

The Duke of York returns to Westminster Hall, declaring that Richard has resigned the throne to Bolingbroke. Upon hearing this, Bolingbroke consents, "In God's name, I'll ascend the regal throne" (IV. i, 114). This infuriates the bishop, who begins his dialogue. The speech begins with an oath, "Marry," a strong indication that the bishop feels very strongly about the subject at hand.He continues, explaining that despite of his low rank and because of his position as a clergyman, he is most suited to address the actions at hand: "Worst in this royal presence may I speak, / Yet best beseeming me to speak the truth" (116-117).

This proclamation demonstrates that the position he is taking is a moral position, one that should be addressed to Christians by church officials. In fact, Bevington informs in his introduction to Richard II that parishioners were familiar with the doctrine, "for they heard it in church periodically in official homilies against rebellion" (722).Therefore, Carlisle is clearly not out of line in speaking to the issue. He asserts that none of the present nobility is really noble, as they do not have "forbearance from so foul a wrong" (121) as to "show so heinous, black, obscene a deed" as to judge their king, much less when he is not even present (132). Using rhetorical questions, Carlisle makes it clear that each man has a duty to his king: "What subject can give sentence on his king? / And who sits here that is not Richard's subject? " (122-3).Of course, no man is not a subject of the king, who Carlisle reminds the Bolingbroke and the lords is "the figure of God's majesty, / His [God's] captain, steward, deputy elect, / Anointed, crowned," (126-8, emphasis added).

The bishop continues, proclaiming that Henry Bolingbroke "Is a foul traitor to proud Hereford's king" (136). Carlisle's declaration is obviously based upon the ideas of the doctrines of divine right and passive obedience. According to Bevington, the church asserted that God permits evil rulers to govern, "because God wishes to test a people or to punish them for waywardness" (723).The appropriate response from the people would be to ask for God's forgiveness and then to patiently wait for God's forgiveness. The people understood that they were to have faith that God's plan was for their best. [Should this be the first paragraph following the introduction? ] While Carlisle's (and several other characters') position asserting that passive obedience, as Bevington points out, "the moderate position between the extremes of tyranny and rebellion," greatly affects the audiences response to the play, readers must be careful not to consider it Shakespeare's position (723).The accepted moral standards of the church are called into question; when Bolingbroke ascends the throne, becoming King Henry IV, does his ascension assert that God has divinely appointed him king and that Richard must now submit to his authority? Whether audiences choose to see Henry's usurpation of the throne as rebellion against God or appoint by God, Carlisle's speech will elicit great thought on the matter, providing justification for the doctrines of divine right and passive obedience.