Richard II and Othello - Flattery as Poison in Shakespeares...

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Flattery as Poison in Shakespeare’s Richard II and Othello A susceptibility to flattery is both naive and dangerous. Shakespeare explores the consequences of this susceptibility in two of his plays, Richard II and Othello. In Richard II, Shakespeare introduces two types of flattery. The first is of deceptive enmity by Machiavellian antagonist, Bolingbroke. The second is more innocent but perhaps even more dangerous, by his favorite counsel, Bushy, Bagot, and Green. The consequences are later evidenced by the fall of Richard II’s kingdom and the rise of Bolingbroke as king. In Othello, Iago not only flatters Othello to gain his trust but also utilizes flattery as a disguise for his slander of Desdemona and Cassio. In both Richard II and Othello, Shakespeare uses flattery as poison in the ear which strengthens Richard and Othello’s love and faith of those who eventually lead them to their downfall. Bolingbroke uses flattery to deceive and convince Richard II that he is a loyal subject. The Queen sees this and calls him a “flatterer…A parasite” (II, i: 71) when she hears Bolingbroke has planned a revolution. His flattery is poison, literally a bug that sucks Richard’s blood. Bolingbroke’s counterfeit flattery is evidenced by his actions in the first scene: he has brought out Mowbray in front of Richard II, accusing Mowbray of treason. He says, “Now, Thomas Mowbray, do I turn to thee…Thou art a traitor and a miscraint” (I, i: 35-39). Bolingbroke pretends that he is loyal to the king as he has scouted out a traitor. Richard II highlights the use of flattery in this scene by saying, “We thank you both. Yet one but flatters us” (I, i: 25). Bolingbroke goes first: “Many years of happy days befall; My gracious sovereign, my most loving liege!” (I, i: 20-21). He tries to convince Richard II that he, not Mowbray, is the honest one. “First, heaven be the record to my speech!” (I, i: 30). Even when Richard II has banished him, Bolingbroke continues
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to flatter him. He says, “Your will be done. This must my comfort be: That sun that warms you here shall shine on me, And those his golden beams to you here lent Shall point on me and gild my banishment” (I, iii: 137-141). Bolingbroke states that he finds comfort in the fact that the same sun that shines on Richard will also shine on him. When Mowbray is angry with Richard II, Bolingbroke even defends Richard. Bolingbroke states that had Richard not banished them, one of their “souls [would have] wandered in the air, banished this frail sepulcher of [their] flesh” (I, iii: 187-195). Richard II had, in essence, saved one of them from dying. Bolingbroke’s flattery is proven false the moment Richard II exits the scene, where Bolingbroke complains to his father, Gaunt, about his punishment. When Gaunt comforts him by saying six years is not a long time, Bolingbroke replies that “grief makes one hour ten” (I, iii: 251). He affirms his distress with the punishment when he continues, “My heart will sigh when I miscall it so” (I, iii: 252) and bids a sorrowful goodbye to England.
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