Power can affect individuals very differently. This includes those who are in power, and those who are being led. Several of Shakespeare’s plays tell the story of various kings and how they have ruled England. Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, and Henry V have all had different experiences when it came to ruling. Even though they were all leaders, not all of them demonstrated effected leadership, especially towards lower class individuals such as servants, thieves, and women.
When it came to Richard II, it was very clear that he was not prepared to be king and because of that, he demonstrated very ineffective leadership. He treated his people, especially the peasants, with utter disrespect. There were times when Richard should have been more when people came to attack and start war, and instead, he relied on his people to do everything because he believed it was their job to do everything for him as king. “I had forgot myself; am I not king? Awake, thou coward majesty! thou sleepest. Is not the king’s name twenty thousand names? Arm, arm, my name! a puny subject strikes. At thy great glory” (Act 3, Scene 5). Another example of Richard’s disrespect towards the peasants was when he proposed the Poll Tax. Richard enforced everyone, no matter what class you were in, to pay the same tax, which was too high for the peasants. This resulted in the Peasants’ Revolt. This involved the peasants roaming the streets of London, burning and destroying everything.
When it came to Richard handling thieves, they would commit crimes mainly in the dark, and Richard believed, even though he was are aware that they were guilty, they should not be punished unless they were seen in the light of the sun. “Thieves are not judged, but they are by to hear” (Act 4, Scene 1). Lastly, when it came to Richard and women, they’re social status did not change how they were treated. During this time period, all women had very little opportunities to say or do anything around men. With Richard II specifically, the one woman who had the most impact as well as some freedom was his wife, Queen Isabell. Throughout the play, she was definitely someone who supported and helped him grow and mature as a king. One example was when Richard began to feel defeated and worthless as a King. “What, is my Richard both in shape and in mind transformed and weakened? Hath Bolingbroke deposed thine intellect? Hath he been in thy heart?” (Act 5, Scene 1)
Moving onto Richard III, this was a king who used his power for several various things that perceived him as evil, but his intelligence was his greatest strength. As people became more aware of Richard’s power, they feared having him as a King. This was a scary time for the people after King Edward IV died. “Better it was they all came by the father, Or by the father there were none at all; For emulation now, who shall be nearest, Will touch us all too near, if God prevent not. O, full of danger is the Duke of Gloucester! And the queen’s sons and brothers haughty and proud: And were they to be ruled, and not to rule. This sickly land might solace as before” (Act 2, Scene 3).
Moving onto thievery in Richard III, by secretly plotting and sweet-talking other citizens, Richard pretty much stole the throne. Then, as a thief would, he tries to hide the fact that he has never said or done anything wrong to make anyone think he’s trying to steal his way to the throne. This mainly takes place during Act 1, Scene 3 between several people, but mainly Richard and Queen Elizabeth.
When it comes to the women in the play, it is very clear that Richard and Queen Elizabeth are not the best of friends. As I stated earlier, this was a time period where women were treated very poorly and given little to no respect. Throughout this play, the women mainly use their emotions and very little actions to get their voices heard and points across. Between asking for vengeance, revenge, and foul language directly towards Richard, the women in this play are voices for justice. Overall, Richard III might not have had the best personality, but he was very intelligent and people will do whatever it takes to get power, even if that means killing your own nephews. Despite his evil and disturbing actions, I believe he was still an effective leader.
Moving onto Henry IV, he had two difficult positions. One was being the king, and the other was being the father to a troublesome son. It also doesn’t help that Hal enjoyed being around thieves, fooling around and didn’t consider the consequences. Being king is already challenging, and power is important to Henry, which is why he was so hard on Hal because he was afraid of him losing that power when he became king. Throughout the play, we see how Henry’s tough love has paid off though and helped to change and mature Hal. “Stay, and breathe awhile. Thou hast redeemed thy lost opinion; And showed thou mak’st some tender of my life; In this fair rescue thou hast brought to me” (King Henry). “O God, they did me too much injury; That ever said I hearkened for your death. If it were so, I might have let alone” (Hal) (Act 5, Scene 4). The women in the play don’t have much interaction with King Henry, just like in Richard III, they use their words to fight back against the men and stand up for their rights. Overall, for someone who was able to remove their own blood from the throne, protecting his land and people from several rebellions, and preparing his son for the throne after years of immaturity, I believe Henry IV was an effective leader.
Lastly focusing on Henry V, as I stated before, Henry’s behaviors and actions resembled Richard II’s. Only Henry was able to realize and change his childish ways before it was too late. Just like his father, Henry did many things for his people. Two examples of this are when he ended the Hundred Years War with France, and defeated France during the Battle of Agincourt. After this battle, King Henry was able to make peace with France, known as the Treaty of Troyes. Henry’s accomplishments as King did not go un noticed, as his people made it very clear how they felt about having him as their king. “The king is full of grace and fair regard” (Bishop of Canterbury). “And a true lover of the holy Church” (Bishop of Ely). “The courses of his youth promised it not. The breath no sooner left his father’s body, but that his wildness, mortified in him, Seemed to die too. Yea, at that very moment Consideration like an angel came, and whipped th’ offending Adam out of him, Leaving his body as a paradise” (Bishop of Canterbury).
Henry also did not play when it came to thieves. Even though they were his friends, both Bardolph and Nim were hung because of stealing. “We would have all such offenders so cut off: and we give express charge, that in our marches through the country there be nothing compelled from the villages, nothing taken but paid for, none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language” (Act 3, Scene 6). When it comes to women, Henry marries Catherine, but this is for political reasons, so it could make the audience wonder, if this was real love or not. Overall, Henry V definitely stepped up and changed and became the effective ruler England needed during that time.