Their Awful Duty

The speaker in today’s reading, “Their Awful Duty” (CUA Primer, page 49), is Shakespeare’s version of King Richard II of England.

A couple of notes about language: “Bolingbroke” is someone challenging Richard for the throne. Also, Richard refers to himself here using such first-person plural words as “we” and “ourself.” This is the “royal we,” the tradition of rulers speaking in the first-person plural as a sign of the greatness of royalty. Also, “awful” in the past has meant “full of awe” in addition to “dreadfully bad.”

The version of Richard in Shakespeare’s play comes across as a poor leader. By awful duty, the character Richard at least means the duty to express awe toward him as king and also possibly that by God’s design a king’s authority reflects the awesome and dreadful majesty of God’s authority.  However, because this is Shakepeare, a genius at wordplay, one wonders whether he put this word in the mouth of his character in order to hint that it is awfully bad to have to serve a king like Richard. (By the way, looking into what awful means here would be a great excuse to do some research in the Oxford English Dictionary, which  keeps a record of how different English words have been used in different times.)

The way that Richard talks about God being on his side is interesting. What does he say about that. Why is it important that people be careful in assuming that God agrees with what they are doing?

Photo: “The Tower of London at night” by PapaPiper is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Diego Amaya says:

    People need to be careful because God does not agree with our decisions all the time. Even if we think we are doing the right thing. This is why whenever I have to make a difficult decision I always ask people for advice when I’m not sure on what to do.

  2. Jaesen Evangelista says:

    God isn’t on anyone’s side. If anything, we can only be on his side (or not). Assuming that God is on your side is like assuming you have godlike power, or that you are God himself. With that much pride and authority in a human, no good can come out of that.

Leave a Reply