Richard II Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Once more, the more to aggravate the note,
With a foul traitor's name stuff I thy throat,
And wish – so please my sovereign – ere I move,
What my tongue speaks my right-drawn sword may prove.
Yikes! Sometimes, we get the feeling that Henry wishes he could make his words cause physical harm to his enemies, especially when he says to Mowbray, "With a foul traitor's name stuff I thy throat" (1.1.2). Unlike Richard, who always talks about his power and divinity without ever proving anything, Henry has no patience for words; he's all about action. Here he says he's going to "prove" what his tongue says with a weapon: his sword. Language is insufficient for Henry; it has to be "proven" or made concrete by acts.
Let not my cold words here accuse my zeal.
'Tis not the trial of a woman's war,
The bitter clamour of two eager tongues,
Can arbitrate this cause betwixt us twain;
The blood is hot that must be cooled for this.
Yet can I not of such tame patience boast
As to be hushed and naught at all to say.
First, the fair reverence of your highness curbs me
From giving reins and spurs to my free speech,
Which else would post until it had returned
These terms of treason doubled down his throat. (1.1.2)
The play is obsessed with the difference between words and deeds. Here Mowbray emphasizes that he can offer more than just "cold words" to prove his innocence. He's trying to keep Henry Bolingbroke from characterizing him as "all talk," and states that language won't resolve their disagreement. Henry and Mowbray agree on that much, despite being enemies. Unlike them, Richard will try to resolve the dispute through verbally commanding that they make peace. As king, he has come to believe that his words are actions. He's wrong, of course, and his order that the two be friends fails to heal the cracks developing in the kingdom.
Something else worth noting here is the way Mowbray is a master of reversals. First he says words don't matter, but then he cleverly finds a way to talk anyway – he won't be "hushed." Then he tells the king that his respect for him "curbs," or stops, him from saying all he wants to about Henry. But then of course he goes on to do exactly that!
The language I have learnt these forty years,
My native English, now I must forgo,
And now my tongue's use is to me no more
Than an unstringed viol or a harp,
Or like a cunning instrument cased up –
Or, being open, put into his hands
That knows no touch to tune the harmony.
Within my mouth you have engaoled my tongue,
Doubly portcullised with my teeth and lips... . (1.3.3)
Mowbray says that even worse than his physical banishment from England is his banishment from his own language. First he compares his tongue, which can only speak English, to a useless or out-of-tune instrument. The king, he says, has metaphorically imprisoned his tongue within his mouth, since whatever freedom it had is lost the moment he leaves England and can no longer communicate with other men.