No doubt Shakespeare’s plays contain the richest, most eloquent language to be found in any literature outside the Bible. The virtuosity of the technique, in combination with the immense, imaginative vocabulary, is dazzling. Yet Shakespeare also evinces concern for the very nature of language, how the words his characters use, as well as the structure of their sentences and verse, reflect their personality.
In Richard II, for instance, the title character revels in his own extravagant usage, along with the expressions of others. In the opening scene, he orders that Bullingbrook, Richard’s cousin, and Mowbray, the King’s chief confidant, both of whom have accused each other of treason, be brought before him:
In rage, deaf as the sea, hasty as fire.
(I, i, 18–19)
He is intrigued with their verbal eloquence rather than with their charges. This impression is reinforced after Bullingbrook offers a scathing condemnation of Mowbray’s behavior, blaming him for “all the treasons for these eighteen years” (I, i, 95) and “the Duke of Gloucester’s death” (I, i, 100). To these statements, Richard replies blithely, “How high a pitch his resolution soars” (I, i, 109). He cares more about the sound of the words than about the devastating indictments that stop just short of blaming Mowbray’s superior, Richard himself, for treachery and murder.
When Richard sentences Mowbray to exile for life, Mowbray muses bitterly on that aspect of the punishment which will wound him the most: