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Taylor, M.P. (1927). A Father Pleads for the Death of his Son. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 8:53-55.
(1927). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 8:53-55
A Father Pleads for the Death of his Son
M. P. Taylor
Shakespeare has thrust into the midst of his tragedy, King Richard II, two scenes, in no way essential to the action of the drama, which have mystified many and horrified more. An apparently fine old man pleads passionately for the death of his only son. I doubt if a neater, more dramatic record exists of a conflict and its solution. Why Shakespeare insisted upon recounting the old Duke's pitiful efforts to save his self-respect cannot be known, but in doing so Shakespeare once again scored as a teller of marvellous 'true' tales.
This is the story. The Duke of York discovers that his son, Aumerle, is party to a plot to restore the recently deposed Richard to the throne of England. 'Treason! foul treason! villain! traitor! slave!' cries York and dashes away to the newly-anointed usurper, Henry IV, refusing to listen to his wife's pleas to hush up the matter. Aumerle, at his mother's direction, goes to the king also, arrives a few minutes before his father, and confesses the plot. The old Duke thereupon rushes wildly in and begs that his son be put to death, earnestly conjuring the king in the most violent terms to grant him this request as a favour. The mother arrives, and the three kneel before the king: father, mother, son; the son pleading for his life, the mother for her son's life, and the father for his son's death.
The two easiest explanations for the father's attitude—that he had reason to want to be rid of his son or that he hoped to curry favour with the king—have to be abandoned for want of supporting, and in view of conflicting, evidence, as will be apparent to anyone who reads the play with this situation in mind.
York's action is interpreted by King Henry as arising from a superb and honest devotion to his person. The Duchess, knowing that such is not the case and being as puzzled by the situation as readers of the play have been, arrives at the fantastic conclusion that York believes Aumerle to be a bastard, not his son at all.
York's speeches give little indication that his motive was a desire to serve the king or that he hated his son as an individual.
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