Inside Shakespeare’s mind – Richard II
Shakespeare burning the midnight candles to get his homework right in
Richard II has proved him right unlike in most of his historical plays
where he bungles, especially in European history. Dating back to 1377 to
1399 may have been an arduous task depending on his elementary education
sans history. He is right in the mind and in history books that preceded
him centuries before.
Written in 1595 and sited in England and Wales where the reign of
Richard II commences in 1377 after his birth at Bordeaux in 1367.
Richard is the same age as his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV
who succeeded Edward III in 1377 as a child. Bolingbroke deposed him in
1399. He had an early death in 1400 while imprisoned at Pomfret Castle.
Thus bared, Shakespeare moves on his play, Richard III.
This historical tragedy opens with Henry Bolingbroke accusing Thomas
Mowbrey, Duke of Norfolk of the murder of Thomas of Woodstock who is the
uncle of the King who is the Duke of Gloucester. This is a murder
committed at the King's command. Unaware of the truth, Richard orders
both Bolingbroke and Mowbray to a trial by combat at Coventry. When the
trial is set commence, Richard has a change of heart and orders Mowbray
to exile and Bolingbroke for ten years and subsequently, to six years.
Following this drama, John of Gaunt who is the Duke of Lancaster and
father to Bolingbroke, dies in England. Immediately Richard moves in to
acquire the estates of Gaunt to pay for his forthcoming Irish campaign
much against the protests of his uncle York and powerful nobleman,
Northumberland. While the King is in Ireland, Bolingbroke arrives
suddenly at Ravenpurgh in Yorkshire along with Northumberland and take
York who is acting as regent, by surprise. He is obliged to receive them
much against his will at Berkeley Castle. Bolingbroke executes two of
Richard's favourites known as Bushy and Green. The country rises in his
Buckingham – Welcome sweet Prince, to London, to your chamber.
Gloster – Welcome dear cousin, my thoughts’ sovereign. The weary way
hath made you malanchony.
Prince – No uncle, but our crosses on the way, have made it tedious,
wearisome and heavy.
I want more uncles to welcome me
Glo – Sweet Prince, the untainted virtue of your years hath not yet
div'd into the world's deceit....
- Act. III Sce. IV
When Richard arrives in Wales, he faces disappointment and
frustration and a tale of woe. He is taken prisonr by Bolingbroke at
Flint Castle, accompanied by his son, Aumerie.
Things turn royal for Bolingbroke when Richard has no choice but to
yield the crown to him and he becomes Henry IV.
Richard is sent to Pomfret Castle and his queen to France. Bishop of
Carlisle is joined by Aumerie in a plot against the King but his part is
discovered by his father, Enter Aumerie;
Aurmerle – Where is the king?
Bolingbroke – What means our cousin that he stares and look so
Aum – God save your grace. I do beseech your majesty to have some
conference with your grace alone.
Bol – Withdraw yourselves and leave us here alone (Execunt Percy and
the Lords) What is the matter with our cousin now?
Aum – For ever may my knees grow to the earth, my tongue cleave to my
roof within my mouth unless a pardon, ere’ I rise or speak.
Bol – Intended or committed was this fault to win thy after-love? I
- Act V Sce. III
His mother pleads for his pardon which Henry grants. Sir Pierce of
Exton murders Richard in the prison. Henry sheds false tears when
informed but it was done on his request; (Enter Exton with attendants
bearing a coffin)
Exton – Greate King, within this coffin I present thy buried fear;
herein all breathless lies. The mightiest of thy greatest enemies,
Richard Bordeaux by me hither brought.
Bolingbroke – Exton, I thank thou not for thou hasth wrought. A deed
of slander upon my head and all this famous land.
Exton – From your own mouth, my lord, did I this deed....
- Act V Sce. IV
The play ends abruptly with all Bolingbroke's enemies vanquished,
murdered or put behind bars at Promfet Castle.
A masterpiece in lyrical verse but frequently rhymed and many
speakers have responded to the methods of presenting Richard thus. The
main source become conspicuous in theatre because of Holinshed's
Chronicles but presenting Richard as a man luxuriating in his own
imagination who is entranced by words and images, suffers profoundly.
In the theatre it is difficult to separate the two, a monarch and one
who is overtaken by lyricism. But credit goes to Bridges-Adama who in
1920 as sovereign was the sensitive speaker presenting the king as the
haughty, insolence, contemplative artist. Adama never blurred in this
attempt at Strafford. But he too was faced with the task of Richard not
finding the harmonies.
Very few directors successfully boraded this play because of its
It must be mentioned that Queen Elizabeth whose influential favourite
being Richard, was annoyed when she was compared to him, perhaps for
political reasons and it must also be said that Shakespeare had no
ulterior motive in doing so.
The abdication scene was committed from the printed editions during
her reign but restored after her death.
After the Restoration, a short-lived adaption was directed by Nahum
Tate in 1680. Shakespeare's own text had a successful debut at Covent
Garden in 1738. In the 19th century, there was only one important
Richard where Frank Benson's highly-charged performance of Richard was
inescapably poignant as that of an haunted artist, lost, spoilt child.
This was at Stratford in 1899. Many versions followed thereafter
mounted with its full text and as adoptions. To mention a memorable one
was Alec Guinness's Richard at the Old Vic in 1946.
BBC also televised a programme in relation to the play in 1978 and
later a Shakespeare film with Ian MacKellen.