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Wednesday, 1 February 2012

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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.

King Richard II

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 favour.

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 wildly?

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 parodon thee....

- 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.

In performance

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 intricacies.

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.

 

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