Richard II by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm on a history kick, so what better way to supplement the immersion into The War Of The Roses than to dive into Shakespeare?
Richard II begins the weakness of kings, where if one could be deposed, yet more can follow. Divine right be damned... should we just rely on might?
It's kind of funny, reading this for the second time after so many years and other historical accounts, just how propagandist this play really is. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, since it had only been a little over a century prior from the time it was written, and Elizabeth is the product of so much Lancaster and York strife that stems right from these humble and piteous beginnings.
Frankly, I'm really surprised at the balance of this play, where Richard, boy king, makes monstrously poor decisions and banishes Henry Bolingbroke and later steals all his lands to fund a war in Ireland which goes disastrously. Henry Bolingbroke returns from his banishment on such tidings, his lands and monies gone, his father dead, and he sues to get redress from the wrongs done to him. He has good reason.
But. In deposing the king, it opens the weakness of all kings and puts the question to every mind in England... can we ever stop? If it is this easy to depose one, just how easily can we do it again, and again, and again? And indeed, this play is perfectly historical in that respect, even if the man Richard was actually pretty good with finances and stopped fighting for war in France because England couldn't support it. *sigh*
The thing about Shakespeare is this: DRAMA QUEEN. :)
The outcome of Richard's abdication is a long-drawn out drama-fest. Oh woe is me, oh woe is me. It makes for great spectacle, that's for sure, and we even get one of the longest soliloquies in Shakespeare right from Richard's mouth. Henry is only better in his sorrow that all such things came to pass in that he had less page-time. :) I hated the man in life, but love in him death, indeed.
As a side note, I loved the scenes with Henry's uncle and his wife trying to pardon their son's near-treachery. My god, the pathos... it's taken so far it could easily be comedic relief, and I'm certain that some productions of this play could turn it into just that.
Same goes for old Gaunt's ramblings, which are tragic because he knew that Richard would disenfranchise Henry, but that's the beauty of these plays. They're always entertaining and perhaps a bit over the top, but they're definitely not simple or simply interpreted.
Indeed, you can find plenty in this whole play to support the True King or Justice, or change your mind all over again and switch sides.
Oddly enough, since I had just read King Henry IV part one this month, which directly follows the events in Richard II, I was horrified and bemused by Henry's several references to having bloody hands and washing them after Richard's death, because some twenty years later, as the king, he suffers from boils and agues on his hands and face, almost as if it is divine retribution for deposing the rightful king, and he always keeps gloves on and rubs his hands incessantly. Perfect setup and execution. :) But in this case, I'm doing it backwards. :)
Fun stuff, and so amusing, even if it is propaganda! Shakespeare *was* always walking a tightrope. :)
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