This moving and eloquent historical drama depicts the conflict between a willful and arrogant poet of a king, Richard II, and his politically pragmatic cousin, Bolingbroke. Rich with memorable scenes and speeches, this lyrical history moves from a splendid medieval tournament to the poignant surrender of a crown; from the queen’s heart-shattering farewell to her king to Richard’s murder—a deed “chronicled in hell” that lives forever as one of the great moments in theater.
From the Paperback edition.
RICHARD II (1595) is the first in the series of history plays that also includes both parts of HENRY IV, as well as HENRY V, which tells the dramatic and bloody story of the fall of the Plantagenets and the rise of the house of Lancaster. The action of the play takes place in 1398, when Richard is in full possession of the kingship to which he acceded when he was very young. But he is not a wise or prudent ruler. He is more interested in Italian fashions and waging frivolous wars than he is in governing, and his judgment of people is chronically weak--many of his servile courtiers are disloyal and corrupt. His profligate spending is beginning to rile his friends and enemies both, and the situation comes to a head when he seizes the lands of his uncle John of Gaunt, the father of Henry Bolingbroke, the cousin Richard has sent into exile--lands that would come to Bolingbroke as his father's heir. Enraged, Bolingbroke invades, and the common men of England who resent Richard's high-handedness rally behind him. As Richard's courtiers follow suit, Richard finds himself virtually alone, the country wrested out of his hands and the throne usurped. He is imprisoned in the far north of England, his terrified wife flees to France, and Bolingbroke is crowned Henry IV in London. Soon after this humiliation, Richard is murdered--probably by an assassin sent by Henry, who then goes off to begin his reign by traveling to Jerusalem to repent--a situation that bodes ill for the English royal family. RICHARD II is a touching and memorable play mainly because of the questions it raises about kingship and governance, and for the poetry of its language--in particular, that of its self-absorbed hero, including his famous set-piece soliloquy about "this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England." In Tudor times, the killing of a sovereign was a sacrilegious act because kings and queens were considered God's anointed--and the dramatic rendition of regicide and usurpation was fairly radical on Shakespeare's part, and probably reflected the growing sentiment in England that the rulers of the people should be chosen by them, not conferred by hereditary title--though some critics claim that he intended the opposite, i.e. to demonstrate the chaos that could ensue when the divine right of kings was challenged. Whatever the case, RICHARD II was an immensely popular play in its day, though it is less so now because of its relative lack of drama and action.
- Juvenile Nonfiction, Drama
- Literary Criticism + Collections, Shakespeare
- September 14, 2010
- September 14, 2010
- William Shakespeare