“Richard II” by Shakespeare

King Richard II: Arden ShakespeareKing Richard II: Arden Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lots of the talky-talk. Some great stuff about the complexities of leadership, and how one’s strengths and weaknesses can be used against one. A focus on the question of divine right of kings. Lots of lines devoted to men pointing fingers at one another and yelling “Liar!” Far too much rhyming for it to feel as real as I’d like it. Richard II undergoes fascinating ups and downs. But the play wasn’t as felicitous to read as later ones, and some scenes (Liar!) had me rolling my eyes. Good, sometimes not, but occasionally great. Also, in this edition of the Arden, I found Peter Ure’s notes all but useless to me. Rarely did he explicate or contextualize the lines. He was far more interested in obsessing nerdishly over comparative texts.


I re-read Richard II in preparation for the PBS showing of The Hollow Crown: Richard II last night. I didn’t love the production. I didn’t like the implication that being effete and loving men is at least weakness if not villainy. His love of men was shown both in gesture, and in the repeated motif of St. Sebastian, often called the patron saint of homosexuals. In the DVD Shakespeare Uncovered, in the Richard II segment the director revealed he was going for someone who simply had no awareness of others, and had the idea of Michael Jackson, which is where the idea for the monkey came from. I did think the monkey was a nice touch at showing Richard’s love of ridiculous things. Also, Derek Jacobi reveals he thinks Shakespeare didn’t write the plays, the earl of Oxford did. !!! I was surprised that such an eminent Shakespearean actor doesn’t believe in Shakespeare.

To counter my concerns about his earlier effete-ness, Richard does have a pleasingly badass scene at the end:

Villain, they own hand yields thy death’s instrument.
Go thou and fill another room in hell (V, vii, 6-7)

But the scene where his name was written in the sand and erased by the surf? A little too on the nose for me.

I did enjoy Rory Kinnear as Bolingbroke, silent and bewildered at Richard’s behavior and in a later scene when he had to make the hard decisions of a king. Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt was terrific.

This was not my favorite play, to read or see, but it does contain this, and so I’m reminded that even lesser Shakespeare can make me feel like bowing down:

For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings (III, ii, 155-6)

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