Review: Richard II

Posted 23 May, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 5 Comments

Richard II
By: William Shakespeare
Format/Source: eBook; my copy

Banishing his cousin, Bolingbroke, King Richard II prevents a dispute from turning bloody. But Richard is an arrogant and despotic ruler, who listens only to his flatterers. As favour turns against him and Bolingbroke returns to reclaim his land, Richard is grieved to see that
the throne given to him by God might be taken from him by men.

I have finally read the entire tetralogy! Granted, I should have started with this, but given that I saw The Hollow Crown adaptation of this first, I thougth to skip it and read the rest first before going back and reading this play =P A bit confusing, but anyway, here we are now 🙂

This book is part of the William Shakespeare Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.

I don’t know if watching the play first helped but I felt from all of the plays related to The War of the Roses (Correction: this tetralogy is not the one associated with The War of the Roses), this one moved the fastest plot-wise. From Bolingbroke’s banishment to John of Gaunt’s death to the uprising, removal of Richard II and his subsequent death, everything just flowed; there was never really a dull moment between characters, even when the story turned to the domestic turmoil within the Duke of York’s family. I also found the speeches more eloquent here; I think this might be because a lot of the conflict doesn’t necessarily take place on the battlefield and the speeches were not prior to some major battle. Or maybe the themes that this play tackles–of kingship (the nature of the position, his obligation to the law, custom, and the people, and its changing role), of what is right versus the respect of the position, etc.–just made the content of these speeches and dialogue amongst characters more interesting.

Speaking of speeches and themes, the subject of identity also comes up, though it’s more subtle. When Bolingbroke is banished, he laments about the distance, of not being home (amongst other things, such as the lack of comforts away in foreign shores). Then there’s John of Gaunt’s lament in Act 2, Scene 1, in which some of the imagery it brings up is reminiscent of later ideas associated with England:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

The drama between characters were also much more interesting in this place: that fine line between Bolingbroke and Richard II, all of John of Gaunt’s scenes with Richard II and his son Henry, Richard II and his wife’s touching parting. I think there’s no doubt in my mind that in this play, Richard II is the focal point of the story and to whom all of the characters interact, intersect, their fates all tied up with his governance. Even the lamentations and reflections of the individual characters and their decisions were intriguing to read about. I especially enjoyed this rather melancholic oration by Richard II in Act 3, Scene 2:

No matter where. Of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth;
Let’s choose executors, and talk of wills:
And yet not so — for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?
Our lands, our lives, and all, are Bolingbroke’s,
And nothing can we call our own but death;
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos’d, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos’d;
Some poison’d by their wives, some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d — for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps Death his court: and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene
To monarchize, be fear’d, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit —
As if this flesh, which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable — and, humour’d thus,
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and — farewell king!

Maybe watching The Hollow Crown helped a bit in my understanding of the play but from the four plays, this one I think is my favourite. It’s a lot more dramatic, I think (though Henry IV part 1 (review) was also dramatic), and as the first play in the quartet, it really set the stage for the conflicts that follow Henry Iv–and to a lesser extent, Henry V–in later plays.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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5 Responses to “Review: Richard II”

  1. Interesting review! I only watched the tv series, I have not yet read the plays, but Richard II was my least favourite part of The Hollow Crown. Though undoubtedly well made and acted, I just couldn’t sympathize with Richard, I thought he was rather winy and annoying…

    I might pick up one of the plays this year, I díd promise to participated in the Shakespeare challenge, but have not read anything for that yet.

    You mention in your review that the plays relate to the Wars of the Roses, but didn’t they start with Henry VI?

    • You mention in your review that the plays relate to the Wars of the Roses, but didn’t they start with Henry VI?

      You’re right, I just looked it up again and I must have mixed up this tetralogy with the other one that started with, as you said, Henry VI 🙂 Thanks for the heads up! *goes off to correct her statement*

      Compared to Henry IV and Henry IV, Richard II is definitely a different kind of character/king; I love that the sets and direction in The Hollow Crown reflected that. Best of luck with the Shakespeare challenge 😉

      • What tv series can’t do for your history knowledge! Watching The White Queen last year has certainly brushed up my knowledge about The Wars of the Roses and apparently it’s easier to remember things when they are presented to you visually!

        • Haha, I agree! People always complain about the inaccuracies and whatnot, but on the flip side it prompts people to look things up and know what really happened 🙂 The whole visual aspect of the adaptations definitely helps, especially with some of these Shakespearean plays 😉

          How was The White Queen? I’m hesitant whether to check it out or not; on the one hand, David Oakes is in it, on the other hand I heard mixed reviews about it…

          • I really liked The White Queen. Historically it might be less than perfect, but certainly not very bad. As you might have seen, I wrote an article for the new Femnista about Margaret Beaufort, I got to ‘know’ her through The White Queen. They did get the main facts about her life right, but her character seems to have been misrepresented a bit.

            I thought the acting was really good! (Plus, it was filmed largely in Bruges in Belgium, where I was shortly before I watched The White Queen, so I really enjoyed seeing those buildings in this tv series)

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