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.