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Richard II

I am joining the chorus of praise for the BBC staging of Richard II last weekend. The high point is certainly Patrick Stewart's fantastic rendition of the "This Sceptred Isle" speech, as John of Gaunt, in the second act, but it's all rather fantastic - especially Ben Whishaw in the title role and Rory Kinnear as Bolingbroke. It also rather obviously points up Shakespeare's debt to Marlowe; Richard II is closer to Marlowe's Edward II than it is to Richard's actual life.

When I listened to an audio version as part of my run through Shakespeare a few years ago, I felt that there were two fairly big problems with the plot of Richard II. But the BBC production by Sam Mendes has dealt with both. First off, Whishaw gives a thoroughly convincing performance of a very bad king who is not such a very bad man, in a way that Rupert Graves didn't quite manage in the version I had previously listened to. And second, Mendes' decision to merge the two assassination subplots of Act 5 actually makes a lot more sense than Shakespeare's original text, where the Aumerle plot really comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.

I was also moved to find out what happened to Mowbray, who just vanishes after having played such an important role in the first act. In real life, he died of plague in Venice a few months after his exile; it's a bit of a shame that we don't hear about that. Also in real life the Duchess of York died in 1392, several years before the 1399 revolution; but one doesn't read Shakespeare for historical accuracy.

Anyway, well worth watching this. (See also communicator, here.)


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 3rd, 2012 09:14 pm (UTC)
Shakespeare isn't good for accuracy. Richard's Queen (and second wife) was a child at the time (and did love him, but not in that way, too young even by the standards of then), so their leavetakings in the play far too adult. Recently saw Edward II at the Royal Exchange. Can see the point about plot, but the voice was so different, can not see how anybody can suggest Marlowe wrote any of Shakespeare's plays for him!

The iconography of Richard II seeing himself as Christ though is there front and centre in all of the surviving paintings of him. He did actively encourage people to portray him this way. No King who was King that young turned out well, they all turned out odd.
Jul. 4th, 2012 07:49 pm (UTC)
It also rather obviously points up Shakespeare's debt to Marlowe; Richard II is closer to Marlowe's Edward II than it is to Richard's actual life.

I studied both plays during my postgrad days, and there is zero evidence that this is true: sure, the plots of the plays are similar but that's chiefly because there are several similarities between the lives of the two monarchs in question.
Jul. 11th, 2012 08:44 am (UTC)
I agree: Ben Whishaw was mesmerizing as Richard. This part has to carry the play, and he succeeded. I felt at points that he was channelling Johnny Depp channelling Keith Richards and that a line like "You will always remember this as the day you nearly killed King Richard" was about to appear. The director Rupert Goold said that it was actually Michael Jackson they had in mind, hence the monkey.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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