Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Richard II

Richard II by William Shakespeare
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Sep 04, 13

bookshelves: 16th-17th-c-brit, tudor-drama
Read in April, 2010

For the first time, Shakespeare creates a compelling historical protagonist who speaks naturally in a poetic voice that is truly, distinctively his own. In his earlier works involving kings and emperors, Shakespeare imitated Marlowe's "mighty line" with some--if not complete--success, but in Richard II he at last found a king--a weak man but a considerable poet--whom he could animate from the inside, a king more comfortable with the rhetoric of royal pageantry than with governing his country. Like Hamlet, Richard and his language dominate the play he inhabits, and the only downside to this is that the play inevitably loses a little of its light and beauty whenever he is not on the stage.
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Don Incognito What is the "mighty line"?

I haven't read this yet, but based on other reviews, Richard's character sounds complex.I understand there is a scene in which two conspirators (sent by Henry?) enter Richard's prison to murder him, and Richard grabs the axe one carries and calmly kills him with it. In that case, he may be an incompetent king but doesn't sound weak or passive. I added this play to my list mainly because I want to read Henry IV but don't want to read the history plays (especially the Henry series) out of order; but Richard II intrigues me.

message 2: by Bill (last edited May 31, 2013 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill  Kerwin Richard II is not lacking in animal courage or chutzpah, but he lacks the even temperament and firm resolve of a good king. Wielding an axe is in character, but granting offices with fairness and discernment and governing equitably is beyond him.

If possible, Richard III should be read first. It shows us Bolingbroke (Henry IV) in his great sin against kingship, and begins many of the themes carried out in the next three plays.

Anna Great review; totally agree with your final sentence.

message 4: by Bill (last edited Nov 23, 2013 04:46AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill  Kerwin Thanks! Have you seen the Ben Wishaw Richard in "The Hollow Crown" version of Richard II? A very interesting performance. (And Patrick Stewart is pretty darn good as John of Gaunt.)

Bill  Kerwin Don Incognito wrote: "What is the "mighty line"?

Perhaps its much too late for you to care, but I missed your question about the "mighty line" first time around.

Ben Jonson used the phrase to describe Marlowe's blank verse style--sonorously magnificent, but only capable of big heroic effects.

Example. Tamberlaine the Great to the captured queen Zenocrate:

I am a lord, for so my deeds shall prove;
And yet a shepherd by my parentage.
But, lady, this fair face and heavenly hue
Must grace his bed that conquers Asia,
And means to be a terror to the world,
Measuring the limits of his empery
By east and west, as Phoebus doth his course.--
Lie here, ye weeds, that I disdain to wear!
This complete armour and this curtle-axe
Are adjuncts more beseeming Tamburlaine.--
And, madam, whatsoever you esteem
Of this success, and loss unvalued, [35]
Both may invest you empress of the East;
And these that seem but silly country swains
May have the leading of so great an host
As with their weight shall make the mountains quake,
Even as when windy exhalations,
Fighting for passage, tilt within the earth.

Early Shakespearean example: Titus Andronicus says:

Hail, Rome, victorious in thy mourning weeds!
Lo, as the bark, that hath discharged her fraught,
Returns with precious jading to the bay
From whence at first she weigh'd her anchorage,
Cometh Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs, 90
To re-salute his country with his tears,
Tears of true joy for his return to Rome.
Thou great defender of this Capitol,
Stand gracious to the rites that we intend!
Romans, of five and twenty valiant sons, 95
Half of the number that King Priam had,
Behold the poor remains, alive and dead!
These that survive let Rome reward with love;
These that I bring unto their latest home,
With burial amongst their ancestors: 100
Here Goths have given me leave to sheathe my sword.
Titus, unkind and careless of thine own,
Why suffer'st thou thy sons, unburied yet,
To hover on the dreadful shore of Styx?
Make way to lay them by their brethren. 105
[The tomb is opened]
There greet in silence, as the dead are wont,
And sleep in peace, slain in your country's wars!
O sacred receptacle of my joys,
Sweet cell of virtue and nobility, 110
How many sons of mine hast thou in store,
That thou wilt never render to me more!

message 6: by Anna (last edited Nov 23, 2013 03:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anna Bill wrote: "Thanks! Have you seen the Ben Wishaw Richard in "The Hollow Crown" version of Richard II. A very interesting performance. (And Patrick Steward is pretty darn good as John of Gaunt.)"

No I am a recent convert! I usually avoid the histories but was blown away by the RSC/Greg Doran's current production (David Tenant as Richard, and Oliver Ford Davis as Duke of York). I shall have to go and look up The Hollow Crown.

Incidentally the RSC are screening that theatre production in the US and worldwide. It's the first in a series of live theatre screenings under Doran's direction.

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