I started some of Shakespeare’s history plays. Richard II starts a cycle of plays that include Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. I had read this play years ago in college. I remembered not liking it that well, and dreaded reading it. I was surprised that I did enjoy it this time around.
This is the story of Richard II who is overthrown by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV). The play is not that good. There are times when you scratch your head and say, “did Shakespeare really write this?” One of these moments comes in the last act, when there is a scene where nearly every character speaks in rhyme. It is not unusual for Shakespearean characters to do this, but it’s more common in comedies than histories.
The one thing that must always be kept in mind is that copyright laws didn’t exist back when Shakespeare wrote. If this were the case, the wouldn’t have written since most of his topics are stolen from other plays. The scenes that stand out in Richard II may have been inserted at a later point or rewritten by a less accomplished writer. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this play much more this time around.
You feel sorry in many ways for Richard II. Although he brought his own demise upon himself, he listened to false friends and advisors. This seemed to be his biggest mistake. The play also is heavily about Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV). His hereditary title is denied him after he is exiled. He comes to claim it in force and gains a huge army of followers. This prompts Richard II to abdicate.
Richard seems to give up his throne a little too easily in this play. Of course, this is not an accurate historical documentation of the reign of Richard II, but still, if he was as wishy-washy as Shakespeare makes him out to be, I know why they didn’t want him as a king.
I’m glad I reread Richard II. It’s no Richard III, so far my favorite history play, but it is better than Much Ado About Nothing.
Next up: Henry IV part 1.
“Let us sit on the ground and tell sad tales of the death of kings.”