Shakespeare’s Richard II

We have several versions of “Richard II”, so we decided to watch the BBC Hollow Crown version of 2012, directed by Rupert Goold. I recognised St David’s Cathedral (where we had a lovely holiday when the kids were small), checked and found it was Pembroke Castle (last visited when I was a lad), and knew I’d seen the amazing topiary somewhere (Packwood House, visited last year). We are a long way from the stage of the Globe.

Apparently the earliest recorded performance of Richard II was a private one, in Canon Row, the house of Edward Hoby, on 9 December 1595. The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 29 August 1597 by the bookseller Andrew Wise. One day I will read more about Shakespeare’s life and how these plays came to be produced and printed. Richard II was king 1377-1399, and this play covers the last couple of years of his reign, and his deposition. Again, I need to re-read the history – I know the Peasants’ Revolt is 1381, but I would have struggled to name the King.

I have recently done a course on the history of Art from The National Gallery, and one of the items we looked at was The Wilton Diptych, where Richard is depicted kneeling in worship before the Virgin and Child, with St Edmund, Edward the Confessor and John the Baptist behind him. There is also this portrait of him at Westminster Abbey, which was one of the influences on the look of this production.

Ben Wishaw plays Richard. Tim Dowling, in the Guardian’s review, describes his performance as ”  camp, flutey and painfully self-conscious” – I’m not sure if he means that in a negative sense. It is certainly a fascinating picture of a king who has a Messianic complex – he comes in on a donkey at one point, and Wishaw even looks like Jesus. I found the scene where Richard is killed by arrows very Edmund-like, but I don’t suppose viewers who weren’t from Bury St Edmunds would make that link. There is also one point where he stands with two angelic figures – now I know where we got the idea for our broomstick nativity figures from.

Rory Kinnear plays Henry Bolingbroke. He has done a huge amount of Shakespeare – indeed, all the cast have good Shakespearean pedigree. He came over as a seasoned warrior and a more believable King than Richard.

Patrick Stewart is a marvellous John of Gaunt – and the “Sceptred Isle” speech is marvellous. I am very angry and depressed about the country in which I live, a country where Unicef is helping to feed children and one of the Cabinet describes it as a “political stunt” – this speech makes me feel better about the beautiful country in which I live, and giving me the strength to pray for it.

David Suchet plays Edmund of Langley, Duke of York – again, I need to work out the history.

There are only three female parts. Clemence Poesy is Richard’s Queen, Isabella Laughland is her lady, and Lindsay Duncan (above) is the Duchess of York. I know why he didn’t write for women, but it does feel there is something missing. It will be interesting to see if other productions make more of them.

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