Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reader's Diary #913- William Shakespeare: Richard II

I'm not sure why I haven't read this one before. Apparently it's the first of Shakespeare's Henriad tetralogy. The next three include the first and second parts of Henry IV and Henry V. I read those, as well as Richard III. Yet I skipped Richard II. Oh well, I'll just treat it like a prequel.

It occurred to me while reading this play that no matter what the classification, to read Shakespeare it is necessary to suspend one's beliefs. The comedies are farcical, the tragedies usually end in a outrageous blood bath, and the historical plays tend to have characters prattling on with ludicrously long and profound speeches. But why not suspend one's belief. With the costumes, all-male actors, and simple stage props of Shakespeare's day, the audience had no choice but to accept what was put before them. Once you make that leap, finding substance goes a lot easier.

Richard II is about the titular king's fall from power, but also about Bolingbroke's rise. While both men are flawed, I personally found Richard the more interesting of the two. I didn't warm to Bolingbroke, who seem conniving and dishonest, and so I wanted to sympathize with Richard. But lord knows, he makes it difficult. Believing in the divine right of kings, Richard II not only talks as if infallible, at one point he even compares himself to Jesus Christ. Perhaps he finds some solace in playing the martyr. He keeps it interesting, that's for sure.

As for it being a prequel, I've forgotten too much of the others in the tertalogy to comment on that front.

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