The Tragedy of King Richard II images of Richard II

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The Tragedy of King Richard II

Images of Richard II

The Wilton Diptych

  • A parody of Shakespearean history writing by “Beyond the Fringe,” a British comedy group who wrote in the 1960s. (“Beyond the Fringe” was the ancestor and inspiration for Monty Python.)

Shakespeare’s two sets of English history plays

  • Shakespeare’s two sets of English history plays

  • Henry VI, parts 1, 2, and 3, and Richard III, dealing with the later portion of the “Wars of the Roses.” Written in early 1590s.

  • Richard II, and Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V, dealing with the usurpation of 1399 that would lead to the Wars of the Roses. Written 1595-1600.

  • Wars of the Roses a dynastic struggle that brought in the Tudor dynasty (Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth I)

Five successive seizures of the English crown in 15th century

  • Henry VI comes to throne as a nine-month-old child in 1422.

  • Deposed by Edward Duke of York in 1460, who becomes Edward IV. (Henry imprisoned in Scotland and in Tower of London).

  • Edward IV deposed by forces of Henry VI in 1570; Henry VI restored briefly.

  • Henry VI deposed, then murdered. Edward IV restored.

  • Edward dies, Richard Duke of Gloucester initially regent for Edward’s young son, who is Edward V.

  • But Richard seizes the throne, becomes Richard III, 1474.

  • In 1484 HenryTudor defeats Richard III in battle (Bosworth) and becomes Henry VII.

Second “tetralogy”

  • Second written, but goes back behind “Wars of Roses” to tell the beginning.

  • The “moral” antecedent of the Wars.

  • Begins with Richard II’s reign at end of the 14th century (Richard deposed in 1399).

  • Ends with Henry V and battle of Agincourt, which seems a glorious conclusion, but leads to reign of Henry VI.

Richard II and Queen Elizabeth

  • In 1599 followers of Earl of Essex pay Lord Chamberlain’s Men to perform Richard II just before Essex’s attempted coup d’etat against Elizabeth.

  • Elizabeth, around this time: “Know you not that I am Richard II?”

The first scene of the play

  • A “big” scene, filling the stage with actors, heralded no doubt by trumpets.

  • Much formality of language, presumably of action and gesture.

  • Speeches sometimes conclude with rhyme.

  • The enmity of Bolingbroke (Henry Hereford) and Mowbray (Duke of Norfolk) is clear.

Bolingbroke’s accusation

  • Mowbray has misappropriated funds (the 8,000 nobles to pay troops).

  • All treasons of the past 18 years were plotted by Mowbray!

  • Plotted Duke of Gloucester’s death (Gloucester, also called “Woodstock” was king’s uncle and Bolingbroke’s uncle) – a kind of “original sin” in the play.

Mowbray’s defense

  • Three quarters of the money was disbursed to soldiers, one fourth to pay the debt the king owed him.

  • Didn’t kill Gloucester.

  • But mysteriously: “to my own disgrace,/ Neglected my sworn duty in that case.”

  • And tried to ambush Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster), Bolingbroke’s father, but has confessed the fault and received Gaunt’s pardon.

The sense of mystery in it all

  • Why does the king want to make peace between them?

  • Why does he not want to know who killed Gloucester, his uncle?

  • Why does Gaunt also want to make peace?

  • Who did kill Gloucester?

The contrast of I, 2

  • “Small” scene, just Gaunt and Duchess of Gloucester.

  • Meaning of Gaunt’s first three lines.

  • In Duchess’s sense: Gaunt’s sacred duty to avenge Gloucester’s death.

  • Gaunt’s response: I can’t avenge, because of who the murderer is. A competing sacred duty not to avenge.

The Lists at Coventry, I, 3

  • Another “big” scene.

  • Much formality, much chivalrous language, high poetry.

  • Much swearing of loyalty to God, king, self.

  • Much sounding of trumpets . . .

  • . . . and the battle is called off.

  • Why?

  • The rationale of banishment for Richard

  • Mowbray’s continued loyalty.

  • His riff on “native English,” 1.3, 160.

  • His “silence” on Richard becomes literal in banishment.

  • Partiality of revocation of part of Bolingbroke’s banishment. Why?

Richard in private, I.4

  • Change of tone in language, irony.

  • Another set of characters: Aumerle, Bushy, Bagot, Green.

  • Richard’s response to news of Gaunt’s sickness: 59-60ff.

  • “Pray God we may make haste, and come too late.”

“This sceptered isle” II, i

  • Prophetic Gaunt: his tongue the opposite of Mowbray’s.

  • His poetic construction of England: ll. 40-58 . . .

  • . . . is cancelled by the lines that follow, 59-60.

  • The pattern repeated in ll. 61-66.

  • His mockery of his name.

  • His final truth-speaking to Richard, 93ff.

  • And his tongue, now “a stringless instrument,” like Mowbray’s.

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