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Richard II (Folger Shakespeare Library) Mass Market Paperback – July 1, 2005
Shakespeare’s Richard II presents a momentous struggle between Richard II and his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. Richard is the legitimate king; he succeeded his grandfather, King Edward III, after the earlier death of his father Edward, the Black Prince. Yet Richard is also seen by many as a tyrant. He toys with his subjects, exiling Bolingbroke for six years.
When he seizes the title and property that should be Bolingbroke’s, Richard threatens the very structure of the kingdom. Bolingbroke returns with an army that is supported by nobles and commoners alike, both believing themselves oppressed by Richard. This sets the stage for a confrontation between his army and the tradition of sacred kingship supporting the isolated but now more sympathetic Richard.
This edition includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Harry Berger, Jr.
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
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About the Author
Barbara A. Mowat is Director of Research emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Consulting Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly, and author of The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances and of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and their editing.
Paul Werstine is Professor of English at the Graduate School and at King’s University College at Western University. He is a general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare and author of Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare and of many papers and articles on the printing and editing of Shakespeare’s plays.
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (July 1, 2005)
- Language : English
- Mass Market Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0743484916
- ISBN-13 : 978-0743484916
- Item Weight : 5.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 4.19 x 0.9 x 6.75 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #825,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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I Iived and went to a fine women's school. Thank you for asking me to write but it is THE BARD. I cannot do what you ask without literary blasphemy and without visiting my little friend in her grave now 60 years. And I am not allowed to travel except by flights of imagination in books such as those by Shakespeare. GK.
Richard is king of England at the dawn of the 15th century, a firm believer in the notion of royalty as manifestation of divine will. He runs his kingdom in an arrogant, high-handed manner, not sweating the anger he provokes. He will always be king, he believes, and doesn't worry about blowback while disinheriting a noble he previously exiled for petty cause: "Not all the water in the rough rude sea/Can wash the balm off from an anointed king."
The play is one of Shakespeare's more political works, contrasting Richard's lazy claim of divine favor with Bolingbroke, later to become Henry IV, a scrapper who works to win over lords and commoners alike. It's a fascinating dual portrait, especially when looking forward to the tough-nosed but stabilizing figure of Henry IV and the inspiring Henry V. You can see Richard II showing us why Great Britain needed the Henrys to come along when they did.
Shakespeare's approach here takes hits from some critics for being too pat and rhymey. Actually, I found his language here to be quite beautiful and engaging, with not just the last few lines of scenes but entire colloquies done in rhyme. Deep ruminations about death and the natural order of things lend ballast to the play; so too do metaphoric observations about gardening and heavenly bodies as they pertain to kingly rule. You have a classic speech in John of Gaunt's soliloquy on England ("this sceptered isle") and one that should be better noted, Richard II's melancholic inventory of his jail cell ("I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.")
If only the plot or characters were more galvanizing. The first act draws us very slowly into the story with Bolingbroke and another knight challenging each other to a duel, having it arranged, and then Richard calling it off. Richard loses his kingdom offstage as it were, after a legacy of misrule that we hear much about but only glimpse in action. The last two acts are pretty much just crossing the t's and dotting the i's, while dramatic tension largely dissipates by Act III.
Richard II is our only memorable character, but his chronic whining makes him hard to care about, and he lacks the kind of gravitas you expect from a tragic Shakespearean hero. (Though a history, it's actually entitled "The Tragedy of Richard II.") In an essay in the Folger edition, Harry Berger Jr. claims Richard II actually seeks his own overthrow. I don't agree, yet I'm stuck for a better explanation. His actions and non-actions in this play make him hard to relate to, understand, or care about.
"Richard II" was first printed in 1597 but is believed to have been written prior to the Henry IV/V plays. I suspect otherwise. There's allusions here to Prince Hal's wanton lifestyle and the fate of various characters from those later plays that suggest to me that Shakespeare was working backwards, using "Richard II" as a kind of prequel examination of what is the core theme of the later plays. The highlights of "Richard II", episodic scenes where a group of nobles challenge each other to an endless series of duels and a father begging a king to execute his disloyal son, appear designed to point out the need for orderly society.
There's a lot of chaos in the play, maybe too much. I enjoyed reading "Richard II" despite the flaws, but would recommend it only to people who have read one or more of the other "Henriad" plays first.
Top reviews from other countries
As part of my retirement project to read the literature that I was assigned to read in school but didn’t, I am now attempting ting to read as many of Shakespeare’s plays as possible. The Folger edition has forwards that indicate in the reading of the plays that one will come to comprehend and appreciate Shakespeare’s language both in the vocabulary and in the poetry. I’ve read all of the plays that were augend to me in high school and several others now. I can attest to the validity of the Folger’s editor’s statement. With Folger’s notes, I’ve come to understand most of the archaic words and can read along mostly unhindered by them. Surprisingly for me, the poetry of Shakespeare’s language is now becoming apparent to me and for that I am very glad.
I’ve read enough of the plays that in reading Richard II, I saw a commonality with many of the other Shakespeare plays that I have read. I wonder if this commonality is there and if it is whether it is a real insight or not. Shakespeare lived in the century after the end of the Wars of the Roses. He lived in the time of the Reformation and the English wars with Spain. No doubt, at that time, there was a vivid social memory of the chaos and destruction caused by the rivalry between the houses of York and Lancaster. What I find common in many of the plays is the descent into war and chaos from the hubris of the characters. It is certainly there in Richard III, Julius Cesar, Macbeth and even in Antony and Cleopatra. T Ricard II actions to antagonize the nobles and especially Bolingbroke were of the same sort. It is more complicated in Richard II because, as an essay in the Folger edition points out, it is arguable that Richard acted in that way to engineer his own downfall. However, Richard’s actions did result in the execution of many of his followers and created an instability in the political system. The ending of the play shows discovery of a rebellious plot against the new Henry IV.
In any event, what I see in these plays is a vision of social stability and peace upset by the ambitions of these flawed characters. It is the destruction of this peace that is the tragedy in these plays. I wonder if this was a social memory of the centuries of civil wars in England.
The Folger ebook edition is a pleasure to read. The essay providing a modern interpretation of Richard II is, however, a major disappointment since it advances a thesis (i.e. that Richard II consciously wanted to be deposed) that seems totally implausible to me.