When most people think about Shakespeare and King Richard, they'll think about Richard III. Well, why not? Richard III of England made a good villain. If Sesame Street has taught us nothing else, it's that before three comes two. Richard II is best remembered because of Shakespeare's play and is the topic of the only play the Bard wrote entirely in verse. "Shakespeare Uncovered: Richard II with Derek Jacobi" debuts tonight from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Check local listings.
The 74-year-old Jacobi does bring a bit of controversy to the episode. He believes that Shakespeare was only a "clever opportunist" who took credit for the Earl of Oxford who really wrote the plays. This is discussed in the program. Over all, this episode is informative yet has the least effective ending.
Every man is allowed his opinion. Jacobi was a founding member of the Royal National Theatre. He appeared in the 1989 "Henry V" (as the voice of the chorus). For Shakespeare, he was Cassio in the 1968 "Othello," the lead in the 1978 "Richard II," Hamlet in the 1980 "Hamlet," himself in the 1996 "Looking for Richard," Claudius in the 1996 "Hamlet," and the worst Shakespeare actor ever in the 2001 episode of "Frasier" in "The Show Must Go Off."
A weak ineffectual king, Richard II has been played as a spoilt child, a man who wallows in self-love and as a man who doesn't quite live in reality. Richard II was an attractive man--even his enemies conceded as much--and uncommonly tall (six feet) for that time. He was only 33 when he died (reportedly 14 February 1400).
Edward III was his grandfather. His father, Edward, the Black Prince (because he wore black armor), died before Edward III. When Edward III died, Richard II came to the throne at age 10. His uncle, John of Gaunt was an influential figure.
In Shakespeare's play, Richard II is on the throne and stops a duel between his couin Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, sentencing both to exile. Mowbray forever. Henry for six years. The real Mowbray would die in Venice of the plague.
When John Gaunt dies, Richard II takes his money and land although the play states this rightfully belonged to Bolingbroke. This angers other members of the nobility who then help Henry Bolingbroke to return to England. Although Bolingbroke at first only wants his inheritance, he takes the throne as well, imprisoning Richard in the castle of Pomfret. Now king, Henry mentions that the still-living Richard is a cause of "living fear" and this results in the an ambitious nobleman murdering the king.
The main theme is over the divine anointment of kings and just what that means, first to Richard II and his concept of what his rights were and the guidance of God or if God just readily supported any of his actions and then to Bolingbroke who must worry about what his usurping of the throne means. Bolingbroke is seen an a more effective statesman while Richard II may have believed no one could topple him. Richard II is compared to despotic rulers such as Saddam Hussein and to Western leaders such as Maggie Thatcher who lost touch with her people and her party.
Like the more famous Richard III, there are a few mysteries. Richard III was the last English king to die in battle, but his burial place is unknown. The exact nature of Richard II's death isn't clear. He may have been murdered or he may have starved to death.
"Richard II" is also part of a three-play look into history by Shakespeare so stay tuned for the segment on "Henry IV" with Jeremy Irons. "Shakespeare Uncovered: Richard II with Derek Jacobi" debuts tonight from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Check local listings.