by William Shakespeare
Richard II is the first play in the Henriad (second tetralogy). It is followed by the three plays, Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V. Shakespeare’s histories have always been his most intimidating works for me. Richard III and Henry V are obviously incredible, but some of the others, like this one, ramble on with so many different names that it can be hard to follow. I decided it was time to just dive in and start at the chronological beginning.
The Wars of the Roses play out in eight different works beginning with Richard II; then Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI Part 1, 2, and 3, and Richard III. This play introduces many of the major players that have a role throughout the rest of those plays.
It's about the fall of a king, the shifting of power, unhappy subjects and the plotting that leads to the king’s downfall. There's a beautiful scene between Richard II and his wife in act five. She’s watching he husband lose his power and is heartbroken for him…
“But soft, but see, or rather do not see,
My fair rose wither: yet look up, behold,
That you in pity may dissolve to dew,
And wash him fresh again with true-love tears.”
I recently saw a film version of this one and it was fantastic. It was such a wonderful portrayal and those individuals will stick in my mind as those characters. Also I saw it at the Old Vic in London and Kevin Spacey played Richard II a few years ago. It was a wonderful performance. I’ve found that Shakespeare works so much better for me in book form if I’ve had a chance to see it performed live first.
BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful portrait of the tenuous nature of power and the bittersweet nature of victory. It can be hard to follow because of the sheer number of characters and shifting alliances. If possible I'd recommend seeing a play or movie version before reading it because it's easier to follow the text when you can put a face with the name.
“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me;
For now hath time made me his numb'ring clock;
My thoughts are minutes, and with sighs they jar
Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch,
Whereto my finger, like a dial's point,
Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears.”