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Read Richard II (beginning a tetralogy)


For you have but mistook me all this while:
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
How can you say to me, I am a king?

Seattle Shakespeare Company will be performing Richard II from Jan 8th - Feb. 2nd.  We've just read Edward III, about Richard's grandfather, father and the beginning of the 100 Years' War with France. Now we'll begin to read in succession Richard II, Henry IV parts I and II (the plays famous for Falstaff), and Henry V, because the events and characters of each play lead into the next and enrich the understanding of the following ones. 

Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm from an anointed King

Richard II inherited the throne from his grandfather at the age of 10.  Though he believed he ruled by divine right, he had years of struggle with his ambitious uncles the Dukes of Lancaster (aka John of Gaunt), York and Gloucester, and the rebellious "Lords Appellant" (including Thomas Mowbray and Gaunt's son Henry Bolingbroke), who had deposed, exiled and/or executed the king's favorites. About ten years later, when the king was in his early thirties, he felt secure enough to seek retribution.  When the play begins, the Duke of Gloucester has been murdered - perhaps by secret command of the king - and Mowbray and Bolingbroke are accusing each other of treason in connection with it.  

With a foul traitor's name I stuff thy throat

Richard interrupts their duel to exile them both, despite the pleas of the aging Gaunt that he will not live to see his son's return.  Bolingbroke leaves for France, and Gaunt, on his deathbed, tries to counsel the extravagant king for the well-being of his over-taxed land: 

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

… This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

… This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

…is now leased out…

Richard calls Gaunt "a lunatic lean-witted fool", promptly seizes his lands, and uses them to finance an expedition to Ireland, which he heads.  

This proves to be a disastrous miscalculation, since it brings Bolingbroke back from France with an army to demand his inheritance.  Bolingbroke attracts more and more followers who are fed up with Richard's rule or afraid that their own inheritance is in jeopardy, including the powerful Earl of Northumberland.  By the time Richard returns from Ireland, he must face the shattering realization that his kingdom is as good as lost.

Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke's,
And nothing can we call our own but death
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.

But though he loses the authority to reign, Richard gains emotional depth in contemplating his own humanity and mortality.  His quixotic candor makes the new king, Henry IV, uneasy - but that is the fate of kings.  

LOCATION & LOGISTICS: We'll be in the downstairs meeting room at the University branch of Seattle Public library at NE 50th and Roosevelt Way NE.  (This event is not sponsored by the Seattle Public Library.)  See here for directionshttp://www.spl.org/locations/university-branch/uni-getting-to-the-branch A lot of buses go nearby, and there's free parking in the library lot or on 9th Ave NE - 2 hr parking in front of the homes on 9th  or unlimited parking along the edge of the playfield on 9th south of 50th, or a bit further north on 9th above 50th, in front of the school or church where the yellow School Load Only signs are (they aren't in effect on Sat.).

We can bring food into the meeting room as long as we clean up afterwards. (You might want to check out the University District Saturday Farmers' Market before hand, just a few blocks east on NE 50th between Brooklyn and University Way.)

This is a medium-length play. We read the whole thing, so with distributing parts, break and optional discussion afterwards, allow a few hours for it - perhaps till 4:30?

Bring a copy of the text if you have one, but if you don't, don't worry - there are usually some extras, or we can share.  It's great to read or watch the play before hand, but it's not necessary. It does help to be familiar with the basic plot.

You can find "character circles" (scroll down, to see who is on whose side) and a synopsis at this useful site: http://www.shakespeareswords.com/Play-Characters.aspx?IdPlay=22

For the family tree of these disputing descendants of Edward III, see

http://files.meetup.com/1287453/WarRosesFamilyTree--Wikipedia--Muriel%20Gottrop.pdf

Within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

Join or login to comment.

  • Roberta M.

    Hi Hillary, In case I didn't get it right, I am replying again. The class is at the Lifetime Learning Center way northeast. We have had three of eight classes. you can reach them on line at lifetimelearningseattle.org or call[masked]-8882. I love having homework again. Cheers.

    January 20, 2014

    • Barbara

      Oh, look. There's the answer. Like the Ruby slippers, it was right there, all the time.

      January 21, 2014

  • Roberta M.

    Paul and I were talking about how difficult it was to lose a job/position/work in today's world. It must have been unimaginable for Richard II who thought he was God. Never would have believed it but I'm loving the history plays. I'm taking a class in Henry IV part 1 if anyone is interested. Instructor is super. Cheers.

    1 · January 20, 2014

  • Barbara

    As usual. Thanks, Aidan, for bringing your Fam!

    January 19, 2014

    • Aidan

      I had a great time, and so did they. We had a long talk over dinner about the play. My sister is headed back to Boston soon, but my mother is out here a lot and has expressed an interest in coming again!

      January 20, 2014

    • Barbara

      YAY!!! I hope you sister can come, and I hope you Mom now has incentive to come and visit you more often! I tried to send you a message thru the site, but you're blocked. Could you send me a message with your email, so I can send you a copy of one of the best weddings I've ever written? (I can certainly understand not wanting to make your personal email public.) XOXO

      January 20, 2014

  • Wendy J.

    Going to have to miss this one. Have a good read.

    January 18, 2014

  • Paul K.

    I saw this excerpt as part of the Seattle Shakespeare Company's Artistic Director's (George Mount) comments on the character of Richard II--for which he is playing Richard. I'm feeling more drawn to attending his performance based on finding his own insights of interest to me...

    "....there seems to be a sense of his extra self-awareness and of his distinction from all others. And then what happens is that all that’s taken away...So then what does that leave? Is he an empty vessel or does he start to figure out what is the human that he’s left with. For a long time in the play he seems to be…it seems like he thinks he’s nothing. There’s that great scene where he’s looking at himself in the mirror just to see what’s left after his crown, his rule, the obedience that others have given him, is all stripped away. And he looks at himself and sees if there’s anything that he can recognize about himself left..."

    January 2, 2014

    • Caryl C

      Paul, thanks for sharing that - now I really want to read the play!

      1 · January 5, 2014

  • Caryl C

    I am so bummed. I start a monthly class in January and the date conflicts this time. Arrrggh. Will look forward to the next one.

    January 5, 2014

  • Kari

    I saw the RSC how at SIFF. Loved it! It's amazing how they can turn a word or make a pause and suddenly it's sooo much better than just reading the book.

    December 14, 2013

  • Cole

    Neat. I've never read these in order. (Also, see the Suggested events page: SIFF Uptown is doing a broadcast of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Richard II.)

    December 8, 2013

  • Annika

    Looking forward to finally making it to my first Shakespeare meetup after the holidays!

    December 2, 2013

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