The Hollow Crown presents Shakespeare’s second historic tetralogy – OK, not a word I use a lot, so when I can… known as the Henriad – Richard II, Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. No, the Part I & 2 divisions aren’t broken down for TV; they were broken down that way by the author.
The plays follow the decline of the main Plantagenet line and the ascension Lancastrian house as Richard II, who banishes Bollingbroke from England and is later supplanted by him as Henry IV. This action led to a difficult rule for Henry IV; Henry V, for whom his father had concerns, has one of England’s greatest victories of the age against France at the Battle of Agincourt against overwhelming odds.
The Hollow Crown series features an amazing cast (see here for an example of Mr. Hiddleston’s stage presence) and Richard II is no exception. It is a first rate production that aggressively pursues a particular take on the play, and, its namesake. Richard II is portrayed as a fairly weak, effeminate and self-focused man who is swayed by his inner circle. He certainly sees himself ruling by divine right. However this is not so he could exercise God’s will on earth, but rather to glorify himself. So he sees fit to banish Bollingbroke on the one hand and look eagerly for the death of Bollingbroke’s father on the other, so he can confiscate his property for the royal coffers and, thus, deny his birthright.
Mr. Winshaw portrays Richard II as a king in denial, who is “deeply spiritual” and untouched by the world and yet using worldly powers for his own desires. He sees himself as an almost martyr; persecuted by Bollingbroke and the other nobles who take the royal crown from the rightful bearer. Indeed, it is in his loss that he waxes his most poetic.
Before I have shook off the regal thoughts Wherewith I reign’d? I hardly yet have learn’d To insinuate, flatter, bow, and bend my limbs: Give sorrow leave awhile to tutor me To this submission. Yet I well remember The favours of these men: were they not mine? Did they not sometime cry, ‘all hail!’ to me? So Judas did to Christ: but he, in twelve, Found truth in all but one: I, in twelve thousand, none. God save the king! Will no man say amen? Am I both priest and clerk? well then, amen. God save the king! although I be not he; And yet, amen, if heaven do think him me.
Shakespeare, William (2011-09-07). The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Kindle Locations 67176-67186). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
HENRY BOLINGBROKE Are you contented to resign the crown?
KING RICHARD II Ay, no; no, ay; for I must nothing be; Therefore no no, for I resign to thee. Now mark me, how I will undo myself; I give this heavy weight from off my head And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand, The pride of kingly sway from out my heart; With mine own tears I wash away my balm, With mine own hands I give away my crown, With mine own tongue deny my sacred state, With mine own breath release all duty’s rites: All pomp and majesty I do forswear; My manors, rents, revenues I forego; My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny: God pardon all oaths that are broke to me! God keep all vows unbroke that swear to thee! Make me, that nothing have, with nothing grieved, And thou with all pleased, that hast all achieved! Long mayst thou live in Richard’s seat to sit, And soon lie Richard in an earthly pit! God save King Harry, unking’d Richard says, And send him many years of sunshine days! What more remains?
Shakespeare, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Kindle Locations 67209-67228
So we see his notion of being wronged and God’s own will circumvented. He sees no connection between what he has done to Bollingbroke and his loss of crown.
Another interesting quirk of this production is during Gaunt’s (Patrick Stewart) famous speech waxing forth on the wonders of the scept’d isle England near his death:
This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands, This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
Shakespeare, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Kindle Locations 65908-65916).
They have Sir Patrick almost pause and look directly into the camera during this bit. Not the he didn’t do a fabulous job, but it seemed a bit forced.
In summary, it has a fabulous cast, an amazing look and a restraint on production that is free from distraction on what is its focus. It also seems to contain a bit of artifice in its presentation. This is both its charm and its challenge. I appreciate a production that seeks to starkly put forward its perspective of the work rather than see some bland, safe thing that brought no controversy. I highly recommend The Hollow Crown’s Richard II and look forward to the other plays in series. Time will tell if director Rupert Goold is correct in calling this the defining Shakespearean production for this generation (as Olivier and Branagh have been). Whatever is decided, Richard II is a delight with a stellar cast that works together like an ensemble with a beautifully intentional production.