“You may my Glories and my State depose, But not my Griefes; still I am King of those.”

Richard II, Act 4, Scene 1

William Shakespeare


Me. David Tennant. William Shakespeare. Richard II. Jealous yet?


As with ‘Mojo’, this one was always going to be good. Having seen Tennant fronting the BBC’s ‘Shakespeare Uncovered: Hamlet’ documentary, I was fully aware of his abilities to explore in depth Shakespeare’s most interesting and detailed characters.Richard_II_243x317 Richard II is one of these, to say the least.


Whilst his behaviour is often childishly petulant and obstinate, he develops into an extremely sympathetic character as the play goes on. I felt Tennant was very successful in subtly winning over the audience; his speeches when talking of John of Gaunt’s death are horribly cold-hearted: Now put it, God, in the physician’s mind/ To help him to his grave immediately!” However, as Richard becomes more and more of a pathetic figure, not only forced to give up the position that defined his entire life, seeing his identity melt before him, but also deeply confused that a role he’s been told was God-given (i.e. the Kingship) can be taken away from him all of a sudden. 


Really though, Aumerle (Oliver Rix) is the key tragic hero in this production. David Tennant’s performance is excellent, but Rix’s is truly harrowing. Portrayed as a man who must choose between two opposing sides, a bit like Antony, one of the most perfect moments is the silence between the two cousins as it becomes clear Richard must give up his throne. So much is said in this mutual stillness, which is only broken by a kiss. Now, I’m not sure this homosexual element was completely needed, though my mum did suggest the kiss actually showed Richard’s inability to get close to anyone without adding a sexual hint to it, which I think sounds pretty valid!


richard-ii-rsc-2013-aumerle-richardAs in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown’, starring Ben Whishaw, they chose to change the ending, making Aumerle Ricard’s killer, rather than the somewhat less dramatically interesting Sir Pierce of Exton as in the script. Personally I think this was a perfectly acceptable alteration; it, and Bollingbroke’s anger afterwards, really emphasised the impossibility of Aumerle’s situation. My heart broke for him, as well as for Richard, especially when his father turned him in for treason. He just couldn’t do anything right!


Now, the (very few!) problems I had with the production. For a play with one of the great speeches about England…

“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”

…the set was very plain and conjured up none of “this earth”, none of picturesque pastoral countryside and certainly not “this other Eden”. However, they almost made up for this by the absolutely ear-meltingly gorgeous singing, music composed by Paul Englishby and sung by a trio of sopranos.


richardii-98I thought the casting was very good, though Nigel Lindsay as Bolingbroke seemed a little underwhelming at times; I couldn’t imagine him being a viable option for Kingship, especially against Richard, a man with such presence, a man who invented the word ‘majesty’ in fact!


However, other than these slight flaws, this production was handled expertly. The poetry is some of the most beautiful there is out there, the acting is brilliant, and the real tragedy of the tale, that of Aumerle, is powerfully and heartbreakingly told.


Richard II (RSC at The Barbican) – 4/5 stars

2 thoughts on ““You may my Glories and my State depose, But not my Griefes; still I am King of those.”

  1. Hello Alice,

    I have not seen this production but I thought I would ask you a few questions just for the sake of critical analysis 😛 (Which is never something I find a problem to engage in)

    – The closest Marlowe play in terms of themes to Richard II is Edward II (i.e the weak monarch). Marlowe heavily implies the homosexuality of Edward II as a symbol of weakness as monarch as he is engaging in practices outside of guaranteeing hereditary succession. Do you think this production was implying this to similar effect?

    – As for the plain set, do you think this is to make this speech have a sense of irony to it? (I.e it talks about “This happy breed of men, this little world” and how the court of kings is “free from the hand of war”, when the play opens with a murder from within the royal court which John of Gaunt has blamed on Richard).

    – On Bolingbroke, do you think maybe the production company chose an actor who deliberately did not look like someone who is meant to be a king to show how ridiculous cults which emerge around leaders are?

    Obviously I have not seen the production so I do not know whether I am talking nonsense or not, but I am really just interested 🙂

    Kind regards

    1. Ooh some interesting points there!
      -Personally, I don’t think they were trying to imply that it made him weaker – more to show the closeness of the bond between Aumerle and him, as well as his difficulty understanding any close relationship without adding in sexuality. He does not understand the concept of platonic friendship.

      – hmm…maybe. Though if so, I felt it was much too subtle. That poem for me is a love letter to England and what it could be and the set in no way supported that.
      -I don’t think one can describe Bolingbroke’s group as a cult. Richard is much more of a cult leader than him. I think it was not just a slight casting flaw.

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