Richard II

Definition

Theater

  • Shakespeare's history play, written in 1595 and firstperformed that year in London. The plot follows the conflict betweenthe weak and capricious king and the ambitious Bolingbroke (laterHenry IV). When Richard returns from the Irish wars, he is taken prisonerand yields the crown to Bolingbroke, who eventually has him poisoned.In the first production the deposition scene was omitted so as notto offend Queen Elizabeth.

    The Globe Theatre staged a revival in 1601, whensupporters of the Earl of Essex bribed the Lord Chamberlain's Companyto stage a special performance on the night before Essex's planneduprising against Queen Elizabeth's counsellors. The conspirators seemto have believed that this play about the deposition of an incompetentmonarch would win public support for their actions. The plot was foiledand Essex executed. The actors were apparently wholly unaware of theplan; far from blaming them, the queen asked them to play at courtsix days later.

    The Edwardian actor-manager Beerbohm Tree was knownfor his penchant for using live animals on stage. In his productionof the play at Her Majesty's Theatre, Tree had the king accompaniedby a dog, who waited until the deposition scene to turn from Richardto lick Bolingbroke's hand. On another occasion, Irving washiring a horse for a play. Just as the owner informed him that Treehad recently ridden the beast in Richard II, the horse yawned."Ah!" smiled Irving, "he's a bit of a critic too,I see."

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