Richard II

William Butler Yeats has written at length and eloquently about the dynamic relationship between Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke in the prequel to Shakespeare’s Henriad, and the full text of his remarks on seeing these plays at Stratford-on-Avon is available at Project Gutenberg, but here I just want to quote him briefly on his enthusiasm for the theater-going experience itself:

“One passes through quiet streets, where gabled and red-tiled houses remember the Middle Age, to a theatre that has been made not to make money, but for the pleasure of making it, like the market houses that set the traveller chuckling; nor does one find it among hurrying cabs and ringing pavements, but in a green garden by a river side. Inside I have to be content for a while with a chair, for I am unexpected, and there is not an empty seat but this; and yet there is no one who has come merely because one must go somewhere after dinner. All day, too, one does not hear or see an incongruous or noisy thing, but spends the hours reading the plays, and the wise and foolish things men have said of them, in the library of the theatre, with its oak-panelled walls and leaded windows of tinted glass; or one rows by reedy banks and by old farmhouses, and by old churches among great trees. .. In London the first man one meets puts any high dream out of one’s head, for he will talk to one of something at once vapid and exciting, some one of those many subjects of thought that build up our social unity. But here [at Stratford] he gives back one’s dream like a mirror. If we do not talk of the plays, we talk of the theatre, and how more people may be got to come and our isolation from common things makes the future become grandiose and important. One man tells how the theatre and the library were at their foundation but part of a scheme the future is to fulfil.”

One of the many indirect casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the economic base of the theater world in London, in Stratford, and throughout the UK, and not only the UK. As David Tennant and Judi Dench recently warned in a radio interview, if aid for the theater arts is not forthcoming by Christmas, these theaters may not open again.

I say this as an American who hopes to contribute to the tourism industry in London and Stratford as a visiting theater-goer someday. Please, support your theaters while you still can!

Here’s a bit of fan poetry for a stage production of Richard II starring David Tennant, filmed for the Royal Shakespeare Company and now available on DVD. It is based loosely on the 24th Psalm, and informed by behind-the-scenes extras from the RSC that are available on YouTube.

The king’s is the earth in his hand, its fullness,
this world and all who inhabit fair England.
For not all the rough, rude sea can wash away
the balm that anoints the line of succession.
Who shall take up the hollow crown, stand in state,
and face down those who hound the throne’s majesty?
A forsworn king’s pale hands and his naked heart,
he who attests to his people the bare truth
of his conceits, and colors nothing over.
He shall make over the bounty of the state
on behalf of an unmoved Saviour above.
This is the generation of wars to come,
among those who search out England’s beating heart.
Lift up your heads, at Flint castle’s rugged gates,
and rise up, you hinds above the great portals,
that you meet the king’s entrance gloriously.
Who is this king whose glory burns like a sun?
The anointed and eclipsed, fresh from battle,
the vanquished Richard, valiant unto the end.
Lift up your heads, at Westminster Hall’s forced gates,
and lift the palace’s eternal portals,
that the last true heir of Edward may stand tall.
Who is this wry and delicate setting sun?
The flower of divine right, at last undone.

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Filed under Acting, Poetry

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