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Old 1st Jul 2012, 18:49   #1
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Default Richard II - BBC 2012

Richard II is one of Shakespeare’s plays that I have always felt I should be more familiar with: it's the one my most trusted lecturer at university most recommended and it’s redolent with themes of kingship and loyalty, and has the famous speech (and part-inspiration of the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony) –

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,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear’d by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land...
This moving speech then goes on to say that the above has all been despoiled. So it was ever thus in Albion….

Anyway, The BBC with their educating and entertaining hats on, have striven to give us some Shakespeare for our Cultural Olympiad of the kind not seen in decades on these shores (depending on whether you count the BBC Shakespeare series from the 70's-80's). The Globe might have performed all 37 plays this spring for those close enough to London to care, but here at last are the People’s Plays on terrestrial TV and with a stonking cast, to boot. Ben Whishaw who has mastered “effete” as his baseline, took a line of narcissistic feebleness but was gradually revealed as enobled and worthy by the sheer divinity of kingship and his understanding and expression of it. The director Rupert Goold (who I think did the excellent Romeo & Juliet with Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale at the RSC a couple of years ago) went for a true ‘medieval’ aesethetic, with precision-drawn lines of costuming and colour and scenery that evoked many an early medieval portrait or painting. Rory Kinnear and David Suchet as, respectively, Henry of Bolingbroke (to be Henry IV) and the Duke of York provided gutsy performances that didn’t rely on their familiarity as actors (I suspect Julie Walters as Mistress Quickly next week will not submerge herself so well). Iconography suggested throughout the play that Richard, although an abusive and weak king in many respects, should be finally regarded, if not as a Christ-figure, then as a certain Christian martyr. References to his ‘favourites’ alongside a scene of an artist depicting St Sebastian’s martyrdom suggested Richard’s bisexuality as a fact.

What struck me most – aside from the rather impressive staging, cinematography and acting chops all round – were the issues presented so profoundly. This short series of plays is being entitled “The Hollow Crown” and we saw, through Shakespeare’s words, the complex relationship between power and authority, between the absolutist stance of royal prerogative and the grace of divine anointing that renders a king ‘kingly’.

Next week is Henry IV Part One, with Jeremy Irons as an older Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal (the BBC is spoiling us with lovely male actors) and looks equally tremendous.

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