Tuesday, September 6, 2011

King Coffees: Richard II

Possibly my favorite speech from R2.
This morning I met my friend Collin for a "King Coffee." We are both really excited about the Kingship Cycle and just having a great time talking through the Big 8. At our last King Coffee, we came at the whole project, but today we focused just on Richard II.

I. love. this. play. It's been probably about eight years since I last read it. What an absolute joy to come back to it -- and no longer as a junior in college with little-to-no background in English history, little-to-no experience acting Shakespeare, (come on, let's face it) little-to-no experience whatsoever. Since then, however, I have acted in 1, 2, 3 Henry VI, Henry V, and Richard III. So I know the personnel in these plays now. No simple feat. And well ... just having lived a little bit of life changes the way you read a play. I'm a completely different person than I was eight years ago. Thank goodness.

Anyway. Armed with sticky notes, highlighters, multi-colored pens, and iced coffee -- Collin and I sat down to get any kind of handle on this play whatsoever. Here are some of the things I was interested in (as indicated by blue, green, and yellow sticky notes):

  • the abilities of the king. What is able to do? What are the things he is incapable of doing? (These started out as blue sticky notes, which ended up becoming a little more general and inclusive mentions of 'kingship.')
  • the death or downfall of kings (green sticky notes). The dichotomy of high/low is, of course, incredibly pronounced in this play. Great concerns with high ambitions, lofty thoughts, the heavens, the association of the king with the divine/height. And how far a king has to fall, to "come down," the earth, baseness, the common people.
  • England, the realm, the nation. (yellow stickies) This ties into the body politic, how the body of the king embodies the nation.
There are so many passages that interested me in this play, but one that particularly jumped out at me is in the above photo: "throw away Respect, / Tradition, Forme, and Ceremonious dutie, / for you have but mistooke me all this while" (3.2.175-7). Without these things, Richard argues he is not a king. He becomes a common man, as other men are. This speaks all the way across to Henry V's monologue on "ceremony" and kingship. But I get a little ahead of myself! Shakespeare introduces here in R2 how we might think of kings and common men. Let's see how it unravels next in 1 Henry IV.

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