Last night, we drove down to Stratford-upon-Avon for Richard II, the latest installment in Michael Boyd's magnificent cycle of Shakespeare's History Plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Courtyard Theatre. Richard II may be my favorite of the history plays, simply because of the special beauty and pathos of the language. The play contains two of Shakespeare's most wonderful speeches: John of Gaunt's "this other Eden" speech and Richard's "hollow crown" speech. "For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings..." It always sends shivers down my spine.
The RSC production was brilliant, and perfectly up to the standard set by the earlier productions of Henry VI, Parts I-III. It brought out beautifully the grandeur, pathos, and desperation of the play. Richard is rather pathetic as a king, although Jonathan Slinger was quite stunning in the role. He has a remarkable voice with a remarkable expressive range, from simpering to menacing to full of rage. In forcing Richard's abdication, Henry Bolingbroke attempts to be both strong and merciful, but already the heads are rolling and, as the Bishop of Carlisle predicts in another powerful speech, we see that the ultimate consequence of Henry's act is the bloodbath of the War of the Roses.
Now I'm looking forward to our last two plays at the RSC before we return to Minnesota— Henry IV, Parts I and II, with the wonderful Clive Wood in the title role.