Ferretbrain Presents: The Complete Works of Shakespeare Episode 8 - Richard II

by Wardog

We have our tiny minds blown.
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(MP3, 54:06, 128 kbps, 49.43 MB)
We talk about Richard II, dis the The Hollow Crown a bit and generally have to acknowledge that this Shakespeare bloke was quite a good writer.
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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 23:18 on 2012-11-11
I was interested to hear you two bring up Machiavelli because when I watched it I got the impression of Richard as being a failed Machiavellian (the sort of guy who features in the "what not to do" sections of The Prince), especially with the banishment falling into the classic "If you are going to hurt your enemies, don't let them get up afterwards" trap.
I think Bolingbroke's usurpation of the throne was necessary for the eventual Tudor dynasty. John of Gaunt's children with his mistress the Beauforts eventually led to the Tudors; Henry VII's mother Margaret Beaufort.

It's been a year since I've read this play, but this play was pretty politcally controversial when Shakespear wrote it. When one of Elizabeth's courtiers tried to assasinate her, he wanted the play to be used as part of the assasination plot.

My Shakespeare professor said that he had to be very careful when writing this play and he couldn't portray a usurpation that was complelty good and necessary.
Arthur B at 15:47 on 2012-11-12
It's been a year since I've read this play, but this play was pretty politcally controversial when Shakespear wrote it. When one of Elizabeth's courtiers tried to assasinate her, he wanted the play to be used as part of the assasination plot.

Could this have fed into the whole Murder of Gonzago thing in Hamlet?
Wardog at 16:24 on 2012-11-12
I didn't really see Rik as a failed Machiavel because I didn't think he was in any way trying to be one - I think he was generally just ruling in the fuckwitted way you would if you honestly believed you were divinely appointed by God to do so.

@wake-the-dragon
Yeah, my cultural context on this one was well-dodgy but, ignorance aside, I try to avoid doing too much of the "oh, but this was like this because of this and this" stuff. The thing is, I think even if he was trying to avoid being pro-usurpation, there's too much ambivalence in that play, and too much sadness around Richard, for it to be straightforward propaganda.
Arthur B at 17:24 on 2012-11-12
I didn't really see Rik as a failed Machiavel because I didn't think he was in any way trying to be one - I think he was generally just ruling in the fuckwitted way you would if you honestly believed you were divinely appointed by God to do so.

That's kind of how most of the failed princes in The Prince go - not specifically with the whole Divine Right of Kings thing (though there's a bit of that) but typically they just muddle through things without consciously thinking about the pragmatic realities of power (or at least not thinking them through in the same way ol' Nick does).

Richard doesn't have a clear-sighted idea of where his power actually comes from, how his predecessors held it and how he's endangering it until it's too late to do anything except sit on the carpet and tell sad stories of the death of kings; he just kind of wings it and trusts that things will work out OK because that's how it's meant to work out. The first thing The Prince drills into you is that you can't do it that way, and you certainly can't expect to hold onto power if you're not honest with yourself about where it comes from (not least because conquering a new territory calls for an entirely different sort of approach from ruling a place your family has held for yonks).

Niccolo also implicitly assumes that princes are either conscious Machiavels (who tend to succeed unless luck is against them) or unconscious Machiavels (who, not being smart about it, usually fail unless they get lucky) because the way princedom works demands a certain type of figure (the archetypal Machiavel) and, barring flukes of luck, your success at princing will swing on how well you can play that role.
http://foghawk.livejournal.com/ at 18:06 on 2012-11-12
I would like to interrupt this enlightened discussion to note: I read somewhere that Shatner did that because he was a classically trained actor, and apparently didn't quite see why he shouldn't deliver Star Trek dialogue just like he did iambic pentameter. (The other explanation is that he was having trouble remembering his lines... which is equally amusing, really, so take your pick.)
Shim at 18:47 on 2012-11-12
It's been a year since I've read this play, but this play was pretty politcally controversial when Shakespear wrote it. When one of Elizabeth's courtiers tried to assasinate her, he wanted the play to be used as part of the assasination plot.

Could this have fed into the whole Murder of Gonzago thing in Hamlet?

Less loftily, hence Cue For Treason? One my my favourite books ever.
Ibmiller at 21:17 on 2012-11-12
Clearly, since I haven't got access to this awesome production, I guess I'll have to finally finish Hollow Crown :)
Wardog at 21:29 on 2012-11-12
Reading the Wikipedia summary for Cue for Treason? I missed one vital piece of information which led to me (sadly erroneously) to the conclusion it was a startlingly forward-thinking piece of children's literature about two boy actors who fall in love and end up getting married.
Michal at 21:46 on 2012-11-12
I've been intrigued by The Hollow Crown (admittedly, mostly because Patrick Stewart's in it) but the podcast has somewhat dampened my desire to see it. Still recommended, or should I just go for the old BBC boxed set?
Dan H at 22:22 on 2012-11-12
I've heard very positive things about The Hollow Crown and Bollingbroke aside, I believe it *does* do the consistent-cast thing that the BBC *intended* to do with the histories in the Bardathon but couldn't manage, so I think it's genuinely a really interesting piece of television.

We only watched Richard II and The First Part of King Henry the Forth, and they were genuinely really good, I just found the Bardathon Richard more interesting and subtle.

Basically I think the Hollow Crown is one of those its-strengths-are-its-weaknesses things: what's interesting about it is that it basically takes Shakespeare's histories and turns them into a sort of epic film series. What's difficult about it is that it takes Shakespeare's histories and turns them into a sort of epic film series.

It's well worth a look.
Andy G at 22:44 on 2012-11-12
In fact, the leopard changing his spots *is* from the Bible:

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." Jeremiah 13:23
Wardog at 22:47 on 2012-11-12
In fact, the leopard changing his spots *is* from the Bible:


I literally LOLed. We are so ignorant it isn't even cool :/
Arthur B at 22:48 on 2012-11-12
Old Testament prophets had the sickest burns.
Shim at 22:58 on 2012-11-12
@Kyra:
Alas! I remember it as relatively forward-thinking nevertheless, but it's been a few years.
Andy G at 23:11 on 2012-11-12
I'm no less ignorant, I just have a compulsive habit of checking interesting things on Google at the drop of a hat these days. My friends from home (Winchester) very much appreciated the Winchester goose titbit from last time!
Wardog at 15:30 on 2012-11-13
Richard doesn't have a clear-sighted idea of where his power actually comes from, how his predecessors held it and how he's endangering it until it's too late to do anything except sit on the carpet and tell sad stories of the death of kings; he just kind of wings it and trusts that things will work out OK because that's how it's meant to work out. The first thing The Prince drills into you is that you can't do it that way, and you certainly can't expect to hold onto power if you're not honest with yourself about where it comes from (not least because conquering a new territory calls for an entirely different sort of approach from ruling a place your family has held for yonks).


Well - again, this is a very secular interpretation. I mean, Rikki DOES have a very clear of where his power comes from i.e. God (plus, son of a Medieval superhero). I know that Nikki believes every ruler reinforces his worldview by adherence or deviation from it but I find looking at Richard II largely through the lens of The Prince leads to quite a limited reading (I mean, for me personally, not in general). I generally prefer to see the politics at the heart of play a clash of worldviews, expectations and assumptions, rather than a specific address or response to Machiavelli.
Arthur B at 16:04 on 2012-11-13
Oh, I appreciate that, I was just saying I saw this thing in the text, not that it was the only thing I saw in the text (as well as being interested that we'd independently spotted a Machiavellian angle in some of the play's politics). I just don't have much I feel moved to say about other stuff (and probably would need to watch it again before I could firm up my ideas on said stuff because the play's properly packed with themes).
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