Richard II Context

Richard II Context

Original title:
The Tragedie of King Richard the Second

Richard II by William Shakespeare is a historical drama, the first one in the epic tetralogy that is called Henriade by some researches. It tells us the tragic story of the aforementioned King Richard II, from the pinnacle of his power to the downfall, imprisonment and, finally, murder.

The author deliberately shows us Richard as the magnificent King on his throne at the very beginning of his play. As in most tragedies and dramas first he shows the picture of power and prosperity for the audience to comprehend how far will the doomed character fall. Too bad that, emotions aside, the misfortunes happening to King Richard and his bleak fate are historically accurate.

When we read the dry texts of history books, we rarely think about the personal stories and dramas hiding behind the dates and facts. William Shakespeare gives the King himself and his noblemen human faces. They are quite ugly sometimes, considering all the plots, schemes and mundane confessions and pilgrimages to “purify” themselves of murdering the helpless ones - but they are easy to believe.

In Richard II we see the world of the medieval politics that is very plausible and understandable. The people fight for power, make hard decisions, betray each other and live in fear of that hard-earned power taken away from them. Some of them are guided by good intentions, some - as the Duchess - by personal feelings and some just see the power as an uttermost goal they are ready to sacrifice everything for.

The personal attitude of the author is portrayed quite subtly. Shakespeare doesn’t openly condemn any of the characters (though he shows some disapproval). It seems that in the Henriade tetralogy he tried to stay as historically accurate as possible, giving the audience a chance to decide by themselves whether the events of the history benefited England or pushed it back and whether the historical figures were guided by their vanity and greed or by the desire to have power to make their own land stronger and better.

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