.. when it comes to the area of family support, regardless of the actions he has committed to solicit such a response. Towards the end of the play, this sympathy is central to the sense of senselessness engulfing England, and this results in a greater impact being felt because of the murder. Bolingbrokes rejection of Exton for carrying out the murder echoes the point that the action was pointless, but it serves to redemonstrate that Bolingbroke is not intent on stamping his authority on those around him in the same style as Richard did. Richards role as king of the people and man behind the crown must be examined before he can be understood.
Clearly he feels at ease in front of his assembled court, but is this the same case behind closed doors? The answer is a resounding yes, which may come as a surprise to the audience who assume his bravado give way to a more frail and fickle person when in his day to day environment. As a result, Richard reaffirms his strength, and at this point one should question whether or not his power and majesty are really an act, or is he genuinely a larger than life man, with questionable aspirations and methods? With Richards absence from the stage, the focus of the audience is somewhat blurred for a short period of time. Assuming the actor has reinforced his hold on the attention of those observing, the plot not only centres around him in the scenes where he is present, but also in the scenes where he is spoken about. At this point, an actor must have introduced a zealous, fearless element into the part. Despite the fact that York blatantly accuses Richard of Gloucesters murder, he still leaves him as Governor of England while he attends to the matters at hand in Ireland. Because of Yorks criticism of Richard, and Richard apparently ignoring it or at least taking it in his stride, one expects that Richard has a plan to exact some sort of revenge in York for his outburst, and this keeps Richards influence alive throughout the four hundred and sixty odd lines for which he is absent.
Upon his return, Richard does not exact any sort of revenge upon York, and this suggests that he is not quite the tyrant that he is made out to be. It could be said, quite fairly that at this stage Richard is aware of his predicament and has decided to try to placate those around him by accepting criticism and not necessarily persecuting those who voice objections to his actions. Derek Traversi comments on how easy it is to underestimate Richard II in saying that “The style in which it was written is highly formal and elaborate: so much so that it may seem at first to be lacking in the vigour of real life.” He also highlights Richards ability to blur the lines of fact and fiction in Act I scene I. “Lets purge this choler without letting blood.. Forget, forgive: conclude and be agreed; Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.” Although many of Richards speeches in this scene are in a similar vein, this one highlights his ability to mask his true involvement.
Traversi asks “Is this to be ascribed to intelligence or to indifference, to superior understanding or to a tendency in the speaker to evade the decisions and responsibilities to which his office calls him?” To address this issue from the point of view of a character analysis is one thing, but to try to determine how an actor should propose this attitude of indifference versus understanding is somewhat different. It is very easy for those of us who are performing a textual analysis to come to certain conclusions, but during a live performance some of these conclusions are not quite so forthcoming. During a textual analysis, one normally has the luxury of a greater amount of time. On top of this, one also imposes certain restrictions on the reading, as one may be concentrating on certain aspects of the plot while putting others onto the sidelines. When observing Richard II from an audience perspective, or indeed any play live on stage, one loses this luxury and must often forfeit ones own views of what plot elements should be explored, and simply accept the direction the particular production has chosen to follow.
The actor playing Richard may seem to be in a difficult position, but I would propose that the merging of the two variations of absorbing the play is easily reconciled. The actor has the advantage of having textually studied the play, aswell as knowing what artistic direction it is going and in what manner it will unfold. We are so far aware if the problems the actor faces in playing the part of Richard, but it is fair to say that this is probably his main advantage – his own personal interpretation. It may be at odds with that of the director or may not tie in with the interpretations by the other actors of their characters, but it allows him to get a feel for the part that is to be played. This brings up the question of what makes a good actor, particularly when a role like Richard is to be played.
Such a debate can go on forever, but can be summarised quite easily. One must first of all separate being a good actor with playing a good character. A good actor ideally, is like a piece of putty which can assume any role presented to him, and morph in the necessary way to portray the character as believable. A good character portrayal is not necessarily the result of good acting. In an age where type casting is rife, there is a growing tendency in recognising those who play strong, interesting characters, even if it means that these characters are not necessarily as difficult to play as those which are not so strong.
In short, an actor should be judged on what he brings to a role rather than simply being honoured for playing a character which is simply laid out, and can be played with ease even if it results in a powerful performance. This issue also brings up a debate which has been ongoing for some time, but has resurfaced quite strongly recently. That is the issue of whether or not actors are simply puppets, who with enough preparation and repetition can play any part. Granted, rehearsals are of paramount importance, but I do not subscribe to the theory that anyone can play any given part if they have enough time to prepare. The character of Richard is perfect for demonstrating this in that an actor playing the part must have the inexplicable gift of presence. This role demands that even when silent and subservient he remains the audiences focus of attention, and that it is not believable that this ability can be attributed to anyone who assumes the role. The role of Richard can be seen as quite a pioneering one in that it borders on realism, and brings the subtleties of true-life character defects onto the stage in a way that was not done previously.
Edward Dowdes sums up these issues when commenting on Richard III being outshone by the “less famous” Richard II in saying that Bolingbroke and Richard “do not, like the figures in Richard III forcibly posses themselves of our imagination, but engage it before it is aware, and by degrees advance stronger claims upon us and make good these claims.” This description is apt, in showing how the discreet and silent approach of the play on an audiences psyche is infinitely more effective in having the audience absorbed into the plot than a simple assault upon the senses. The manner in which the intricacies of the plot of Richard II sneak up and arrest an audience are testament to its elusiveness in seizing ones understanding and it cleverly arranges itself such that one is not consciously aware of its existence until a certain point in the play when it merges with a variety of factors and the true underlying essence of the play is revealed. In closing, it must be pointed out that there is no one way for an actor to prepare to play this role, however there will be certain consistencies, regardless of the production due to the nature of the character presented. Even if one chooses not to portray Richard as the tragic character he truly is and chooses to portray him as a vicious tyrant who got his comeuppance, one must acknowledge that the overwhelming number of variations on the many themes of this part are such that any one performance cannot be held as paramount. To do this would defeat the nature of such a character and force it to become enshrined in stone, when the true beauty of this character is that the man on the stage who espouses such good reasons to hate him, actually engages us as an audience to sympathise with him and almost admire him.
Any actor assuming the role of Richard must first of all acknowledge all the possible ways he can be portrayed before actually settling on one particular way of performing it. Bibliography Wells, Stanley & Taylor, Gary The Oxford Shakespeare, The Complete Works Oxford University Press 1998 Brown, John Russell Shakespeares Plays in Performance Applause Books, 1993 Ed. Cubeta, Paul M. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Richard II Prentice Hall 1971 Ed. Brooke, Nicholas Shakespeare.
Richard II, A Casebook Macmillan Press 1973.