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Shakespeare’s Richard II Essay: Search for Identity in Richard II

Search for Identity in Richard II

Shakespeare’s Richard II tells the story of Richard’s fall from power. Being dethroned by Bolingbroke forces Richard to confront the limitations and nature of his power as king. As audience members, we follow Richard on his journey of self-discovery, which enlightens him even as his life is shattered by Bolingbroke’s revolt. Paradoxically, it is in utter defeat that Richard comes closest to understanding what it is to be human. Unfortunately he is unable to accept life as an ordinary subject after having tasted what it means to rule.

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground,

And tell sad stories of the death of kings-

How some have been deposed, some slain in war,

Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,

Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed,

All murdered. For within the hollow crown

That rounds the mortal temples of a king

Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits,

Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,

Allowing him a little breath, a little scene,

To monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks,

Infusing him with self and vain conceit,

As if this flesh which walls about our life

Were brass impregnable; and humored thus,

Comes at the last, and with a little pin

Bores through his castle wall; and farewell, king.

Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood

With solemn reverence. Through away respect,

Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty,

For you have but mistook me all this while.

I live with bread, like you; feel want,

Taste grief, need friends. Subjected thus,

How can you say to me I am a king? (III.ii. 151-1173)

The above speech expresses nicely Rich…

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…n is,

With nothing shall be pleased till he be eased

With being nothing. (V.v.38-41)

Richard can never bring himself to be “eased” with being ordinary, with being what he sees as “nothing” and so he can never live as a subject instead of a ruler. It is perhaps significant that when he dies he seeks to return to the only identity he really knew, that of a ruler, and warns that “Exeter, thy fierce hand / Hath with the King’s blood stained the King’s own land” (V.v. 109-10). He has accepted intellectually the transient nature of kings’ power and understands he can no longer possess even that, yet in death he reaches for the only identity he ever really held, that of absolute monarch.

Works Cited:

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Richard The Second. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969.

Branagh’s Interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing

Branagh’s Interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare’s wonderful comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, is an entertaining tale of the trials and tribulations of two pairs of lovers, who must face and overcome both malicious schemes plotted against them and also their own flaws and shortcomings before finding happiness together. Although clearly a comedy, the play is not without its darker moments. Don John plots to ruin Claudio’s marriage; he nearly succeeds because Claudio, and most of the other men in the play, are too quick to judge Hero (and women in general) as innately deceitful. Naturally, true love wins through in the end, as the plot is exposed and foiled and Hero and Claudio are happily wed. Joining them at the altar are Beatrice and Benedick, the sharp-tongued pair who have (thanks to a little friendly intervention) discovered the mutual admiration previously hidden beneath their sarcasm.

It is possible for the director of a film based on the play to interpret the text in many ways. One option, for example, would be to emphasize the similarities between the deception perpetrated by Don John and that of the more friendly conspirators, and thus paint a darker picture of the intent and actions of those attempting to unite Beatrice and Benedick. Another treatment might instead choose to focus upon the differences between the two deceptions. The topic of Benedick and Beatrice’s love for each other can be handled differently as well. Perhaps one director might portray this love as being created by the conspirators’ acting, might portray Beatrice and Benedick as two proud individuals tricked into loving each other. Alternatively, another director could shoot the same scenes to show Benedick and Beatrice’s love…

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…lt they had been duped into loving each other, our reaction could not have been as positive. Similarly, we laugh along with the conspirators, secure in the conviction that we are laughing at an innocent prank and not a malicious deception. Branagh’s focus upon the lighter side of the play brings out its comic side without distancing us from the characters. On the contrary – this emphasis upon the joy and laughter brings us closer to the characters and allows us to rejoice with them.

Sources Cited and Consulted

Dawson, A. B. ‘Much Ado About Signifying’, Studies in English Literature 22, 211-21. 1982.

Humphreys, A. R. 1981; ‘Introduction’ to Much Ado About Nothing. London and New York: Routledge. repr. 1994.

Much Ado about Nothing. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Emma Thompson, KennethBranagh, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and Keanu Reeves. Goldwyn, 1993

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