Richard II - Stephen Orgel, A.R. Braunmuller, William Shakespeare Listening to Richard II, I've swung between awarding 2, 3 or 4 stars to it. Initially, the play didn't impress, and the soliloquies seemed overwrought and overlong. However, the persevering soul will find some amazing, four-star-worthy passages, the most famous perhaps being Gaunt's paean to England in Act II, scene i. Another one is found in Act III, scene iv, where a gardener laments the sorry state of the "garden" of England since its caretaker has so neglected it.

It may not be as "accessible" as Shakespeare's more popular plays. There're no grand villains like Iago or Richard III, nor are there any great heroes like Henry V. There're not even any angst-ridden Danes, though there's plenty of soul-searching and questions of identity and legitimacy. Richard II is the unhappy story of two essentially decent men who find themselves opposed, the weakness of the king precipitating a confrontation that results in his destruction. Richard's fundamental weakness is made manifest in the first scene of the first act. Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) and the Duke of Norfolk quarrel and Richard attempts to intervene:

We were not born to sue, but to command;
Which since we cannot do to make you friends,
Be ready as your lives shall answer it...


Despite his flaws, Richard rules as best he can but is handicapped by an inability to inspire love, trust or cooperation; and is utterly incompetent as a politician, driving Henry (whom he banishes and disinherits) into rebellion. Whether he wills it or no, Bolingbroke must depose Richard, who rules by divine right, and justify his usurpation. I don't think Shakespeare ever resolves the problem throughout the entire cycle of history plays (which include Henry IV, parts 1 and 2 and Henry V), and certainly not in this play. But it is interesting to see the struggle proceed.

A word about the audio: While the production values were quite good, one of the drawbacks of solely listening to the play is that it can be difficult to tell who's saying what, particularly in the beginning. A minor caveat. A prospective listener might want to read (or reread) the play before donning the headphones. Or watch a production (I've already added two filmed versions to my Netflix queue).