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Earphones recommended. (Original sound quality less than perfect.)
Here is a scene from Act 5, near the end of this performance of William Shakespeare’s Richard the Second at London’s Globe Theatre. The main character is played by the Anglo-American actor-director Mark Rylance.
In this scene Richard is a prisoner facing an uncertain future. He’s just been deposed (“unking’d”) by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, the newly crowned King Henry IV of England. Richard reflects on how his thoughts are disordered and how he can achieve temporary contentment by reminding himself that he’s not the first to be in such trouble. He then convinces himself that true contentment lies only in being content with having nothing, a state we all reach when we’re content with meeting death (“with being nothing”). The music interrupting his reverie at that point reminds him of how he can so easily detect the errors in the music that other men make but can’t do so in the music of his own life.
Richard II (1367-1400) was no run-of-the-mill medieval king. When you consider English monarchs through the ages you’re struck by how many were opportunists, nonentities, philanderers, thugs, place-holders, pious nobodies, money-grubbers, reactionaries, backstabbers, frontstabbers and incompetents. Richard II fits none of those categories. He was said to be highly intelligent and – for a medieval monarch – unusually well read. He also had a slight stammer.
It was once believed Richard was mentally ill. This idea has since been discredited, although most historians now think he suffered from some kind of personality disorder. This may account for his undoing: he knew what political changes he wanted to introduce, but his personality disorder clouded his judgement and led to their failure and his ultimate fate.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rAYmmIYCGQ – a scene from much earlier in the play – is also worth viewing. It starts when Richard’s suspicions about his cousin Henry Bolingbroke’s ambitions start to take hold.