Richard II

Performance history

Richard II has one of the most detailed and unusual performance histories of all the plays of the Shakespearean canon.

  • The earliest recorded performance was on 9 December 1595, when Sir Robert Cecil watched it at Sir Edward Hoby's house in Canon Row. Such specially-commissioned private performances were not unusual for Shakespeare's company.
  • Another commissioned performance of a different type occurred at the Globe Theatre on 7 Feb. 1601. This was the performance paid for by supporters of the Earl of Essex's planned revolt (see Historical Context above).
  • On 30 September 1607, among the oddest of all early performances: the crew of Capt. William Keeling acted Richard II aboard the British East India Company ship The Red Dragon, off Sierra Leone.
  • The play was performed two days in a row at the Globe on 11 and 12 June 1631.

The play retained its political charge in the Restoration: a 1680 adaptation at Drury Lane by Nahum Tate was suppressed for its perceived political implications. Tate attempted to mask his version, called The Sicilian Usurper, with a foreign setting; he attempted to blunt his criticism of the Stuart court by highlighting Richard's noble qualities and downplaying his weaknesses. Neither expedient prevented the play from being "silenc'd on the third day," as Tate wrote in his preface. Lewis Theobald staged a successful and less troubled adaptation in 1719 at Lincoln's Inn Fields; Shakespeare's original version was revived at Covent Garden in 1738.[15]

The play had limited popularity in the early twentieth century, but John Gielgud exploded onto the world's theatrical consciousness, through his performance as Richard at the Old Vic Theatre in 1929, returning to the character in 1937 and 1953 in what ultimately was considered as the definitive performance of the role. Another legendary Richard was Maurice Evans, who first played the role at the Old Vic in 1934 and then created a sensation in his 1937 Broadway performance, revived it in New York in 1940 and then immortalised it on television for the Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1954. In England, Paul Scofield, who played it at the Old Vic in 1952, was considered the definitive Richard of more modern times.[16] In 1974, Ian Richardson and Richard Pasco alternated the roles of Richard and Bolingbroke in a production from John Barton at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre: thirty years later this was still a standard by which performances were being judged.[17] One of the most accessible versions was the 1978 television production by the BBC of the play, shown as part of "The Shakespeare Plays" (a several years-long project to put all of Shakespeare's plays on tape). This version, still available on DVD, starred Derek Jacobi as Richard, with John Gielgud making an appearance as John of Gaunt. In 1997, Fiona Shaw played the role as a man.[18] More recently, the play was staged by Trevor Nunn in modern costume at the Old Vic in 2005, with Kevin Spacey in the title role, and by Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse in 2011-12 with Eddie Redmayne in the title role.

Additionally, the role was played by Mark Rylance at the Globe Theatre in 2003. An often overlooked production, the lead actor handles the character in perhaps the most vulnerable way ever seen.[19]

In summer 2012, BBC Two broadcast a filmed adaptation together with other plays in the Henriad under the series title The Hollow Crown with Ben Whishaw as Richard II.[20]

No film version for cinema release has ever been made; however, the 1949 film Train of Events includes a sub-plot featuring an amateur dramatics society performing the last scenes of Richard II.

The Royal Shakespeare Company produced the play with David Tennant in the lead role in 2013.[21] It has been released as a Cineplex Odeon special worldwide movie event.[22]

In a recent American production, fall 2014, the Quintessence Theatre Group of Philadelphia produced an all-male Richard II starring James Patrick Davis in the title role.[23]

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