John Gielgud, ‘Richard II’ in Charles Ede (ed.), Introductions to Shakespeare, (London: Folio Society, 1977) p.59
[and a small celebration of this as my 201st post]
The Wheel of Fortune moves inexorably away from Edward II at school (which students will have to compare to Tennyson‘s Maud in their exam – easy peasy, whatever they may think, if they work hard and LISTEN between now and then), and in terms of the Ponytail Shakespeare read-through, to Richard II.
I can’t be the only one to reflect that the two plays are remarkably similar. Indeed, I’ve chosen this week’s quotation as an intrigiung bridge between them.
This book’s become a bit of a go-to as I approach any Shakespeare play – the premise is that Charles Ede has collected the Introductions to Folio Society editions of the plays, by the good and the great, into one volume. Here are some interesting observations by Sir John Gielgud:
[the actor playing Richard] must use the early scenes to create an impression of slyness, petty vanity, and callous indifference. But he must also show himself to be innately well-bred, sensitive to beauty (as he understands it, though he cannot see the beauty of the dying Gaunt), lonely in his aloof position of kingship, young, headstrong, frivolous, and entirely out of sympathy with the older men who try so vainly to advise him and control his whims.
In the later scenes, however, the lovely lines he has to speak can hardly fail to win a certain sympathy for him, and he gradually becomes more understandable, and so more pitiable.
My point is that with a few minor tweaks Gielgud’s words could be equally applicable to Edward.
In each case, the unlikeable king with no authority becomes a figure full of pathos towards the end of the play. They’re both ‘dead-men-walking’, of course, as soon as they are forced to renounce the throne, and I think we do, or at least I do, find some space in my heart to pity them when they are murdered …
We can only speculate on the influence Marlowe’s portrayal may have had on Shakespeare – or indeed what Marlowe might have written had he lived …