Review: Richard II (Shakespeare)

It has been said that of the many casualties in a tragedy’s body count, the “future” is one of them.  In Shakespeare’s tragedies, characters may wax upon the coming events, but they are of no importance. Not so in his histories.  Therefore, in this story, we can advance the thesis that monarchy is an anti-tragedy.

The king has two bodies, as Kantorowicz famously argued.  There is the body of the king, which can die, but the king’s body politic which outlasts his death.  Admittedly, Richard is a weak king but Richard’s power and dignity survive his death. Or perhaps, like Charles I later on, he gains dignity in death.  The important point is that in Shakespeare’s history, especially in this play, life does go on after Act V.

And life doesn’t end with Richard’s own ending.  The reader is very much interested in what happens next–something not usually said about a tragedy.

As far as Shakespeare’s plays go, this is an easier one.  The minor plots don’t detract from the story, unlike in other plays.  And Shakespeare keeps Richard’s character rather complex. We know he is probably guilty of Gloucester’s murder, or implicated anyway, but he does act nobly, if somewhat pathetically throughout the play.  

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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