Shakespeare Uncovered (2012–…): Season 1, Episode 3 - 'Richard II' with Derek Jacobi - full transcript

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"For God's sake, let
us sit upon the ground

and tell sad stories
of the death of kings."

Westminster Abbey,

for over a thousand years,
graveyard of the great kings

and queens of England.

This is one of them, Richard Il,

murdered, some say,
over 600 years ago.

The inscription says here
that he was tall in body,

and as sage as Homer.

It goes on to say
that he laid low

anyone who violated
the royal prerogative.

Well, that last bit
perhaps flatters him.

One man, Henry
Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford,

not only violated
the prerogative,

he dismantled it.

The play "Richard
Il" dares to imagine

what it is to have supreme power

and then lose it.

Are you contented
to resign the crown?


No. No.

Ay, for I must nothing be.

This drama offers
a ringside seat

to one of the most scandalous
and shocking moments

in English royal history.

"Richard Il," a play about
a weak, ineffective monarch

who is deposed.

The tragedy of the play and
the theatrical dynamic of it

comes from the fact that
Richard is the rightful king

anointed by God, but
he's an ineffective king.

Bolingbroke is
not the rightful king,

but he is an
effective politician.

It's a brutal and
forensic examination

of Richard's catastrophic
mental collapse.

The play is very powerful

in the way that it
deals with redefining

where power comes from.

Can it ever be right
to dethrone a king?

It was deeply threatening
to Elizabethan politics.

Threatening, too, to
the man who wrote it.

If things had gone
just a little bit differently,

Shakespeare could have
been thrown in the tower

or even executed.

Beyond the
politics, "Richard Il"

is also a powerful
evocation of England

and the only one of
Shakespeare's plays

written entirely in verse.

"This royal throne of kings,

"this sceptered isle,
this earth of majesty,

"this seat of Mars,

"this other Eden, demi-paradise,

"this fortress built
by nature for herself

against infection
and the hand of war."

I want to find out who
the real Richard Il was

and how, long after
Richard was dead,

Shakespeare was able
to piece together his story.

I'll show how actors
bring poetry to life,

giving us one of history's
most complex characters

in a drama as fresh
today as it ever was,

because it's a warning
to kings, presidents,

and prime ministers anywhere

who dare to believe
in their own invincibility.

We were not born to
sue, but to command!

Any actor would
kill to play Richard.

Ben Whishaw is the latest

to take on one of
acting's greatest roles.

My understanding
of him is of someone

who's not really in the world.

He doesn't consider
himself to be a human being

quite like other human beings.

For a long time, actually,

I was really interested
in "Richard Il"

as a sort of, um,
Michael Jackson figure,

sort of a sexually
ambiguous, separate,

playful, capricious diva.

There's a monkey in the piece,

which is the one
echo still of that.

Whishaw follows
a clutch of actors

who tackled the role, each
in their own unique way.

A young Ian McKellan
wallowed in Richard's self-love.

RICHARD Il: Not all the
water in the rough, rude sea

can wash the balm
from an anointed king.

Mark Rylance played
the king as a spoiled child.

RICHARD Il: We were not
born to sue, but to command!

Stars like Jeremy Irons,

Ray Fiennes, and Kevin Spacey

have all tackled
Shakespeare's masterpiece.

What does the King do now?

Must he submit?

I, too, have worn the crown.

Back in 1978, I played
Richard on BBC television.

A king shall be contented.

Must he lose the name of king?

It's strange to see it.

It's quite moving to watch it

because I've never seen it,

and to see yourself
31 years younger

is quite startling anyway.

No deeper wrinkles yet.

Of course, they
tried to make me look

like the pictures of
Richard as possible,

so they curled
and frizzed my hair.

O flattering glass,

like to my followers
in prosperity,

though it does beguile me.

And there I am with
this round moon face,

which sort of
works for the part.

My "Richard" also starred
one of Britain's greatest actors,

John Gielgud.

In the 1930s,

Gielgud's own Richard
had been a critical triumph.

This royal throne of kings,

this sceptered isle...

Nearly 50 years later, Gielgud,

now playing the
aged John of Gaunt,

dominates the early
scenes with a blistering attack

on Richard's misrule.

This dear, dear land,

dear for her reputation
through the world,

is now leased out.

Dying men flatter
with those that live.

A huge row with Richard follows.

Thy deathbed is no
lesser than thy land,

wherein thou liest
in reputation sick.

A thousand flatterers!
Sit within thy crown.

Why, cousin, weren't
thou regent of the world?

Landlord of England,
art thou now not king?

Now, by my seat's
right royal majesty,

weren't thou not brother

to great Edward's son?

This tongue that runs
so roundly in thy head

should run thy head from
thy unreverend shoulders!

I don't think Richard is cruel,

and Gaunt very much
was a father figure to him.

I think he's insensitive.

We were not born to
sue, but to command.

It's a kind of inherent
insensitivity to other people,

to other people's feelings, to
other people's possessions,

just... to other people.

"There is only one person
that's of any importance

in this room, and
that is me, Richard."

Shakespeare's Richard
was, of course, a real king,

named Richard of Bordeaux.

He was crowned king of England
in 1377 in Westminster Abbey,

and like his
character in the play,

he gloried in the
trappings of power.

He became the first
king in English history

to demand that his
subjects call him Majesty.

But where did this
arrogance come from?

At the National
Gallery in London,

one of the real King Richard's
most intimate possessions

is on display.

It's an object that
perfectly sums up

his sense of divine destiny.

This is the famous Wilton
Diptych, 600 years old,

and still so wonderfully
vibrant and colorful

and meaningful.

This was Richard's own
personal traveling altarpiece.

He'd simply open it up,
kneel down, and pray.

You see him here.

You see his curly
golden hair, kneeling,

with three saints...
John the Baptist,

holding the lamb of God,

Saint Edward the
Confessor, and Saint Edmund.

And they are all looking
over to the right here,

where there's this
wonderful representation

of the Virgin Mary

and the Christ child
surrounded by 11 angels,

one of whom is carrying
the flag of Saint George,

and she seems to be offering
or presenting it to Richard.

So there you have it.

This is how Richard
sees himself,

in sole and divine
possession of England.

To be fair to Richard,
he wasn't the only one

who thought himself
divinely appointed.

It was taken as read.

Researching his subject
in the early 1590s,

Shakespeare would have
turned to the standard history book

of the Elizabethan age.

It's one of the great
scholarly industries,

trying to identify
precisely the sources

for Shakespeare's "Richard Il,"

and there are a
number of candidates.

But the major one must be
Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles,

which devotes
about 140,000 words

to the entire
life of Richard Il.

We can see that
Holinshed himself

has a very clear moral position
on the reign of Richard Il.

He is regarded as an evil man,

and these are evil times.

"There reigned abundantly

"the filthy sin of
lechery and fornication,

with abominable adultery,
especially in the King."

He goes on,

"Those who he chiefly advanced
were readiest to control him,

"which stirred such malice
betwixt him and them

"that at length he
could not be assuaged

without peril and
destruction to them both."

Digging for as
much dirt as possible,

Shakespeare's drama,
written early in his career

in the mid-1590s,

is one of his
greatest history plays.

He both documents
and embellishes

Richard's painful overthrow

at the hands of
Henry Bolingbroke,

the future Henry IV.

These iconic
figures from history

would be brought back to life

at London's Globe Theatre,
an Elizabethan playhouse.

Today, a replica stands on the
south bank of the river Thames.

I think you have to remember

that despite the codification
of their relationship,

they are close relatives.

Inside, actors are discussing

overwhelming arrogance.

And Richard is
a bit like a thief.

He's come to rob the relative...

John of Gaunt is now dead,

and his son, the exiled
Henry Bolingbroke,

Duke of Hereford,
is his rightful heir.

O, Death, be poor.

It ends a mortal woe.

But for Richard, himself
desperate for cash,

Gaunt's tragic death is
an enticing opportunity.

The ripest fruit first falls,

and so doth he.

His time is spent.

Our pilgrimage must be.

So much for that.
Now, for our Irish wars...

We must supplant those
rough, rug-headed kerns,

which live like venom,
where no venom else

but only they have
privilege to live.

And for these great
affairs, do ask some charge

towards our assistance,
we do seize to us the plate,

coin, revenues, and movables

whereof our Uncle Gaunt
did stand possessed.

Whereof our Uncle Gaunt
did stand possessed.

Excuse me for interrupting.

I'm dropping in on
the Globe rehearsal.

It all sounds fascinating.

I think you're making
him much nicer than I did.

Right. OK.

I remember when he said,
"The ripest fruit first falls."

It's a kind of, "Oh, well,
they're all gonna die.

"The ripest fruit. And he's old.

"Of course he's
gonna die. He's old.

"I'm young." Right?
Let's talk about that.

"Let's talk about
these Irish Wars.

"Now, I've got to go do
something about them.

"I don't want to. It's
gonna cost money.

"Who's got any money?

He's got some
money. I'll have his."

And that's virtually
what you're saying.

Yeah. In theatrical
terms, you know,

if you want to set it up

over the first two lines
being very, you know...

very serious and somber.

And then this thing...

"Bollix all that. He's dead
anyway. Who cares?"

And moving on, you know.

Potentially you can get a lot.

Did you ever do that or...

Always one for
the cheap gag, yes.

Why, Uncle, what's the matter?

Gaunt's brother, though,
can't believe his ears.

To him, Bolingbroke,
Duke of Hereford,

has been royally ripped off.

Seek you disease and
gripe into your hands

the royalties and rights
of banished Hereford?

Doth not the one
deserve to have an heir?

Is not his heir a
well-deserving son?

For how art thou a king

but by fair sequence
and succession?

It's not just that
succession is right.

It's that it's right
in this case as well.

Well, he's questioning Richard.

He questions Richard openly

and says that what
Richard is doing is wrong.

Yeah. The basic one
is the father's dead,

the son's alive.

For how art thou a king

but by fair sequence
and succession?

Shamelessly stealing
Bolingbroke's inheritance

is the decisive act on
which the entire play turns.

It's vital that the
audience understand this.

And deny his offered homage.

You pluck a thousand
dangers on your head.

They're hearing
it for the first time,

most of them.

So for them, the accessibility

is triggered by your attitude.

The situation, yeah.

Your attitude.
And they can hear,

by your tonality or whatever,

um, what you're thinking,
because of the way...

It ain't what you say, it's
the way they watch you say it.

And prick my tender patience

to such thoughts as honor
and allegiance cannot think.

Think what you will.
We seize into our hands

his plate, his goods,
his money, and his land.

It's this divinity
hedging this king.

He could do anything.
He can be wayward,

and it's a wayward thing to do,

with little thought for
the consequences.

Yeah, short-term.

Which is his great tragedy.

He doesn't think. He
doesn't think things through.


"Ah, Richard.

"With the eyes of heavy mind,

"I see thy glory
like a shooting star,

"fall to the base earth
from the firmament.

"Thy sun sets weeping
in the lowly west,

witnessing storms to
come, woe, and unrest."

Exiled, his father dead,
his inheritance stolen,

the Duke of Hereford,
Henry Bolingbroke,

returns home to wage
war against the king.

Richard at first panics,
but then comforts himself

with the belief that
whatever happens,

God will save him.

Not all the water in
the rough, rude sea

can wash the balm off
from an anointed king.

The breath of worldly men

cannot depose the
deputy elected by the Lord,

for every man that
Bolingbroke hath pressed

to lift shrewd steel
against our golden crown,

God, for his Richard,
hath in heavenly pay

a glorious angel.

And if angels fight,
weak men must fall,

for heaven still
guards the right.

Welcome, my lords...

So, who is Shakespeare's

the man who
believes he can defeat

both Richard and
his army of angels?

Thou art a banish'd man,

and here art come before
the expiration of thy time,

in braving arms
against thy sovereign.

I am a subject,
and I challenge law.

Attorneys are denied me,

and therefore, personally,

I lay my claim to my inheritance

of free dissent.

I don't think Bolingbroke
is the bad guy.

He doesn't set out to
replace Richard in any way.

And Bolingbroke, when
he comes back to England,

is and continually says
has only come back

to regain what is his.

He hasn't come back to be king.

He hasn't come
back to usurp Richard.

He's come back
to gain what is his.

Now, the thing is,
do you believe him?

OK. Well, we'll
spend a few minutes

thinking about Bolingbroke,
and the question of...

At the Globe, actors are
discussing Bolingbroke,

as he captures two of
Richard's closest allies.

In this particular speech,

he appears to be
punishing these men

on behalf of Richard,

and I think the key line in it

is when you say, you know,

"Myself a prince by
fortune of my birth,

near to the king in
blood and near in love."

This is Bolingbroke's
main problem,

is that he cannot
make clear his objective

because to do so
would be treason.

Bolingbroke at this moment

is surrounded by
lords and nobles.

He has to make sure that
he doesn't put a foot wrong,

and that seems to be, like, his
objective throughout the entire play.

He is politic in a
way that Richard isn't.

Yeah, that's right.
Bolingbroke is a sort of realist.

What are you trying to do?

You're trying to
isolate Richard.

Bolingbroke is a politician.

Only a politician could
execute Richard's closet allies

and claim he's only
doing it to protect the king.

You have misled a prince,

a royal king,

a happy gentleman in
blood and lineaments,

by you unhappied
and disfigured clean.

Bolingbroke himself says...

All he is doing is seeking
to remove these people

to allow you again to
be the king you should be

and were before.

Now, that may well force
Richard into an untenable position.

But you said that this
is old-style punishment.

He's gonna kill a
number of people,

starting with these two.

So he takes a pretty stern line.

And I think it is intended
to demonstrate strength.

This... and much more,

much more than twice all this

condemns you to the death.

Today, battles for
power in England

are fought here at the
Palace of Westminster.

Most of the buildings
date from the 19th century.

One original building,
though, survives...

Westminster Hall.

In the 1300s, this was
Richard's military headquarters.

Some of the events
re-created in the play

actually happened here.

The real Richard had a huge
timber roof built overhead.

It was studded
with wooden angels,

watching over him
like a divine army.

Now in the drama,
Shakespeare's Richard

is about to mobilize them.

"Yet know my master,
God Omnipotent,

"is mustering in his
clouds armies of pestilence,

"and they shall
strike your children

"yet unborn and unbegot

"that lift your vassal
hands against my head

and threat the glory
of my precious crown."

The central theme of
Shakespeare's "Richard Il"

rings remarkably true
across the centuries.

Like Richard, many
despots from our own time

have professed themselves amazed

that anyone could
challenge them.

Although "Richard Il"
is set in a distant past,

and of course, even
when it was first put on,

it was set in the past,

it's hugely relevant
to the present.

The reality of regime
change is something that

the leader who's losing
his grasp on power

simply doesn't fully understand.

They love me, all
my women with me.

They love me all.

They're often in a
state of delusion.

They think that
people still love them,

that they can still give
orders, but it doesn't happen.

Still waiting for
God's reinforcements,

Richard, now confronted
by Bolingbroke,

is running out of options.

We are amazed...

and thus long have we stood

to watch the fearful
bending of thy knee,

because we thought
ourself thy lawful king.

And if we be, how
dare thy joints forget

to pay their awful
duty to our presence?

I remember when we were
preparing to film the play.

It was the time

when Gaddafi's regime
was in its death throes,

and I think it was
actually Gaddafi's son

was making these speeches
about how if the people

rose up in rebellion, there
would be rivers of blood.

And Richard stands on
a rampart at one point

and says exactly the same thing.

RICHARD Il: Tell Bolingbroke
beyond methinks he stands,

that every stride he
makes upon my land

is dangerous treason!

He has come to open the
purple testament of bleeding war

and bedew her pastures'
grass with faithful English blood.

That felt incredibly...

I mean, it was literally...

You could sort of put the
two speeches side by side,

and they resonated so strongly.

The themes marbled
into the text of "Richard Il"

don't just resonate
with one-party states

and self-appointed dictators.

20 years ago, England
famously witnessed

a political drama not unlike
the one faced by Richard.

For 10 years, Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher,

The Iron Lady, had, like
Richard, been invincible,

her leadership unchallenged,

but in 1990, an attempt
to levy a new poll tax

triggered violence on
the streets of London

and ultimately a rebellion
deep within her own party.

Itching to take over,

former Minister
Michael Heseltine

challenged Mrs.
Thatcher for the leadership.

For BBC journalist
John Sergeant,

it was a battle of
Shakespearean proportions.

Mrs. Thatcher, could I
ask you to comment?

Oh, good evening. Good evening.

Where's the microphone?

It's here. This is
the microphone.

He's pushing me, you see? Yeah.

I've got more than half
the Parliamentary Party.

Disappointed that
it's not quite enough

to win on the first ballot.

So I confirm it is my intention
to let my name go forward.

Thank you very much.

The game is up. Within
two days, she's gone.

It's two days after this?

Two days after
this, she's finished.

She resigns.
That's the end of it.

And the comparison
with "Richard Il"

is extremely close.

It is amazing, the parallels

between what happens
when a Prime Minister

of Margaret Thatcher's stature

is then brought
down by the people

who she would
regard as traitors.

Michael Heseltine
clearly was, in fact,

the most dangerous
one. He was Bolingbroke.

And there was no question
that he wanted the crown,

and he was then
going to attack her,

as he did in the ballot
of conservative MPs.

And even referring
to her being stabbed.

Yes, stabbed in the front.

Oh, absolutely. But these are

the death of kings, aren't they?


And the "Richard Il" quote...

"Let us sit around and
discuss the death of kings.

Are they deposed?
Are they killed in battle?"

When Mrs. Thatcher
entered the chamber...

Mrs. Thatcher described events

leading to her
fall as "treachery

with a smile on its face."

and Parliament seemed to agree.

May I pay tribute
to the Prime Minister

and to her decision
this morning?

She showed by that
that she amounts to more

than those who have turned
upon her in recent days.

Ladies and gentlemen,
we're leaving Downing Street

for the last time after
11 1/2 wonderful years.

Mrs. Thatcher's empire had
crumbled in just two days.

But even the orderly
transfer of democratic power

comes with a double edge.

President Reagan,
on behalf of our nation,

I thank you for the
wonderful things

that you have done for America.

Outgoing American Presidents

must always stand by

while the incoming
President ascends to power.

Today we celebrate the
mystery of American renewal.

I salute my predecessor,
President Bush...

One man's rise

is his predecessor's
political funeral.

As I begin, I thank
President Clinton

for his service to our nation.

It's a never-ending cycle.

I stand here today humbled...

What goes around comes around.

I thank President Bush
for his service to our nation.

So far, Shakespeare's Richard

has fought bitterly
to deny the inevitable.

Now, though, he
appears to just give up,

almost deposing himself.

What must the King do
now? Must he submit?

The King shall do it.

Must he be deposed?
The King shall be contented.

Must he lose the name
of King, a God's name?

Let it go.

It's the sensitivity of Richard.

It's the vulnerability
of Richard

behind the divinity,
the impregnable man,

the man with
ostensibly total self-belief

and therefore total courage,

and inside is this kind
of boy, this sensitive boy

who actually can't cope.

I'll be buried in
the Kings Highway,

some way of common
trade where subjects' feet

may hourly trample on
their sovereign's head.

For on my heart they
tread now whilst I live,

and buried once, why
not upon my head?

The pathos is simultaneously
moving and annoying,

as pathos sometimes is.

Richard is self-indulgent,
infantile, absurd

in his too-easy glorying
and too-easy despair.

But at the same time, one
feels the poignancy of it all.

What we feel is
obviously heightened

by the brilliance of the
play's stunning poetry.

Indisputably, it's the
work of a literary genius.

But was it Shakespeare's genius?

Some think not.

Hedingham Castle, near London,

is the ancestral home
of the De Vere family.

In the course of his reign,

Richard proved he was
a very contentious king.

He set many cats
among many pigeons.

And my presence here
at Hedingham Castle

may, like Richard,
set the fur flying.

Edward De Vere, the
17th Earl of Oxford,

once entertained
Elizabeth I here.

Oxford was close to the Queen.

He had a reputation
as a bit of a poet, too.

But I believe
his literary skills

went way beyond
dabbling in verse.

I believe he, and not
William Shakespeare,

wrote both "Richard Il"
and, in fact, all the plays

attributed to the
man from Stratford.

Hedingham's current
incumbent agrees.

Like me, Jason Lindsay believes

Oxford wrote the
works anonymously,

allowing Shakespeare
to stage the plays...

and take all the credit.

I am descended from Edward,

so I have a vested
interest, it's worth declaring.

But I do feel that there is

so little on the William
Shakespeare of Stratford,

there just isn't enough
knowledge really

that could be
gained from a person

who is educated
in a local school.

Why aren't there
any manuscripts?

Um, there are only
six signatures, I think,

of William of Stratford,

and they're barely legible.

Yes. And why?

Um... if he were
the greatest writer,

why did he keep
his children illiterate?

And if you had been involved,

would you have
had in your will...

Surely you'd have
mentioned something

to do with a theater or books.

There's not a mention at all.

No, there's nothing,
absolutely nothing.

It's an amazing conspiracy.

Denying Shakespeare the
authorship of... Shakespeare

is, I'm well aware,
hugely controversial.

I'm always surprised
that an actor,

a great actor such as Sir Derek,

should question the idea
that Shakespeare's plays

were written by
William Shakespeare,

the actor from

because the plays are so full

of the actor's way of
looking at the world,

so full of the technical
knowledge of the theater.

So many of the plays
are collaborative.

They're written
for particular actors

who were Shakespeare's
friends and colleagues.

They are insider plays.

The argument is how could

a mere middle-class
grammar-school boy

from the provinces
have understood

about courts and
kings and politics.

Well, of course, the answer is

the actors went to
court, they saw the court,

they were paid to play there.

And courts and king
and politics are things

that you can read books about.

I'm not the first to question

Shakespeare's authorship.

In the last century and a half,

dozens of alternative
writers have been proposed.

Most are speculative.

But for me, the
17th Earl of Oxford

has the most convincing claim.

I'll always believe
Shakespeare was just an actor,

a clever opportunist,

who bathed in
Oxford's reflected glory.

In the play, Richard
has built his royal career

on God's reflected glory.

As the drama
approaches its final scenes,

perhaps he, too,
has been unmasked.

"This blessed plot, this earth,

"this realm, this England,

this nurse, this teeming
womb of royal kings..."

From the womb of royal kings,

Richard's majesty
is now stillborn.

In the play, his
kingdom is compared

to an abandoned garden,

her fruit trees upturned
and her wholesome herbs

swarming with caterpillars.

With echoes of the
real-life transfer of power

originally played out right here

on the floor of
Westminster Hall,

Shakespeare's Richard
now prepares formally

to renounce the crown.

Right, now we're moving
on to the deposition scene,

Act 4:1.

I think what Richard fears

is that this will just be a
sort of rubber-stamping

of his resignation,
this deposition,

because he's already,
in effect, resigned,

but he's determined
to do it in his own way.

I'm still, I have to admit,

I mean, still slightly unsure

as to exactly what he's trying
to achieve at this moment.

I mean, I know
there's always sort of

that sense of occasion,

but exactly what it
is that he's trying to...

He wants an
acknowledgement of the reality

of what is happening.
"I'm resigning my crown.

"I'm giving you what you want,

"but you are not going to shirk

"seeing the
dismantling of myself.

You are going to see that."

So it's a kind of disclosure
or disclosing, Jamie.

It has no point beyond that.

But you want him to understand

you are taking, not just
this crown, this thing,

"but my mind, my
body, and my heart."

Here, cousin.

Seize the crown.

Here, cousin.

On this side, my hand,

and on that side, thine.

Now, is this golden crown

like a deep well that owes

two buckets filling one another,

the emptier ever
dancing in the air,

the other down, unseen,

and full of water?

That bucket down
and full of tears am I,

drinking my grief whilst
you mount up on high.

It's a wonderful image
of two buckets in a well.

That image is used with regard

to the arc, the narrative line.

As Richard goes down,
Bolingbroke goes up.

And I think symbolically
looking at those two characters,

there's a sense in
which Richard represents

an old world, a medieval world

of chivalry, of a
divine right of kings,

whereas Bolingbroke
represents a new world,

a world of ambition,
of pragmatic politics.

Are you contented
to resign the crown?


No. No.


There's a great line in
the deposition scene...

"Ay. No. No. Ay."

Which is "A-Y."

"Yes. No. No. Yes.

I can't make up my mind."

But it's also, of
course, "I. No. No. I.

Who am I if I'm not the king?"

For I must nothing be.

He cannot distinguish
between his role

and his persona.

He thinks that
if he has no role,

he has no persona,
that he will disappear.

Therefore, no, no. Ha ha ha.

For I resign to thee.

I think he's feeling
so sorry for himself

that the danger is he
could alienate your sorrow.

And from the
actor's point of view,

it's a dangerous moment,

because he could lose
the audience's sympathy

if he is to be obviously
sorry for himself.

You don't... I...

The audience is saying,
"You don't need our sympathy.

"Look. You've
got it all yourself.

You're your own
audience, in a sense."

This is the great dichotomy
of playing Richard.

He is always his own audience.

But ultimately, there's got
to be something about him

that, um, makes the
audience see through that

and say, "Yes, I can
see you're acting it.

"I can see, but
at the same time,

I know you're feeling it, too."

When "Richard Il" was first
performed in the early 1590s,

it was seen by some
as a thinly veiled attack

on Shakespeare's own
monarch, Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth, queen
for over 30 years,

and with no obvious heir,

was, it's true, seen
by some as a tyrant,

and she knew it.

In a memorandum by
the keeper of the records,

she is reputed to have said,

"I am Richard Il.
Know ye not that?"

Playing it safe, it is believed

that Shakespeare's original
production of "Richard Il"

was performed with
the deposition scene cut.

A few years later, though,
the scene would come back

to haunt both him and Elizabeth.

She has, over a number of years,

made particular use of
an ambitious military man,

the Earl of Essex.

He's fought the Irish
campaign for her.

He's led the campaign
against the Spaniards.

But Essex has
overstepped the mark.

He's fallen out with the queen.

And in the late 1590s, a
group of discontented courtiers,

they really feel something
needs to be done,

and they begin to plan
potentially a coup d'etat

against the queen.

Essex, as a political figure,

has become a rival to the queen.

He is a powerful figure who
can conjure a lot of support

from leading aristocrats.

So here we have
almost a good parallel

in historical terms between
Richard and Bolingbroke.

And a lot of Essex's

see that parallel.

Essex knew that even a hint

of deposing Elizabeth
would be considered treason.

In early 1601, he began
to fortify Essex House,

his town mansion,
which once stood here,

close to the Strand.

Something big was
about to happen.

Secretly recruiting a small band

of like-minded aristocrats,
he now looked around

for ways to encourage
and inspire them.

On the night before the coup,
he decided to treat them all

to a show at London's
Globe Theatre.

For one night only, the
auditorium would reverberate

to the sound of
revolutionary English poetry.

The play was
Shakespeare's "Richard Il,"

performed, it's thought,

with the previously censored
deposition scene restored

and intact.

Now, mark me, how
I will undo myself.

God pardon all oaths
that are broke to me.

And God keep all vows unbroke

that swear to thee.

Make me that nothing have,

with nothing grieved,

and thou, with all pleased,

that hast all achieved.

Long may yourself live
in Richard's seat to sit

and soon lie Richard
in an earthy pit.

"Richard Il," a play about

a weak, ineffective
monarch who is deposed.

It's as if they're
psyching themselves up

for what they're going
to do themselves.

God save King Henry,

unkinged Richard says.

And send him many
years of sunshine days!

What more remains?

The morning after
the performance,

Essex and his
fellow conspirators

swarmed into the city of London.

Their goal... To
confront the Queen.

But he badly miscalculated.

Essex was relying
on popular support

to help him force
the Queen's hand.

The people of London,
however, stubbornly refused

to play ball.

Essex retreated
back to his house,

where he was later arrested.

The Queen was in
no mood for mercy.

On the 25th of February,
1601, Essex was beheaded

upon the Tower Green.

Sir Walter Raleigh
is said to have stood

at a nearby window,

disdainfully puffing
tobacco smoke

in sight of the condemned man.

Retaliation, however,
didn't end there.

For the Globe Theatre,

tangled up in a
heinous conspiracy,

it was a dangerous moment.

Interrogated by
Elizabeth's security police,

the actors were,
however, ruled out

of involvement in the plot.

It seemed Shakespeare himself
never, apparently, received

a late-night knock on his door.

This talk of graves, of
worms and epitaphs...

You have misled a prince,

a royal king.

Here, cousin.

Seize the crown.

Our lands, our lives,
and all the Bolingbrokes,

and nothing can we
call our own but death.

For God's sake, let
us sit upon the ground

and tell sad stories
of the death of kings.

"God save King Henry!"

unkinged Richard says.

What more remains?

Richard I you remember
by his sobriquet, Lionheart.

Richard Ill we
style the hunchback

who killed the
princes in the tower.


But how does England remember
the second King Richard?

The truth is, we remember
the real Richard Il

mostly through the play
that was written about him.

I don't think it really matters

whether Shakespeare's Richard Il

is an authentic,
historically accurate account

of that history.

What does matter is the debate
around justice and tyranny.

And that in one sense, the
truth that Shakespeare spoke

still speaks to us today.

Discarded in a dungeon
at Pontefract Castle,

Shakespeare's Richard is
about to discover that truth.

I have been studying

how I may compare
this prison where I live

unto the world.

And for because
the world is populous,

and here is not a
creature but myself...

I cannot do it.

Yet I'll hammer it out.

I think, you know,
Richard's great speech

in the prison cell at the end

is incredibly moving.

He's very stoic.
He's very positive.

He's quite funny.

Um... and he's really profound.

Thus play I, in one
person, many people...

and none contented.

I think it's the story

of somebody who goes through

this very radical and unhappy
identity crisis, breakdown,

and he's forced
to confront the fact

that he is a frail human being,

and he will die, and he has

this sort of moment
of enormous clarity

where he sees that you'll
never really be in the world

until you can accept the
fact that you're sort of nothing.

Nor I nor any man
that but man is

with nothing shall be pleased...

till he be eased
with being nothing.

That idea is, I
think, very profound

and a radical idea really,

because none of us like
to think that we're nothing.

We're always just
buffeted around

from one thing to another.

We're never satisfied.
We're never at peace.

I wasted time...

and now doth time waste me.

I wasted time, and
now doth time waste me.

In a sense, he is redeemed,

because he... he finds himself,

he finds the man, the real man

inside all this kingliness.

He finds the real man.

Yet blessing on his
heart that gives it me...

but 'tis a sign of love.

But, my goodness,
he pays for it,

and he ends appallingly.

Aah! Aah!


I have real sympathy for him.

I feel that when he dies,
something has been lost,

something... from
the world is gone.

In the play, Richard's
chilling murder

would probably have satisfied

Elizabethan audience.

Historians, though, tell
us that the real Richard

probably wasn't, in
fact, murdered in quite

such a brutal and
bloody fashion.

In all likelihood, he
simply starved to death

in the bowels of
Pontefract Castle.

However, to the writer,

this was probably just a detail.

I can't help thinking
that Richard,

in Shakespeare's
eyes, was already dead

long before he
reached Pontefract.

That once-unimpeachable force

had been stripped
of all majesty.

His sense of self
had simply imploded.

All that remained was
the question of his legacy,

which was to leave
two squabbling families,

York and Lancaster,

fighting over the
spoils of England.

The Wars of the Roses
would drag on for decades.

As for Shakespeare's
"Richard Il,"

the play has fascinated
and enthralled audiences

for 400 years

and served as a
warning to tyrants.

So perhaps "Richard Il"
will last another 400 years.

For God's sake...

let us sit upon the ground

and tell sad stories
of the death of kings.

Watching it, actually...

I want to play it again.

I could do it better.

I know now how to do it.

And seeing myself do it there...

I know what it needs now.

I know... I...

I could do it better, yes.