VINSON CUNNINGHAM: On June 3rd, as New York City streets filled up with protesters following the death of George Floyd...
AMBI: Black Lives Matter / protest sounds
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: … a beloved New York City tradition was taking place. But this time at home. Over two dozen people turned on their computers and sat down to read Shakespeare.
RAZ GOLDEN: “Richard II,” by William Shakespeare. episode 1, act 1, scene 1
MICHAEL COHEN: It felt tense
SANJIT DE SILVA: It was a mix of incredible excitement and also
BIKO EISEN-MARTIN: Emotionally raw
SAHEEM ALI: Should we be engaging in something that some dead old white guy wrote 400 years ago.
AYANNA THOMPSON: I actually love Richard II.
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: For me it’s Shakespeare at its best.
SANJIT DE SILVA: The play in one word is about revolution.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: I'm Vinson Cunningham, staff writer at the New Yorker. This is Free Shakespeare on the Radio, from WNYC in collaboration with the Public Theater.
I first encountered Shakespeare in the summer before my 8th grade year, and the play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was a kid who had grown up in a church that always used the King James Bible. And I was also a kid that grew up thinking that funny things were always more important than serious things. So a comedy in the language that I knew from church was very appealing to me. So I came to Shakespeare with a great enthusiasm and love.
Today, I’m a writer and a theater critic, and I’m still trying to pull something like that off. Marrying language, which is always so specific to time and place and situation, and hooking that onto ideas, which in some ways are timeless and universal.
Over the next four nights we'll listen to Richard II together, performed by some of the best Shakespearean actors in the country. And we're also gonna talk about why, with so much else going on, this play IS worth listening to right now.
JAMES SHAPIRO: In the summer of 2020 I can’t imagine a play that hits harder or more deserves to be heard and listened to quite carefully.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: We’ve broken the play into four parts. Before each part, we’ll talk about what you need to know going into that night’s episode. If you want to read Richard II as you listen to it, you can download a copy of the script at wnyc.org/shakespeare. After the play, we’ll talk with some of the actors -- to hear what it was like to record this play this summer.
SAHEEM ALI: Beautiful We’ll read through the scene, I’ll give you some thoughts, and then we’ll do read it again. So whenever you’re ready….
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Saheem Ali was going to direct Richard II live, on an outdoor stage, as part of Shakespeare in the Park. But with so much of the country shut down because the pandemic, he and the cast turned it into a radio play. '
SAHEEM ALI: it's a complicated play. But every time I mentioned Richard, the second it's like the diehards who are like, that is my favorite Shakespeare play, you know, just the diehards
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: During Shakespeare’s lifetime, “Richard II” was one of his most popular plays. But now, it’s one of his least performed works.
SAHEEM ALI: If I'm working on Shakespeare, I am always making it for the people who potentially have never seen Shakespeare before. I'm always thinking about that
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Richard II is about a society going through a shocking transition of power. And in a summer of unprecedented social and political change, the play’s themes feel especially resonant.
SAHEEM ALI: Oh, the word universal is so loaded, but like, there's just something to the fact that this guy's plays are being done all over the world in multiple languages and multiple cultures. I t has the power to transcend. It's not about this British guy, it’s not owned by them or him, you know
AYANNA THOMPSON: The play allows us to grieve the loss of something, even if we think it's the right thing to get rid of.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: This is Ayanna Thompson. She and James Shapiro will be our guides to the play. Ayanna and Jim are two of the country’s top Shakespeare scholars.
JIM SHAPIRO: These plays have always existed in particular historical and political moments. Richard II is the best example of that. I mean, if I told you we were rehearsing a play about a murder that nobody wants to take responsibility for, that nobody really wants to speak about, you would almost laugh.
AYANNA THOMPSON: we are precisely at a moment where we're thinking about our structures, like people are saying defund the police, right? Like, okay. So if we actually do that, we need to let ourselves grieve what that is. What are we giving up? What does it mean to, to, to shuffle off an old system? And I think the play is like, you know, I think the is brilliant in the way that it makes you, makes you have an emotional reaction to that action. Even when you know it’s right.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Ayanna teaches and writes about the intersection of Shakespeare and race at Arizona State University.
AYANNA THOMPSON: I grew up pretty working class, uh, and did not go to a lot of theater -- um, that was extravagant. But my mother was a, a weird. Shakespeare fan.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Jim teaches at Columbia and advises The Public Theater. They both first encountered Shakespeare the same way a lot of us did: As teenagers, with Romeo and Juliet.
JIM: … in ninth grade in Midwood high school. I didn't get “Romeo and Juliet.” I didn't even get the dirty bits everybody else in the room seemed to get. And I was made to feel stupid about Shakespeare.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: I guess we can start from the beginning and I’d just love to ask you, when did your love of, engagement with the theater began.
AYANNA THOMPSON: I was 13 at the time and I had zero interest, as I thought this was like the least cool thing you could do. But we saw a production of Romeo and Juliet that was all in leather costumes.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Wow.
AYANNA THOMPSON: It was so sexy, and so today and so right on that my first live Shakespeare experience made it feel like it was about my life, and I think that's something that stuck with me.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: So after that, was Shakespeare an interest? Was that immediate? You're like, "I'm ..."
AYANNA THOMPSON (crosstalk): No.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: "... into this?"
AYANNA THOMPSON: No, no, no. I started off as an investment banker on Wall Street.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: WOW
AYANNA THOMPSON: I was the first black female analyst at Lehman Brothers, - Wow and Once I got there, I hated it. (laughter)
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: So Richard II: What does this play mean to you and how has it been to work on this one?
JIM SHAPIRO: I teach this play in the middle of the semester every fall. And it's the one play that kids walk in defeated by, because they don't know what's going on when the play begins and they're constantly playing catch-up.
AYANNA THOMPSON: I often tell my students, "It's OK, you're gonna have the 'Shakespeare effect.'" Which is the first 10 minutes are gonna feel like you landed on a different planet and you're not really sure you want to be on that planet. [Vinson laughs.] And that's OK. And then suddenly something happens and your brain -- it's like a translation machine kicks in and all of a sudden you understand the words, you understand the emotions, you understand the plot, the characters, everything.
SAHEEM ALI: You don't need to understand like, who was the King before. [00:51:00]
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Director Saheem Ali
SAHEEM ALI: And like who's related to who, like those kinds of details, you know, you can look them up on Wikipedia if you need to, but they're not going to be the thing that's going to make you go on there on the journey.
AYANNA THOMPSON: Be patient. It’s OK that you’re gonna feel uncomfortable. And then you get the joy and the challenge of what the play is actually about.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: At the center of the play is a struggle to upend an old political system. Here’s Jim, again.
JIM SHAPIRO: And there’s a real tension in the play between these two aristocratic men squaring off and what’s really a stake, which is a battle over control, over power, and ultimately over who gets // the throne.
AYANNA: I think it may be a slightly uncomfortable narrative for Americans because some of it hinges on this essential iIdentity of the divine right of kings.
AYANNA: this is of course, um, what we [00:21:00] precisely wanted to throw off when we had the declaration of independence that we don't believe in the divine right. Of Kings that we believe in men, primarily, ruling... hopefully women at some point
[SOUNDS OF ZOOM SESSION STARTING]
ARABELLA POWELL: Just to check that we’re on the June 12th draft, that we are have any devices turned off, cell phones that might ring, landlines, things like that, and that you have any notifications turned off.
SAHEEM ALI: Take it away André
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: Old John of Gaunt, time honored Lancaster (continue at least until we hear the name “bolingbroke”
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Okay, let's start at the beginning, in act one scene one. Where are we? And what's happening?
SAHEEM ALI: So act one, scene one we're in Richard's throne room
JIM SHAPIRO: A man has been murdered. Gloucester, uncle to Richard II. The play almost begins as a whodunnit: who is responsible for Gloucester's death? And nobody will take responsibility for that.
AYANNA THOMPSON: You start off feeling that Richard is very weak and students and readers, often audience members, feel kind of antipathy for him
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: It’s a man who is learning how to become a full human being. You know, he’s learning how to sit with his own vulnerability
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Our King Richard: actor André Holland. You’ll hear from André a lot over the next four days.
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: He is trying to figure out what it means to be a man, right? What it means to be a leader. And he makes mistakes left and right.
SAHEEM ALI: Here is a man who, for better or for worse, was thrust into a circumstance, used the best tools that he had to deal with the world that he was responsible for, and Failed to realize until it was too late just the repercussions of his actions or lack of actions.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: And Richard’s main rival is his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke. Saheem cast a woman in the role of Bolingbroke. It was part of a really intentional casting process that thought a lot about who would play what role and what they would bring to it.
Saheem said once he knew he had André as king – a king, spoiler alert, who will fall, he realized the only person he wanted to see take power from a black man, was a black woman.
MIRIAM A. HYMAN: I’m free in my natural voice and, like, it’s just free.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Meet Miriam A. Hyman. Bolingbroke in our play.
MIRIAM A. HYMAN: He’s been stripped of everything. He was just speaking up. He was just speaking the truth and wanting to ask questions in terms of, you know, how Gloucester was murdered. And this whole thing turns into being banished and having everything taken away from me and my father dying. And I mean, it just. It just really gets out of control.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: This is a play about two men, in a battle over control, over power, and ultimately over who gets to wear the crown.
And now, grab some snacks, maybe a drink, and find a comfortable place to sit back and listen -- here’s episode 1 of Richard II.
The actors and The Public Theater dedicate this production to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Act 1, Scene 1
Think of this as the start of a murder mystery. King Richard’s uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, has just been killed. Who killed him? Nobody knows. The air is filled with tension and antagonism. There’s a threat of violence and revenge for his death.
Establish crowd sounds
At this moment, King Richard sits in his throne room with his other uncle, John of Gaunt. A dispute has broken out that they must deal with.
Old John of Gaunt, time-honored Lancaster, 1
Hast thou according to thy oath and band
Brought hither Henry Bolingbroke, thy son,
Here to make good the boist'rous accusation –
Which then our leisure would not let us hear – 5
Against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?
I have, my liege.
Tell me, moreover, hast thou sounded him
If he accuse the Duke on ancient malice,
Or worthily, as a good subject should, 10
On some known ground of treachery in him?
As near as I could sift him on that argument,
On some apparent danger seen in him
Aimed at your highness, no inveterate malice.
Then call them to our presence. 15
Ourselves will hear
The accuser and the accused freely speak. 17
High-stomached are they both and full of ire.
[Enter Bolingbroke and Mowbray.]
Many years of happy days befall 20
My gracious sovereign, my most loving liege!
Each day still better other's happiness
Until the heavens, envying earth's good hap,
Add an immortal title to your crown!
We thank you both. Yet one but flatters us, 25
As well appeareth by the cause you come,
Namely, to accuse each other of high treason.
My cousin Bolingbroke, what sayest thou
Against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?
First –heaven be the record to my speech! – 30
In the devotion of a subject's love,
Tend'ring the precious safety of my prince,
And free from other misbegotten hate,
Come I appellant to this princely presence.
Now, Thomas Mowbray, do I turn to thee, 35
And mark my greeting well; for what I speak
My body shall make good upon this earth,
Or my divine soul answer it in heaven. 38
Thou art a traitor and a miscreant,
Murmurs from the crowd
Too good to be so, and too bad to live, 40
With a foul traitor's name stuff I thy throat,
And wish – so please my sovereign – ere I move, 45
What my tongue speaks my right-drawn sword may prove.
Thomas of Norfolk, what sayst thou to this?
Let not my cold words here accuse my zeal.
'Tis not the bitter clamor of two eager tongues,
Can arbitrate this cause betwixt us twain; 50
The blood is hot that must be cooled for this.
First, the fair reverence of your Highness curbs me
From giving reins and spurs to my free speech, 55
Which else would post until it had returned
These terms of treason doubled down his throat.
Setting aside his high blood's royalty,
And let him be no kinsman to my liege,
I do defy him, and I spit at him, 60
He hacks and spits
Murmurs from the crowd
Call him a slanderous coward and a villain; 61
Which to maintain, I would allow him odds
And meet him, were I tied to run afoot
Even to the frozen ridges of the Alps.
Pale trembling coward 69
Gage hits the ground
Bolingbroke has thrown down his glove.
there I throw my gage,
Disclaiming here the kindred of the King, 70
And lay aside my high blood's royalty,
Which fear, not reverence, makes thee to except. 72
If guilty dread have left thee so much strength
As to take up mine honor's pawn, then stoop.
Picks up the gage
MOWBRAY, [picking up the gage]
I take it up
The fight is on. This can only end in combat.
and by the royal sword I swear
Which gently laid my knighthood on my shoulder,
I'll answer thee in any fair degree 80
Or chivalrous design of knightly trial.
What doth our cousin lay to Mowbray's charge?
It must be great that can inherit us 85
So much as of a thought of ill in him.
That Mowbray hath received eight thousand nobles
In name of lendings for your Highness' soldiers, 89
The which he hath detained for lewd employments, 90 Like a false traitor and injurious villain.
Further I say, and further will maintain
Upon his bad life to make all this good,
That he did plot the Duke of Gloucester's death, 100
Shock from the crowd
Suggest his soon-believing adversaries,
And consequently, like a traitor coward,
Sluiced out his innocent soul through streams of blood.
Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's, cries
Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth 105
To me for justice and rough chastisement.
How high a pitch his resolution soars! 109
O, let my sovereign turn away his face
And bid his ears a little while be deaf, 112
Till I have told this slander of his blood
How God and good men hate so foul a liar!
He is our subject, Mowbray; so art thou. 122
Free speech and fearless I to thee allow.
Then, Bolingbroke, as low as to thy heart
Through the false passage of thy throat, thou liest. 125
Three parts of that receipt I had for Calais
Disbursed I duly to his highness' soldiers;
The other part reserved I by consent,
For that my sovereign liege was in my debt
Upon remainder of a dear account 130
Since last I went to France to fetch his queen.
Now swallow down that lie. For Gloucester's death,
I slew him not, but to my own disgrace 133
Neglected my sworn duty in that case.
As for the rest charged,
It issues from the rancor of a villain,
A recreant and most degenerate traitor,
Which in myself I boldly will defend, 145
And interchangeably hurl down my gage,
Upon this overweening traitor's foot,
Gage hits the ground
In haste whereof most heartily I pray 150
Your Highness to assign our trial day.
Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be ruled by me: 152
Let's purge this choler without letting blood.
Forget, forgive, conclude and be agreed;
Good uncle, let this end where it begun; 158
We'll calm the Duke of Norfolk, you your son.
To be a make-peace shall become my age. 160
Throw down, my son, the Duke of Norfolk's gage. 161
And Mowbray, throw down his. 162
When, Harry, when?
Obedience bids I should not bid again. 163
Mowbray, throw down, we bid; there is no boot.
Myself I throw, dread sovereign, at thy foot. 165
My life thou shalt command, but not my shame.
I am disgraced, impeached and baffled here, 170
Pierced to the soul with Slander's venomed spear.
Rage must be withstood.
Give me his gage. Lions make leopards tame. 174
Yea, but not change his spots. Take but my shame, 175
And I resign my gage. My dear dear lord,
The purest treasure mortal times afford
Is spotless reputation;
Mine honor is my life; both grow in one. 182
Take honor from me, and my life is done.
We were not born to sue but to command;
Which since we cannot do to make you friends, 197
Be ready as your lives shall answer it
At Coventry upon Saint Lambert's day.
There shall your swords and lances arbitrate 200
The swelling difference of your settled hate.
Act 1, Scene 2
[Enter John of Gaunt with the Duchess of Gloucester.]
We’re at home with the Duchess of Gloucester. She’s mourning her husband’s death, and begs John of Gaunt to take action.
Alas, the part I had in Gloucester’s blood 1
Doth more solicit me than your exclaims
To stir against the butchers of his life.
Finds brotherhood in thee no sharper spur?
Hath love in thy old blood no living fire? 10
Edward's seven sons, whereof thyself art one,
Were as seven vials of his sacred blood,
Some of those seven are dried by nature's course,
Some of those branches by the Destinies cut; 15
But Thomas, my dear lord, my life, my Gloucester,
One flourishing branch of his most royal root,
Is hacked down, and his summer leaves all faded 20
By Envy's hand and Murder's bloody ax.
Ah, Gaunt, his blood was thine!
In suff'ring thus thy brother to be slaughtered,
Thou show’st the naked pathway to thy life,
Teaching stern Murder how to butcher thee.
What shall I say? To safeguard thine own life 35
The best way is to venge my Gloucester's death.
God's is the quarrel, for God's substitute, 37
His deputy anointed in His sight,
Hath caused his death, the which if wrongfully,
Let heaven revenge, for I may never lift 40
An angry arm against His minister.
Where then, alas, may I complain myself? 42
To God, the widow's champion and defense. 43
Why then, I will. Farewell, old Gaunt.
Thou goest to Coventry, there to behold 45
Our nephew Bolingbroke and Mowbray fight.
O, sit my husband's wrongs on Bolingbroke’s spear,
That it may enter butcher Mowbray's breast!
Farewell, old Gaunt. Thy sometime brother's wife,
With her companion, Grief, must end her life. 55
Sister, farewell. I must to Coventry. 56
As much good stay with thee as go with me!
I take my leave before I have begun, 60
For sorrow ends not when it seemeth done.
Commend me to thy brother, York.
Lo, this is all. 63
Nay, yet depart not so!
Though this be all, do not so quickly go;
I shall remember more. Bid him –ah, what? – 65
With all good speed at Pleshy visit me.
Desolate, desolate, will I hence and die!
The last leave of thee takes my weeping eye. 74
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: You’re listening to Free Shakespeare on the Radio, from WNYC in collaboration with the Public Theater. Richard II will back in a moment.
90-SECOND STATION BREAK
VINSON: I’m Vinson Cunningham. You’re listening to Free Shakespeare on the Radio, from WNYC in collaboration with the Public Theater. We return now to Richard II.
Act 1, Scene 3
Stadium crowd in the background
We’re in a packed stadium now. Richard has sanctioned a trial by combat between Bolingbroke and Mowbray to determine who’s telling the truth. God is expected to intervene and save the life of the innocent. The guilty will die.
Crowd dies down
Fanfare announces Mowbray
Marshal, demand of yonder champion 7
The cause of his arrival here in arms.
Ask him his name, and orderly proceed
To swear him in the justice of his cause. 10
MARSHAL [to Mowbray]
In God's name and the King's, say who thou art 11
And why thou com’st thus knightly clad in arms,
Against what man thou com'st, and what thy quarrel. 13
My name is Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk,
Who hither come engaged by my oath– 17
Which God defend a knight should violate –
Both to defend my loyalty and truth
To God, my king and my succeeding issue 20
‘Gainst Henry Bolingbroke that accuses me
And, by the grace of God and this mine arm,
To prove him, in defending of myself,
A traitor to my God, my king and me. 24
Fanfare announces Bolingbroke
Marshal, ask yonder knight in arms 26
Both who he is and why he cometh hither
And formally, according to our law,
Depose him in the justice of his cause. 30
MARSHAL [to Bolingbroke]
What is thy name?
Against whom comest thou? And what's thy quarrel?
Henry Bolingbroke Duke of Hereford 35
Am I, who ready here do stand in arms
To prove, by God's grace and my body's valor,
In lists, on Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk,
That he is a traitor, foul and dangerous,
To God of heaven, King Richard and to me; 40
And as I truly fight, defend me heaven.
Lord Marshal, let me kiss my sovereign's hand
And bow my knee before his majesty. 46
MARSHAL, [to King Richard]
The appellant in all duty greets your highness
And craves to kiss your hand and take his leave. 53
We will descend and fold him in our arms. 54
Richard descends to Bolingbroke
My cousin Bolingbroke, as thy cause is right, 55
So be thy fortune in this royal fight.
Farewell, my blood,which, if today thou shed,
Lament we may, but not revenge thee dead. 58
As confident as is the falcon's flight 61
Against a bird do I with Mowbray fight.
My loving lord, I take my leave of you.
Father, the earthly author of my blood,
Whose youthful spirit, in me regenerate, 70
Doth with a twofold vigor lift me up
To reach at victory above my head. 72
God in thy good cause make thee prosperous. 78
Be swift like lightning in the execution,
And let thy blows, doubly redoubled, 80
Fall like amazing thunder on the casque
Of thy adverse pernicious enemy.
Mine innocence and Saint George to thrive! 84
Order the trial, Marshal, and begin. 99
and set forward, combatants. 117
The crowd roars
Stay! The King hath thrown his warder down. 118
The crowd dies down
King Richard has jumped to his feet, interrupting the fight before it has begun.
Let them lay by their helmets and their arms 119
And both return back to their chairs again. 120
This is not typically how these events go. Richard is conferring with his council.
Draw near, 123
And list what with our council we have done.
For that our kingdom's earth should not be soiled 125
With that dear blood which it hath fostered;
And for we think the eagle-winged pride
Of sky-aspiring and ambitious thoughts, 130
With rival-hating envy, set on you
To wake our peace,
And make us wade even in our kindred's blood:
Therefore, we banish you our territories. 139
You, cousin Bolingbroke, on pain of life, 140
Till twice five summers have enriched our fields,
Shall not regreet our fair dominions,
But tread the stranger paths of banishment. 143
Your will be done. This must my comfort be: 144
That sun that warms you here shall shine on me, 145
And those his golden beams to you here lent
Shall point on me and gild my banishment. 147
Mowbray, for thee remains a heavier doom, 148
Which I with some unwillingness pronounce: 149
The sly slow hours shall not determinate 150
The dateless limit of thy dear exile.
The hopeless word of ‘never to return’
Breathe I against thee, upon pain of life. 153
A heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege,
And all unlooked for from your highness' mouth. 155
The language I have learnt these forty years,
My native English, now I must forgo, 160
And now my tongue's use is to me no more
Than an unstringed viol or a harp. 162
Within my mouth you have enjailed my tongue,
Doubly portcullised with my teeth and lips, 167
And dull unfeeling barren Ignorance
Is made my jailor to attend on me.
I am too old to fawn upon a nurse, 170
Too far in years to be a pupil now.
What is thy sentence then but speechless death,
Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath? 173
It boots thee not to be so passionate.
After our sentence, plaining comes too late. 175
Then thus I turn me from my country's light 176
To dwell in solemn shades of endless night.
[He begins to exit.]
Return again, and take an oath with thee. 178
A sword unsheathed
[To Mowbray and Bolingbroke.]
Lay on our royal sword your banished hands. 179
[They place their right hands on the hilts of Richard's sword.]
Swear by the duty that you owe to God – 180
You never shall, so help you truth and God,
Embrace each other's love in banishment;
Nor never look upon each other's face; 185
Nor never write, regreet, nor reconcile
This louring tempest of your homebred hate,
Nor never by advised purpose meet
To plot, contrive or complot any ill
'Gainst us, our state, our subjects or our land. 190
I swear. 191
And I, to keep all this. 192
[They step back.]
A sword sheathed
By this time, had the King permitted us, 194
One of our souls had wandered in the air, 195
Banished this frail sepulcher of our flesh,
As now our flesh is banished from this land.
Confess thy treasons ere thou fly the realm. 198
No, Bolingbroke. If ever I were traitor, 201
My name be blotted from the book of life,
And I from heaven banished as from hence!
But what thou art, God, thou and I do know;
And all too soon, I fear, the King shall rue. 205
Farewell, my liege. Now no way can I stray;
Save back to England, all the world's my way. 207
KING RICHARD [to Gaunt]
My Uncle Gaunt, even in the glasses of thine eyes 208
I see thy grieved heart. Thy sad aspect
Hath from the number of his banished years 210
Plucked four away. [To Bolingbroke.] Six frozen winters spent,
Return with welcome home from banishment. 212
How long a time lies in one little word! 213
Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
End in a word; such is the breath of kings. 215
I thank my liege that in regard of me 216
He shortens four years of my son's exile.
But little vantage shall I reap thereby,
For, ere the six years that he hath to spend
Can change their moons and bring their times about, 220
My oil-dried lamp and time-bewasted light
Shall be extinct with age and endless night. 224
Why, uncle, thou hast many years to live. 225
But not a minute, King, that thou canst give. 226
Shorten my days thou canst with sullen sorrow,
And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow. 228
KING RICHARD [to Bolingbroke]
Cousin, farewell, and uncle, bid him so.
Six years we banish him, and he shall go. 248
What is six winters? They are quickly gone. 260
To men in joy; but grief makes one hour ten. 261
Call it a travel that thou tak'st for pleasure. 262
My heart will sigh when I miscall it so, 263
Which finds it an enforced pilgrimage.
The sullen passage of thy weary steps 265
Esteem as foil wherein thou art to set
The precious jewel of thy home return.
Nay, rather every tedious stride I make
Will but remember me what a deal of world
I wander from the jewels that I love. 270
Teach thy necessity to reason thus: 277
There is no virtue like necessity.
Think not the King did banish thee,
But thou the King. 280
Go, say I sent thee forth to purchase honor,
And not the King exiled thee.
Come, come, my son, I'll bring thee on thy way.
Had I thy youth and cause, I would not stay. 305
Act 1, Scene 4
[Enter the King with Green and Bagot, at one door, and the Lord Aumerle at another.]
A dinner party
Cutlery and glasses
Music on a record player
With Bolingbroke banished, and the fallout of Gloucester’s death behind him, King Richard is back in court, having dinner with his close friends, Bushy, Bagot and Green.
We did observe. – 1
How far brought you high Bolingbroke on his way? 2
But to the next highway, and there I left him. 3
And say, what store of parting tears were shed? 5
Faith, none for me, except the northeast wind, 6
Which then blew bitterly against our faces,
Awaked the sleeping rheum and so by chance
Did grace our hollow parting with a tear. 9
What said our cousin when you parted with him? 10
‘Farewell’ – 11
And, for my heart disdained that my tongue
Should so profane the word, that taught me craft 13
To counterfeit oppression of such grief
That words seemed buried in my sorrow's grave. 15
He is our cousin, cousin, but 'tis doubt, 20
When time shall call him home from banishment,
Whether our kinsman come to see his friends. 22
Ourself and Bushy, Bagot here and Green
Observed his courtship to the common people –
How he did seem to dive into their hearts 25
With humble and familiar courtesy,
What reverence he did throw away on slaves,
Wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles 28
And patient underbearing of his fortune,
As 'twere to banish their affects with him. 30
Off goes his bonnet to an oyster-wench.
A brace of draymen bid God speed him well,
And had the tribute of his supple knee
With ‘Thanks, my countrymen, my loving friends’,
As were our England in reversion his, 35
And he our subjects' next degree in hope.
Well, he is gone, and with him go these thoughts. 37
Now for the rebels which stand out in Ireland,
Expedient manage must be made, my liege, 39
Ere further leisure yield them further means 40
For their advantage and your highness' loss.
We will ourself in person to this war, 42
And, for our coffers with too great a court
And liberal largess are grown somewhat light,
We are enforced to rent our royal realm, 45
The revenue whereof shall furnish us
For our affairs in hand. If that come short,
Our substitutes at home shall have blank contracts 48
Whereto, when they shall know what men are rich,
They shall subscribe them for large sums of gold, 50
And send them after to supply our wants;
For we will make for Ireland presently. 52
Bushy, what news? 53
Old John of Gaunt is grievous sick, my lord,
Suddenly taken, and hath sent post-haste 55
To entreat your majesty to visit him.
Where lies he? 57
At Ely House. 58
Now put it, God, in the physician's mind 59
To help him to his grave immediately! 60
The lining of his coffers shall make coats
To deck our soldiers for these Irish wars.
Come, gentlemen, let's all go visit him.
Pray God we may make haste and come too late! 64
Act 2, Scene 1 (Part one)
[Enter John of Gaunt sick, with the Duke of York, and Attendants.]
Beeps and intercom announcement in the background
Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt, is dying. He’s heartsick at the banishment of his son, Bolingbroke. He waits to talk to King Richard one final time. His brother York is with him.
Will the King come that I may breathe my last 1
In wholesome counsel to his unstaid youth?
Vex not yourself, nor strive not with your breath, 3
For all in vain comes counsel to his ear.
O, but they say the tongues of dying men 5
Enforce attention like deep harmony.
Though Richard my life's counsel would not hear, 15
My death's sad tale may yet undeaf his ear.
No, it is stopped with other flattering sounds, 17
As praises, of whose taste the wise are fond;
Report of fashions in proud Italy,
Where doth the world thrust forth a vanity - 25
That is not quickly buzzed into his ears?
Then all too late comes Counsel to be heard,
Direct not him whose way himself will choose.
'Tis breath thou lack'st, and that breath wilt thou lose. 30
Methinks I am a prophet new inspired, 31
And thus, expiring, do foretell of him.
His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last,
This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, 40
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself 43
Against infection and the hand of war, 44
This happy breed of men, this little world, 45
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house 48
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, 50
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Feared by their breed and famous by their birth,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land, 57
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out –I die pronouncing it -
Like to a tenement or pelting farm. 60
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of wat'ry Neptune, is now bound in with shame, 63
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.
That England that was wont to conquer others 65
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death! 68
[Enter King and Queen, Aumerle, Bushy, Green, Bagot, Ross, Willoughby, etc.]
The King is come. Deal mildly with his youth,
For young hot colts, being reined, do rage the more. 7
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: That was episode one of Richard II. We’ll pick back up tomorrow night exactly where we left off, with Gaunt on his deathbed, hoping for a chance to have a final, urgent conversation with King Richard.
But before we go: a conversation with some of the actors in our production. We talked about what it was like to make this play this summer, and look at how this play fits into decades of theatrical history.
MATT COLLETTE: And now what I just want everybody to do is introduce yourselves: Say your name, your role, and this is act 1, scene 1.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: To make a radio play, in a pandemic, actors gathered over Zoom and recorded themselves at home
SAHEEM ALI: Any other questions
DAKIN MATTHEWS: When should we turn on our recorders?
MATT COLLETTE: That was gonna be the next thing
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: They had been planning to spend their summer working under the stars -- and sometimes the rain -- at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. These are actors who were used to dealing with the racoons backstage, the occasional pause in the action when lightning strikes or a helicopter goes overhead. Actors like Biko Eisen-Martin, who plays Fitzwater, a Bolingbroke supporter.
BIKO EISEN-MARTIN: Shakespeare in the Park, I think, is a place that every actor who enjoys the classics wants to be. To me, it's up there with the globe and kind of these legendary places where theater is done
MICHAEL BRADLEY COHEN: To me it’s the best Shakespeare in America and part of what makes it the best Shakespeare is that it’s free.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Michael Bradley Cohen plays Bushy, one of Richard II’s cohorts. The Delacorte is like a second home to him
MICHAEL BRADLEY COHEN: WHen I saw the full cast list -- I immediately combed through and found all the people I had worked with before. Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte, it’s like like coming back to Shakespeare camp with all your best Shakespeare friends.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: That feeling of camaraderie...was a dream of Joseph Papp, founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, which became The Public Theater. The organization has been putting on free Shakespeare productions in Central Park for more than 60 years now. On June 18, 1962, Papp spoke in Central Park at the dedication of the Delacorte Theater.
JOE PAPP (WNYC ARCHIVES): The existence of this theater has many is a tribute to democracy -- the fact that it is key is the understanding of the significance of the festival
OSKAR EUSTIS: He believed in democracy in a in a radical way.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Um, did you know Joe Papp?
OSKAR EUSTIS: We met. My actual, my last audition as an actor was for Joe in 1975. I auditioned for him for Shakespeare in the Park and walked out of the room and said, “I am never auditioning again.” It was the most humiliating experience.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Oskar Eustis is the Artistic Director of the Public Theater today
OSKAR EUSTIS: Know, I think in some ways it's good that I didn't know, Joe personally, because what I can do is take the essence of what Joe stood for and make that as bright and shiny as possible.
JOE PAPP (WNYC ARCHIVES): By keeping it free, I feel we have supported and defended the very core of the democratic philosophy, which is the greatest good for the greatest number.
SEAN CARVAJAL: That’s such a powerful speech, a powerful man
VC: Sean Carvajal plays Surrey and the Gardener’s Man in “Richard II.” When I talked with him, told me he had just been reading Papp’s autobiography.
SEAN CARVAJAL: Joseph Papp was someone who had vision. I mean if it wasn’t for him, i wouldn’t see myself as an actor, I think that’s how deep that runs. This idea that the theater belongs to the people.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Sean grew up in Washington Heights -- he’s first generation, from the Dominican Republic. In 5th grade, his teacher made him memorize sonnets
SEAN CARVAJAL: I hated it - it was just something so foreign to me.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: But Sean stuck with Shakespeare. He did Richard II in college and was on Broadway last year with Glenda Jackson in “King Lear.” He recorded this play from his bedroom, which, like most New York City apartments, sometimes got noisy during recording sessions.
SEAN CARVAJAL: Yeah, I have a comforter. You want me to put it over my head?
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Sean and Stephen Mckinley Henderson have known each other for a long time, but this was a production like neither had ever done before.
SEAN CARVAJAL: Do you agree Mr. Henderson, he’s the greatest producer of our time
STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON: Oh yeah, he was an amazing...
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: From what I’ve heard, this is a very interesting time for all of you -- you are planning to do this show and then there is this amazing thing going on outside of all the apartments that you are in, planning to put this on, and I guess there must have been some worry or some trepidation about okay, what does it mean to be doing this at this time, I’d love to hear you talk about what that moment was like and how the company decided here’s how we’re going to move forward.
SEAN CARVAJAL: Um, I think for me personally, I stepped into rehearsals, uncertain as to whether I could participate just because at the time, it didn’t make sense. You know, is the work still relevant? Is it still important knowing that our country was literally burning down.
STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON: Sean and I go back. Personally go back. And uh, I felt I knew, I really, I I felt l knew what was in Sean’s heart that the notion of “is this relevant,” you know…?”
STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON: Stephen McKinley Henderson, The gardener, act 3, scene 4
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Stephen McKinley Henderson has been in the theater world for over 50 years. He’s a teacher, he’s been in movies, but he’s mainly known as a stage actor.
Henderson: When I was young, I felt what am I doing here at Julliard, studying the classics. It’s 1968, you know. In 1968 when MLK was assassinated and it’s the first time I saw the Klan in all their full regalia, and they came on the campus of Kentucky State College, a historically black college, I had to make a choice was I going to be a artist or was I going to be something else-- and lucky I had a mentor, Amira Baraka, Leroy Jones, who said you can do both -- you can go and train at Julliard, but you can also be a part of what’s going in the street.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: This idea … of combining civic activism and theater … was embedded into the DNA of The Public Theater from the start. I found a recording of a talk that Esther Jackson gave in 1965, when she was running educational programs at the Shakespeare Festival.
ESTHER JACKSON (WNYC ARCHIVES: We are in a period of major social and intellectual and there are symptoms of … unfortunately and very sadly to me, when we look at those segments of the society which are attempting to deal with these ... we do not see on the part of the theater at large a clear commitment, the theater, as theater, has remained aloof from the highly affecting issues of our time, from poverty, education, international cooperation, civil rights, and all of the elements which president johnson calls The Great society.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: I listened to Jackson with Oskar Eustis, from The Public.
OSKAR EUSTIS: Wow, never got a chance to meet her.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Jackson died in 2006, at age 83, but her words feel so timely right now.
ESTHER JACKSON (WNYC ARCHIVES): It is the theater I think alone more than religion, which is charged with the representation of the fundamental aspects of reality of the world in its own time. Indeed it is the function of the theater to show us the human situation in our time to help us objectify the complexity, to isolate those alternatives for action. And to show us those lines of action, which men in our own age, will call moral.
OSKAR EUSTIS: yeah, that is brilliant and it’s so beautifully put. 55 years later, everything she says about the theater could be true.
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON: Shakespeare was a life raft for me in, in handling my emotions about all the stuff that's going on about systemic racism, about living in a pandemic.
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON: John Douglas Thompson, Duke of York, Act 2, Scene 1
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: John Douglas Thompson has been performing Shakespeare since he started acting. He’s a regular on Broadway … The New York Times described him “as one of the most compelling classical stage actors of his generation. Thompson has been acting for more than 20 years.. He wasn’t ready for the move off the stage.
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON: yeah it was charged, but I was kind of charged with anger and rage and not knowing how Reading a play for radio would be at all satisfying. What would be the point of doing this?
And so what I wanted to do, certainly with this Richard II was, I'm speaking for me specifically, was then to locate myself again, to use this Shakespeare, these plays, or particularly this play and these words and these characters in these [00:26:00] situations as a way to reinvest, to reinvest my humanity, because I was really feeling quite despondent about things. And I looked to see myself reflected back to me
VINSON -- Umm.
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON: in his text, in his language all my emotions, happiness sadness, rage, delusion. Um, desperate, Dissatisfaction, all those things I can find in his characters, so that helps me center.
So what was really interesting was people just bringing themselves to the work, and I always thought like that was the key to doing this Shakespeare, make it your own and then it’s really special.
SEAN CARVAJAL: And that’s something that John encouraged me, it’s something that he always encouraged me to just make sure that i was using this language to speak from my condition.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: And so how does that work for you, as actors? Did all of this change the way you thought about the actual substance of the play?
MIRIAM A. HYMAN: I have an acronym for it, which is hot, H-O-T: honest, open and truthful.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: That’s Miriam A. Hyman
MIRIAM A. HYMAN: This is Miriam, I play Bolingbroke
MIRIAM A. HYMAN: I just feel like that is what comes through within the work. You know, I'm just trying to be as connected to the material as possible. And with a writer like Shakespeare, you know, it's so rich and it's so honest, if you just communicate the truth of the text, that's it.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Yeah
SEAN CARVAJAL: there is a line that Mobray has -- my dear dear lord, the truest treasure - mine honor is my life and my life is done -- when i heard that, the more I heard that line, I think that it spoke so true about the black and brown experience in this country -- it’s what we are fighting for in this country, this honor, this spotless reputation, when they look at us, -- they don’t look at us as stereotypes, but they look at us as human beings, as people with honor.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: The whole process was surprisingly emotional for John Douglas Thompson...
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON: We all seemed to bring ourselves to it. I had never been in a Shakespeare play that was so dominated with Black and brown voices. This is the first time and, you know, Saheem, the first Black or brown director I've ever worked with in Shakespeare
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Oh really?
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON: 25 years of doing this kind of work, roughly. So that was the joy part of the joy of the whole project was to see and hear all the Black and Brown voices.
And often times when I wasn't on or didn't have to record. I just listened to other people just to hear it, just to hear their life through these characters.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Tomorrow night, on Richard II --
The banished Bolingbroke repeals himself,
And with uplifted arms is safe arrived 50
At Ravenspurgh.; and, that is worse,
The lord Northumberland, his son, young Hotspur,
With all their powerful friends are fled to him.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: This has been Free Shakespeare on the Radio, from WNYC in collaboration with the Public Theater. This production of Richard II was directed by Saheem Ali.
You can download a copy of the script and see the production’s full credits at wnyc.org/shakespeare.
I’m Vinson Cunningham, thank you for listening. And join us for Episode 2 tomorrow night.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.