JIM SHAPIRO: These plays are about incest, family disputes, Jews taking knives to Christians, Black men marrying white men. These are America’s worst nightmares. WHy choose these plays and call them canonical?
AYANNA THOMPSON: I’d be perfectly happy if we had a performance hiatus for OThello, Taming of the shrew and Merchant of Venice. Those plays are toxic and theyr’e really really hard to recuperate even though every thaeter company thinsk that they are going to present a feminist pro-black pro-Jewish production.
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.
For those of you have been with us all four nights, thank you. And if you haven’t, you can catch up at wnyc.org/shakespeare.
Tonight we listen to the final episode of Richard II.
After the play, we’ll talk with Andre Holland -- our Richard -- but first, we’re going to spend some time thinking about the relevance of Shakespeare today with the help of our guides: Jim Shapiro from Columbia University and Ayanna Thompson from Arizona State University.
Now to be clear, Ayanna THompson -- who called for the performance hiatus -- she still thinks those plays should still be read and taught -- she just doesn’t want to see the plays put up and performed for a while:
AYANNA THOMPSON: Until we get to a different place in our society about what we can talk about, what we can face.
And for Ayanna -- Shakespeare can actually help that conversation
AYANNA THOMPSON: Shakespeare is one of the best vehicles to talk about race, to talk about power structures. The issues that we often think of as modern issues are actually pre-modern ones that have often 500-year legacies if not 400-year legacies.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, I think when people say race is modern, they say it as a product of their optimism. It’s pretty recent and therefore we can roll it back.
AYANNA THOMPSON: It’s much older. The legs are longer. We are in a moment when people are talking finally about systemic and institutional racism. I would just say, those systems and institutions are a lot older than people want to assume.
She looks back to Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy, Titus Andronicus, as the first black power speech
Take Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy, Titus Andonicus, which she says has history’s first Black power speech
AYANNA THOMPSON: Written by a white man, to be performed by a white actor in black face, it is still the first Black power speech, in which he denigrates whiteness and lists while Blackness is better over and over again,
AYANNA THOMPSON: Shakespeare, race and performance is complicated.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Right.
AYANNA I don't want to paint like this glorious portrait of kind of, even though it was white men in black face, there were progressive plays or anything like that. No, that's not the portrait. It's complicated.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: You know I think that maybe, despite ourselves, we are Obsessed with Shakespeare. We, still care a lot. What is, is it something about us? Is it something about him or what's the, what's the deal there?
JIM SHAPIRO: That's the mystery.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Shakespeare scholar Jim Shapiro.
JIM SHAPIRO: I mean, why chose these plays and call them canonical.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Shakespeare scholar Jim Shapiro.
JIM SHAPIRO: Why we could take the national poet of a country we broke with. What I think is that these plays allow us, we’re not good at talking to each other in this country, we’re probably as bad as any country at talking across a cultural divide, so we actually still talk through Shakespeare. Shakespeare gives us, uh, a very small piece of common ground and, um, There are precious few places like that left.
VINSON-3: Huh. Um, I like that idea of talking through these texts that this is sort of our, our medium.
And Ayanna takes this even further: she believes that how we stage these works -- can help us have conversations that are pretty delicate or hard to broach outside of the work. Take this production, with Richard II played by Andre Holland and his successor Bolingbroke played by actress Miriam A Hyman
AYANNA THOMPSON: What does it mean to have a Black man who is deemed unfit to rule and what does it mean to have a Black woman take his place? That's part of our American history. That's something that we don't, and that's also a dialogue that happens in the Black community, but does not necessarily happen in interracial spaces.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, that's definitely a sort of, um, as they say, not in mixed company conversation.
AYANNA THOMPSON: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. Yup.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: So let’s catch up
LUPITA: Last night on Richard II
To do that office of thine own good will
Which tired majesty did make thee offer –
The resignation of thy state and crown 180
To Henry Bolingbroke.
Give me the crown.
Are you contented to resign the crown? 200
Ay, no. No, ay; for I must nothing be.
Therefore no ‘no,’ for I resign to thee.
On Wednesday next we solemnly set down
Our coronation. Lords, prepare yourselves.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: So back to Episode 4. At the start, we’re with the queen, who is waiting for Richard to be taken to prison. Here’s Ayanna Thompson again:
AYANNA THOMPSON: And they have one of the most heartbreaking goodbye scenes that you could ever imagine. And this is something that would have been inconceivable in at the beginning of the play, because yeah, he's a different character then he's, you know, at the top and hasn't fallen yet.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: It’s only after Richard is imprisoned and no longer king that he begins to show his humanity. And King Henry, Bolingbroke, realizes that governing is harder than he’d ever imagined — and comes at a cost. Professor Jim Shapiro
JIM SHAPIRO: There is a shift in this play, from one notion of how power works to another notion of how power works. And Bolingbroke is much more effective, it seems, at gaining power and stealing power. But he too knows that once you change a political system in a fundamental way, there is going to be a series of instabilities that follow.
AYANNA THOMPSON: We get this kind of moment of rebellion - potential rebellion - where you think that Bolingbroke might be as vulnerable as Richard just was. But that's easily quelled. But then there's Exton, who thinks that he's been given orders to kill Richard, in an off-hand kind of way, and so he goes into the prison. And Richard fights! Like here is this guy who has just been weak and ineffectual and ripped away from title, queen, everything -- a sense of self. And at the last moment he puts up like a good fight.
AYANNA THOMPSON: I think the play ends with us, the audience feeling as if maybe Richard was right. And even though we want Bolingbroke to rule us that in fact, a crime, a deep crime, has been committed and that there will be implications for English history because of that.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: And those implications, as we know, go well beyond English history. We started off on Monday asking "Why do this play, and now?" And the reason is because it speaks to something that is always happening. Namely change. And the warning from Shakespeare, the bit of wisdom that we start to sense, is that that change is possible -- but it’s often accompanied by consequences that we could have never foreseen.
And now, our final episode of Richard II - about the fallout of Bolingbroke’s ascent to the throne.
The actors and The Public Theater dedicate this production to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Act 5, Scene 1
Bolingbroke has been crowned King Henry IV. Richard, stripped of title and power, is no longer king. The Queen, who is also no longer queen, waits on the street. She’s hoping to have a final moment with her fallen husband.
This way the King will come. This is the way
To Julius Caesar's ill-erected tower,
To whose flint bosom my condemned lord
Is doomed a prisoner by proud Bolingbroke.
[Enter Richard and Guard.]
But soft, but see, or rather do not see
My fair rose wither. Yet look up, behold,
That you in pity may dissolve to dew,
And wash him fresh again with true-love tears. 10
Join not with grief, fair woman, do not so,
To make my end too sudden. Learn, good soul,
To think our former state a happy dream,
From which awaked, the truth of what we are
Shows us but this. I am sworn brother, sweet, 20
To grim Necessity, and he and I
Will keep a league till death. Hie thee to France,
And cloister thee in some religious house.
Our holy lives must win a new world's crown,
Which our profane hours here have thrown down. 25
What, is my Richard both in shape and mind
Transformed and weakened? Hath Bolingbroke
Deposed thine intellect?
Good sometimes queen, prepare thee hence for France.
Think I am dead, and that even here thou tak’st,
As from my death-bed, thy last living leave.
My lord, the mind of Bolingbroke is changed.
You must to Pomfret, not unto the Tower.
And, madam, there is order ta'en for you:
With all swift speed you must away to France.
Northumberland, thou ladder wherewithal 55
The mounting Bolingbroke ascends my throne,
The time shall not be many hours of age
More than it is ere foul sin, gathering head,
Shall break into corruption. Thou shalt think,
Though he divide the realm and give thee half, 60
It is too little, helping him to all.
He shall think that thou, which knowest the way
To plant unrightful kings, wilt know again,
Being ne'er so little urged another way
To pluck him headlong from the usurped throne. 65
My guilt be on my head, and there an end.
Take leave and part, for you must part forthwith. 70
Doubly divorced! Bad men, you violate
A twofold marriage, 'twixt my crown and me
And then betwixt me and my married wife.
Let me unkiss the oath ‘twixt thee and me –
And yet not so, for with a kiss 'twas made. 75
And must we be divided? Must we part?
Ay, hand from hand, my love, and heart from heart.
Banish us both, and send the King with me.
That were some love, but little policy.
Then whither he goes, thither let me go. 85
So two together, weeping, make one woe.
Weep thou for me in France, I for thee here;
Go count thy way with sighs, I mine with groans.
So longest way shall have the longest moans. 90
Twice for one step I'll groan, the way being short,
And piece the way out with a heavy heart.
One kiss shall stop our mouths, and dumbly part; 95
Thus give I mine, and thus take I thy heart.
Give me mine own again; 'twere no good part
To take on me to keep and kill thy heart.
So, now I have mine own again, be gone,
That I may strive to kill it with a groan. 100
We make woe wanton with this fond delay.
Once more, adieu. The rest let Sorrow say.
Act 5, Scene 2
The Duke and Duchess of York are at home, recounting the spectacle of Richard’s downfall and King Henry’s ascent to the throne.
[Enter Duke of York and the Duchess.]
The television is on
My lord, my lord you told me you would tell the rest,
When weeping made you break the story off
Of our two nephews' coming into London.
Where did I leave?
At that sad stop, my lord,
Where rude misgoverned hands from windows' tops 5
Threw dust and rubbish on King Richard's head.
Then, as I said,
Music underscore begins
Distant, dreamlike crowd cheering underneath
the Duke, great Bolingbroke,
Mounted upon a hot and fiery steed,
Which his aspiring rider seemed to know,
With slow but stately pace kept on his course, 10
Whilst all tongues cried,
Crowds cheers ‘God save thee, Bolingbroke!’
Distant cheers continues underneath
You would have thought the very windows spake,
So many greedy looks of young and old
Through casements darted their desiring eyes
Upon his visage, and that all the walls 15
With painted imagery had said at once,
Crowd cheers "Jesu preserve thee! Welcome, Bolingbroke!"
Whilst he, from the one side to the other turning,
Bespake them thus:
‘I thank you, countrymen’; 20
And thus still doing, thus he passed along.
Alack, poor Richard! Where rode he the whilst?
As in a theater the eyes of men,
After a well-graced actor leaves the stage,
Are idly bent on him that enters next, 25
Thinking his prattle to be tedious,
Even so, or with much more contempt, men's eyes
Did scowl on gentle Richard. No man cried God save him!
No joyful tongue gave him his welcome home,
But dust was thrown upon his sacred head, 30
Which with such gentle sorrow he shook off,
His face still combating with tears and smiles,
The badges of his grief and patience,
But heaven hath a hand in these events,
To whose high will we bound our calm contents.
To Bolingbroke are we sworn subjects now,
Whose state and honor I for aye allow. 40
Here comes my son, Aumerle.
I am in Parliament pledge for his truth
And lasting fealty to the new-made king. 45
Welcome, my son. Who are the violets now
That strew the green lap of the new-come spring?
Madam, I know not, nor I greatly care not.
God knows I had as lief be none as one.
Well, bear you well in this new spring of time, 50
Lest you be cropped before you come to prime.
What seal is that that hangs without thy bosom?
Yea, look’st thou pale? Let me see the writing.
My lord, 'tis nothing.
No matter, then, who see it.
I will be satisfied. Let me see the writing.
I do beseech your grace to pardon me.
It is a matter of small consequence, 60
Which for some reasons I would not have seen.
Which for some reasons, sir, I mean to see.
I fear, I fear –
What should you fear?
'Tis nothing but some bond that he is entered into 65
For gay apparel 'gainst the triumph day.
Bound to himself? Wife, thou art a fool.
Boy, let me see the writing.
I do beseech you, pardon me. I may not show it. 70
I will be satisfied. Let me see it, I say.
Treason, foul treason! Villain, traitor, slave!
What is the matter, my lord?
YORK, [calling offstage]
God for His mercy, what treachery is here! 75
Why, what is’t, my lord?
YORK [calling offstage]
Give me my boots. Saddle my horse.
Now, by mine honor, by my life, by my troth,
I will denounce the villain!
What is the matter?
Peace, foolish woman! 80
I will not peace. What is the matter, Aumerle?
Good mother, be content. It is no more
Than my poor life must answer.
Thy life answer?
YORK [calling offstage]
Bring me my boots! I will unto the King.
Give me my boots, I say.
Why, York, what wilt thou do?
Wilt thou not hide the trespass of thine own?
Have we more sons? Or are we like to have? 90
And wilt thou pluck my fair son from mine age
And rob me of a happy mother's name?
Is he not like thee? Is he not thine own?
Thou fond mad woman, 95
Wilt thou conceal this dark conspiracy?
A dozen of them here have ta'en the sacrament
And interchangeably set down their hands
To kill the King at Oxford.
He shall be none;
We'll keep him here. Then what is that to him? 100
Away, fond woman! Were he twenty times my son,
I would denounce him.
Hadst thou groaned for him
As I have done, thou wouldst be more pitiful.
But now I know thy mind. Thou dost suspect
That I have been disloyal to thy bed 105
And that he is a bastard, not thy son.
Sweet York, sweet husband, be not of that mind.
He is as like thee as a man may be,
Not like to me, or any of my kin, 109
And yet I love him.
Make way, unruly woman.
Door opening closing
Vehicle starts in the distance (York’s VW)
Spur, post, and get before him to the King
And beg thy pardon ere he do accuse thee.
I'll not be long behind
And never will I rise up from the ground
Till Bolingbroke have pardoned thee. Away, be gone!
Vehicles swell (Aumerle’s Harley)
Act 5, Scene 3
The throne room. King Henry, oblivious to the plot brewing against him, pines for his son.
Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?
'Tis full three months since I did see him last.
If any plague hang over us, 'tis he.
I would to God, my lords, he might be found.
Inquire at London, 'mongst the taverns there. 5
My lord, some two days since I saw the Prince,
And told him of those triumphs held at Oxford.
And what said the gallant? 15
His answer was he would unto the stews,
And from the common'st creature pluck a glove
And wear it as a favor, and with that
He would unhorse the lustiest challenger.
As dissolute as desp’rate! 20
But who comes here?
Where is the King?
What means our cousin, that he stares and looks so wildly?
God save your Grace! I do beseech your majesty 25
To have some conference with your grace alone.
KING HENRY [to his Nobles]
Withdraw yourselves, and leave us here alone.
A group departs
What is the matter with our cousin now?
Forever may my knees grow to the earth,
My tongue cleave to my roof within my mouth, 30
Unless a pardon ere I rise or speak.
Intended or committed was this fault?
If on the first, how heinous e'er it be,
To win thy after-love I pardon thee.
Then give me leave that I may turn the key, 35
That no man enter till my tale be done.
Have thy desire.
Hurried footsteps, door shuts, key turns
Almost instantly, a frantic knocking
York is on the other side of the door:
My liege, beware! Look to thyself!
Thou hast a traitor in thy presence there.
KING HENRY [to Aumerle]
Villain, I'll make thee safe. 40
A sword unsheathed
Stay thy revengeful hand. Thou hast no cause to fear.
Other side of the door:
Open the door, secure, foolhardy King!
Shall I for love speak treason to thy face?
Open the door, or I will break it open.
Footsteps, key turns, door opens, footsteps
What is the matter, uncle? Speak! 45
Recover breath. Tell us how near is danger,
That we may arm us to encounter it.
Peruse this writing here, and thou shalt know
The treason that my haste forbids me show.
AUMERLE [to King Henry]
Remember, as thou read'st, thy promise passed. 50
I do repent me. Read not my name there;
My heart is not confederate with my hand.
It was, villain, ere thy hand did set it down.
I tore it from the traitor's bosom, King.
Fear, and not love, begets his penitence. 55
Forget to pity him, lest pity prove
A serpent that will sting thee to the heart.
O heinous, strong and bold conspiracy!
O loyal father of a treacherous son!
Thy overflow of good converts to bad,
And thy abundant goodness shall excuse
This deadly blot in thy digressing son. 65
Mine honor lives when his dishonor dies,
Or my shamed life in his dishonor lies. 70
Other side of the door:
What ho, my liege! For God's sake, let me in!
What shrill-voiced suppliant makes this eager cry?
Other side of the door:
A woman and thy aunt, great king. 'Tis I. 75
Speak with me, pity me. Open the door!
A beggar begs that never begged before.
Comedic underscore begins
Our scene is altered from a serious thing
And now changed to ‘The Beggar and the King’. –-
My dangerous cousin, let your mother in. 80
I know she is come to pray for your foul sin.
Key turns, door opens
If thou do pardon whosoever pray,
More sins for this forgiveness prosper may.
O King, believe not this hard-hearted man.
Love loving not itself, none other can.
Thou frantic woman, what dost thou make here?
Shall thy old dugs once more a traitor rear?
Sweet York, be patient.
Hear me, gentle liege. 90
Rise up, good aunt!
Not yet, I thee beseech.
For ever will I walk upon my knees
And never see day that the happy sees
Till thou give joy, until thou bid me joy,
By pardoning my son, my transgressing boy. 95
Unto my mother's prayers I bend my knee.
Against them both my true joints bended be.
Ill mayst thou thrive if thou grant any grace.
Pleads he in earnest? Look upon his face.
His eyes do drop no tears; his prayers are in jest; 100
His words come from his mouth, ours from our breast.
He prays but faintly and would be denied;
We pray with heart and soul and all beside.
I say good aunt, stand up.
Nay, do not say ‘Stand up’ 110
‘Pardon’ should be the first word of thy speech.
I never longed to hear a word till now
Say ‘Pardon’, King let pity teach thee how 115
The word is short, but not so short as sweet
no word like ‘Pardon’ for kings’ mouth so meet
Speak it in French, King; say “pardonnez-moi”
Speak ‘pardon’ as ‘tis current in our land.
The chopping French we do not understand.
Thine eye begins to speak, set thy tongue there.
Good aunt, stand up.
I do not sue to stand.
Pardon is all the suit I have in hand.
I pardon him, as God shall pardon me. 130
O, happy vantage of a kneeling knee!
Yet am I sick for fear. Speak it again,
Twice saying ’Pardon’ doth not pardon twain,
But makes one pardon strong.
I pardon him with all my heart.
A god on earth thou art!
Good aunt, cousin, uncle, stand up! 135
But for our trusty brother-in-law and the Abbot,
With all the rest of that consorted crew,
Destruction straight shall dog them at the heels.
Good uncle, help to order several powers
To Oxford, or where'er these traitors are; 140
They shall not live within this world, I swear,
But I will have them, if I once know where.
Uncle, farewell, and so, cousin, adieu.
Your mother well hath prayed, and prove you true.
Come, my old son. I pray God make thee new.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: This is Free Shakespeare on the Radio, from WNYC in collaboration with the Public Theater. Richard II will back in a moment.
STATION BREAK (1:30)
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: You’re listening to Richard II, a production of Free Shakespeare on the Radio, from WNYC in collaboration with the Public Theater. I’m Vinson Cunningham.
Act 5, Scene 4
We’re outside the throne room now. A knight of the court named Exton believes King Henry has asked him to carry out the murder of Richard. He pulls a servant aside.
[Enter Sir Pierce Exton and Servant]
Didst thou not mark the King, what words he spake: 1
"Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?"
Was it not so?
These were his very words. 3
‘Have I no friend?’ quoth he. He spake it twice,
And urged it twice together, did he not? 5
He did. 6
And speaking it, he wishtly looked on me, 7
As who should say, "I would thou wert the man
That would divorce this terror from my heart’, 9
Meaning King Richard at Pomfret. Come, let's go. 10
I am King Henry's friend and will rid his foe. 11
Act 5, Scene 5
[Enter Richard alone.]
A man’s breathing
Fingers moving across the earthen floor (reprise)
Realistic at first, then sound shifts
Inside Richard’s head:
I have been studying how I may compare 1
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’t out. 5
My brain I'll prove the female to my soul,
My soul the father, and these two beget
A generation of still-breeding thoughts; 8
And these same thoughts people this little world,
In humors like the people of this world, 10
For no thought is contented. The better sort,
As thoughts of things divine, are intermixed 12
With scruples, and do set the word itself
Against the word, as thus: ‘Come, little ones’;
And then again: 15
‘It is as hard to come as for a camel
To thread the postern of a small needle's eye.’
Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot 18
Unlikely wonders – how these vain weak nails
May tear a passage through the flinty ribs 20
Of this hard world, my ragged prison walls,
And, for they cannot, die in their own pride.
Thus play I in one person many people, 31
And none contented. Sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am. Then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king; 35
Then am I kinged again, and by and by
Think that I am unkinged by Bolingbroke, 37
And straight am nothing. But whate'er I be,
Nor I nor any man that but man is
With nothing shall be pleased till he be eased 40
With being nothing. Music do I hear? 41
Ha, ha, keep time! How sour sweet music is
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men's lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear 45
To check time broke in a disordered string,
But for the concord of my state and time 47
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
I wasted time, and now doth Time waste me;
For now hath Time made me his numb'ring clock. 50
My thoughts are minutes, and with sighs they jar
Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch, 52
Whereto my finger, like a dial's point,
Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears.
Now, sir, the sound that tells what hour it is 55
Are clamorous groans which strike upon my heart,
Which is the bell. So sighs, and tears, and groans
Show minutes, times, and hours. But my time 58
Runs posting on in Bolingbroke's proud joy,
While I stand fooling here, his jack of the clock. 60
This music mads me! Let it sound no more;
For though it have help madmen to their wits, 62
In me it seems it will make wise men mad.
Yet blessing on his heart that gives it me,
For 'tis a sign of love; and love to Richard 65
Is a strange brooch in this all-hating world. 66
The groom who tended Richard’s horses enters the prison.
[Enter a Groom of the stable.]
Hail, royal Prince! 67
Thanks, noble peer. 68
What art thou, and how comest thou hither
Where no man never comes but that sad dog 70
That brings me food to make misfortune live?
I was a poor groom of thy stable, King, 72
When thou wert king, who, traveling towards York,
With much ado, at length have gotten leave
To look upon my sometime royal master's face. 75
O, how it earned my heart when I beheld 76
In London streets, that coronation day,
When Bolingbroke rode on roan Barbary, 78
That horse that thou so often hast bestrid,
That horse that I so carefully have dressed. 80
Rode he on Barbary? Tell me, gentle friend, 81
How went he under him?
So proudly as if he disdained the ground. 83
So proud that Bolingbroke was on his back? 84
That jade hath eat bread from my royal hand; 85
This hand hath made him proud with clapping him.
Would he not stumble? Would he not fall down, 87
Since pride must have a fall, and break the neck
Of that proud man that did usurp his back? 89
Forgiveness, horse. Why do I rail on thee, 90
Since thou, created to be awed by man,
Wast born to bear? I was not made a horse, 92
And yet I bear a burden like an ass,
Spurred, galled and tired by jauncing Bolingbroke. 94
The prison’s keeper enters with a meal.
[Enter one, the Keeper, to Richard with meat.]
KEEPER, [to Groom]
Fellow, give place. Here is no longer stay. 95
RICHARD, [to Groom]
If thou love me, 'tis time thou wert away. 96
What my tongue dares not, that my heart shall say. 97
My lord, will't please you to fall to? 98
A tray pushed across the floor
Taste of it first, as thou art wont to do. 99
My lord, I dare not. Sir Pierce of Exton, who lately 100
Came from the King, commands the contrary.
RICHARD [attacking the Keeper]
The devil take Henry Bolingbroke and thee! 102
Patience is stale, and I am weary of it.
Richard kills the keeper
Help, help, help! 104
[The Murderers, Exton and his men rush in.]
How now! What means Death in this rude assault? 105
Villain, thy own hand yields thy death's instrument.
Another murderer enters
Go thou, and fill another room in hell! 107
That hand shall burn in never-quenching fire 108
That staggers thus my person. Exton, thy fierce hand
Hath with the King's blood stained the King's own land. 110
Mount, mount, my soul! Thy seat is up on high,
Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward here to die. 112
As full of valor as of royal blood! 113
Both have I spilled. O, would the deed were good!
For now the devil that told me I did well 115
Says that this deed is chronicled in hell.
This dead King to the living King I'll bear.
Take hence the rest, and give them burial here. 118
[They exit with the bodies.]
Act 5, Scene 6
King Henry is in the throne room, anticipating news of the rebellion against him.
Kind uncle York 1a
My lord 1.5
The latest news we hear 1b
Is that the rebels have consumed with fire
A town in Gloucestershire,
But whether they be ta'en or slain we hear not. 4
My lord Northumberland. What is the news? 5
First, to thy sacred state wish I all happiness. 6
The next news is, I here deliver
Bodies dragged in
Oxford, Salisbury, Spencer, Blunt and Kent. 8
The manner of their taking may appear
At large discoursed in this paper here. 10
We thank thee, gentle Northumberland, for thy pains, 11
And to thy worth will add right worthy gains.
My lord, I here deliver 13
2 bodies dropped
Those dangerous consorted traitors 15
That sought at Oxford thy dire overthrow. 16
Thy pains, Fitzwater, shall not be forgot. 17
Right noble is thy merit.
The grand conspirator, Abbot of Westminster, 19
With clog of conscience and sour melancholy 20
Hath yielded up his body to the grave.
But here is Carlisle living, to abide
Thy kingly doom and sentence of his pride. 23
My liege. 24.5
This is your doom: 24b
Choose out some secret place, some reverend room, 25
More than thou hast, and with it joy thy life.
So as thou liv'st in peace, die free from strife; 27
For though mine enemy thou hast ever been,
High sparks of honor in thee have I seen. 29
Body dragged in
Great King, I here present 30
Thy buried fear. Herein all breathless lies
The mightiest of thy greatest enemies,
Richard of Bourdeaux, by me hither brought. 33
Exton, I thank thee not, for thou hast wrought 34
A deed of slander with thy fatal hand 35
Upon my head and all this famous land. 36
From your own mouth, my lord, did I this deed. 37
They love not poison that do poison need, 38
Nor do I thee. Though I did wish him dead,
I hate the murderer, love him murdered.
The guilt of conscience take thou for thy labor, 40
But neither my good word nor princely favor.
With Cain go wander through shades of night,
And never show thy head by day nor light. 44
Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe 45
That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow.
Come, mourn with me for what I do lament
And put on sullen black incontinent. 48
I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land
To wash this blood off from my guilty hand. 50
Body lifted and carried out
March sadly after; Grace my mournings here 51
In weeping after this untimely bier. 52
[They exit, following the coffin]
Bolingbroke follows the body.
Our story began with the mystery of Gloucester’s murder. God was expected to intervene. Now Richard lays dead.
Has justice been served?
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: That was the fourth and final episode of Richard II. Before we go, here’s a conversation with the guy who played the title role: actor Andre Holland. He’s known for his work in films like Moonlight and Selma, and appears now in the Netflix series The Eddy. And some of his earliest exposure to acting and what it meant to work in the theater came from Shakespeare.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: That was the fourth and final episode of Richard II.
Andre Holland played the title role. He’s been thinking about this part for years.
Holland is known for his work in films like Moonlight and Selma -- and appears now in the Netflix series The Eddy -- but some of his earliest exposure to acting and what it meant to work in the theater came from Shakespeare.
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: it felt it was often presented as this thing that you had to, you know, quote unquote, elevate yourself to people who would say that, you know, you have to elevate yourself to meet the language.
And I always found it to be kind of problematic. I probably wasn't until, like my senior year of college, I, uh, and one day I was home from school and in the arts section of the Birmingham News on the cover of the arts page, there was a photograph of a black man with long dreads holding a skull. Yoric skull. Mm hmm. And it said underneath it: Adrian Lester starring in Hamlet at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. And I saw that image in it. It really brought tears to my eyes because I think prior to that, I had I had never imagined that a Black person could play the title role in a play like that. You know what i mean, like, I
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Yeah
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: We had done Hamlet and I was Horatio, but I just had somehow, like, accepted that those characters, the title characters, you know, were meant for other people. And so my mother, my father put a little money together and rented me a car and it was closing in the following day. So I left that next morning, drove to Chicago and sat in line in the theater waiting for, you know, a cancelation. Got the last ticket. And
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Wow.
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: Adrian Lester came out and started the “To be or not to be” speech and I sat down and wept like a baby because it just really moved me man. I think it was a real turning point.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Wow.
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: So to answer your question, I guess yet it's been a long process of me coming coming to believe that, like, I can have ownership over any of the parts in Shakespeare in the same way that other people have.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Right. When did you come to Richard II? What was the first time you read it? And what were your kind of first impressions of this play?
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: I think the first time I read it was, um. Probably right after graduate school. I did a workshop of it with a group called the Shakespeare Society. And I was just blown away by the language.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: It’s amazing.
Andrew: It’s incredible, man. For me it’s Shakespeare at his best. You know, those speeches that he gives Richard to say are profoundly beautiful. So that was my first contact with the play. And I think that last speech in the play in the Prison Act five. Where he, I've been studying how may compare this prison where I live on to the world. That speech has really moved me. And I learned it, you know, during that workshop. And sometimes just walking down the street will just say, you know, to myself and it's not until the end of the play. That he finds the time to be alone, to really sit with himself and reflect. And in doing so, he comes to understand that he is a human being. And before your eyes, you see a person become a person, you know.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Yeah.
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: So I always found it. I just found that speech to be deeply moving
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, I mean, I would love to hear how your approach to this, something that you've been waiting to perform and obviously thinking about it in terms of bodies and things to see and audiences in seats. What was your first thought when thinking, OK, we're gonna do this in audio instead of on a stage?
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: Well, the first thought was -- so I've always had a little bit of a resistance to the play. And I think that's because for me, as a black actor playing his part, I was concerned that me presenting a man who essentially is an ineffectual leader who gets overthrown by a much more popular young man, right? I was concerned that if the casting of the play, you know, for example, if the Bolingbroke character, the character who ends up taking over at the end is a white man, they might not look good. So by casting an African-American woman to play Bolingbroke I think as a layer of intrigue to the play and kind of shields that. But of course, when we are doing it on the radio. My first thought was, well, how are we going to translate that? Or is that is that something that we even need to be concerned about now?
So that was the that was the first thing, and then secondly, I would say there were all these ideas I had about the play and about the way that I wanted to play the character. When I've seen the play before. He's often presented as this guy who's just a bad dude, who's just clumsy and like arrogant and narcissistic and, you know, a bad leader. But I wanted to tell a story of a man who's doing the best that he can in a world that he just can't quite manage, right? But when you take that off the stage and put it onto onto the radio, then you it's difficult to it's difficult to convey that. So those are my concerns.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Yes. So you mentioned the sort of, um, the difficulty of the dynamic between Richard and Bolingbroke in terms of race, in terms of power, in terms of all these interesting things and how it then change those dynamics for that person to be a Black woman, Miriam, how hard was it to to work with her?
Playing with her -- she comes so prepared. She had explored the text, like, thoroughly. So she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She didn't do any of that, you know, fancy, kind of highfalutin, you know, the language that some people are accustomed to hearing with Shakespeare. She just makes it, she makes it her own. She puts it into her body and I think because she played in that way, you know, it forced me and everybody else also to kind of dig our heels in and and come correct, as they say?
So I think there was a bit of a kind of I won't say one upmanship, but there was a there was like a healthy kind of competition between the two of us, I would say I think my worry was that there is a way of doing a play in which, you know, if you have a Black Richard and a white Bolingbroke, that it could be you could be seen to be telling the story that Black people can't lead or that there's a problem with Black leadership and that only it takes a white man to come back in and restore order. I think when we inhabit these parts, we have to always be cognizant of the moment that we're in. And like the stories that we're we're telling on top of the story itself. But when Miriam came in and smashed it, that was out the window. It then was just about the play, you know, and these two people who were fighting for what they believe in, essentially.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: The other stuff you're talking about, you know, the perception that casting creates, that's just seems to me so in some ways, like a double duty. Right. That you're not just doing the play. You are thinking about the story that your presence is telling. I mean, you could call it a burden and you could call it a duty. You could call it just another intellectual challenge. But how does that live in your mind?
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: Man, that’s a deep question. I mean, I've thought about this a lot over the years and I've gone through, I think, every version of it. I feel like there were times when I felt like it was a burden because I felt like, well, I just want to be able to do the play and, you know, just do my work as an actor.
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: Right.
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: But I think now what I feel is that it really is a it really is a privilege. You know, I've come to the point in my life where I'm really embracing my responsibility as an artist because it is a responsibility. You know, it's not just it's different, man. It's not just about I want to be good and do this part because I like the part, no like me getting on that stage in whatever play I’m in is a statement. It means something to somebody you know what I mean? And I want to really take care that I think, you know,
I remember when I was in school, I mean, I would look at these plays like Hamlet, like Shakespeare, for example. Right.
There would be if you're gonna do Hamlet, if you're gonna have somebody Black in it, it's gonna be Horatio, maybe Laertes and then maybe one of those, maybe I'll do it. If you're gonna do Romeo and Juliet, you got Mercutio probably could be Black. Not Romeo, but Mercuto. Cherry Orchard, you know, Lopakhin, he's often playing the black man. You know, a guy who comes back for his his land and his inheritance because his father was a, you know, a servant.
There were just certain or Aaron the Moor or Othello, there were just these kind of like characters that I think like myself and other black actors I know just sort of accepted, like, OK, well, these are the ones that are gonna be available to us. I remember when I was in college and even in grad school and people would say, oh, you're interested, interested in Shakespeare. The first thing they say is, Othello, have you played Othello? And for that reason, for a long time, I was like, man, I never gonna touch Othello. I don't want it because it just because everybody thinks that that's the only thing we can do and do it. So when that opportunity came along to play the part, I was resist resistant to it at first. It definitely kicked my butt. That play and that part. So in some ways, I think I accepted that for a long time as being true. But that's over, man. Like, that's that's all that's changed now. Um. Sometimes, right, the way that acting is taught in schools. You know, you do your research about the world of the play. You figure out what the character motivations are, what the obstacles are, you know, what the things are doing to move their life forward. All of these things. Right. But at a certain point, I've always found as a Black actor, if I'm playing if I'm the only Black actor in the Cherry Orchard. Right. Or in or in, you know, whatever and Ibsen play. At a certain point, I come to the place where I go, well, you know, what is the world of this play? Cherry Orchard takes place in Russia. So.
Are we? How does this make sense, right? Conventional wisdom in the acting teachers will say, well, it's just a it's a play. And so nobody is going to see your color. Nobody cares. It's just we're all just actors inhabiting this play, except that after the play, all these people will come up to me and say, put me in a corner and say, oh, you did a really nice job. But, you know, they weren't really Black people in Russia at that time. Oh it’s so nice that they gave you this part that they cast you in this part. It's really, you know, I mean, we know it's not really accurate, but
VINSON CUNNINGHAM: You sound like you've had hundreds of these
ANDRÉ HOLLAND: Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these things, you know? And at the same time, like we're American actors doing a Russian play. But for some reason, nobody ever questions the fact that these are American actors speaking English and like their accents from some from Minnesota, some from New York, some from Alabama. Nobody questions that. But like when the Black dudes in the play, that's the thing that everybody sees. Yeah, we act like we don't see it when we want to. You know, when it comes to talking about it. So, I mean, I suppose it's like what it means to be Black in America. Right. Like, you're always aware of where you fit in any particular room. And. And you can either see that as a burden or you can see it as like a superpower. And I just I choose to see it as a superpower.
This production of Richard II is a collaboration between WNYC and The Public Theater.
The play was written by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE and Conceived for the Radio and Directed by SAHEEM ALI.
Original Music Composed by MICHAEL THURBER
Mixing and Sound Design by ISAAC JONES
RAZ GOLDEN was the assistant director and script supervisor. ARABELLA POWELL was production stage manager.
Executive Producers: Emily Botein, Matt Collette, Elliott Forrestt and Sarah Sandbach
With additional Engineering by Ed Haber, Jared Paul, Joe Plourde, George Wellington and Trent Williamson
BARZIN AKHAVAN as Salisbury and the Marshall
SEAN CARVAJAL as the Gardener's Man and Surrey
MICHAEL BRADLEY COHEN as Bushy
SANJIT DE SILVA as Mowbray and Exton
BIKO EISEN-MARTIN as Fitzwater
MICHAEL GASTON as Northumberland
STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON as the Gardener
ANDRÉ HOLLAND as Richard
MIRIAM A. HYMAN as Bolingbroke
MERRITT JANSON as Scroop
ELIJAH JONES as Hotspur
DAKIN MATTHEWS as Gaunt
JACOB MING-TRENT as Carlisle
MARIA MUKUKA as the Queen's Lady and a Servant
OKWUI OKPOKWASILI as Willoughby and the Abbot
ESTELLE PARSONS as the Duchess of York
TOM PECINKA as Aumerle
PHYLICIA RASHAD as the Duchess of Gloucester
REZA SALAZAR as the Welsh Captain
THOM SESMA as Ross and the Keeper
SATHYA SRIDHARAN as Bagot
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON as York
CLAIRE VAN DER BOOM as the Queen
NATALIE WOOLAMS-TORRES as Green
And JA’SIAH YOUNG as the Groom
The play was narrated by Lupita Nyong’o. Additional commentary and analysis by James Shapiro and Ayanna Thompson. The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust proves leadership support for the Public Theater’s year-round activities. Mount Sinai Health System is our production sponsor.
And head to wnyc.org/shakespeare for more about the play. That’s where you’ll find the script, credits, plus you can download the podcast of Richard II to share or listen back .
I’m Vinson Cunningham, thank you for listening.
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 programming is the audio record.