Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Richard the Second and Queen Victoria

Young Victoria. Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée. Perf. Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend. 2009. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2010.

A brief but telling selection from Richard II appears in the recent period drama Young Victoria.

The actors in the closet-drama-within-the-period-drama are reading from part of the play during which Richard begins to lose heart—it's not long after the lines quoted here that Richard delivers his famous "let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of kings" speech:
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 press'd
To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown . . .
Welcome, my lord. How far off lies your power? (III.ii.54-59, 63)
Only part of Salisbury's reply is audible:
. . . discomfort guides my tongue
And bids me speak of nothing but despair. (III.ii.65-66)
The remarkable aspect of having these particular lines from this particular play presented at this particular moment is that an insurrection is seething outside the palace. And the remarkable aspect of that is that it's not the first time a Queen of England has found a performance of Richard II connected with rebellion.

On 7 February 1601, Shakespeare's company was paid—and paid well above their ordinary revenue—to put on a production of Richard II. The Earl of Essex was planning to mount an insurrection to topple Queen Elizabeth the next day. He and his supporters thought either that the play would rally the people to their cause or that viewing the play would give them courage to go through with a dangerous and deadly operation.

Afterwards, in extreme pique, Her Majesty purportedly said, "I am Richard—know ye not that?"

Echoes of that monarch's encounter with Richard II resound in Queen Victoria's:

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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