A parody of Shakespearean history writing by “Beyond the Fringe,” a British comedy group who wrote in the 1960s. (“Beyond the Fringe” was the ancestor and inspiration for Monty Python.)
Shakespeare’s two sets of English history plays Henry VI, parts 1, 2, and 3, and Richard III, dealing with the later portion of the “Wars of the Roses.” Written in early 1590s. Richard II, and Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V, dealing with the usurpation of 1399 that would lead to the Wars of the Roses. Written 1595-1600. Wars of the Roses a dynastic struggle that brought in the Tudor dynasty (Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth I)
Five successive seizures of the English crown in 15 th century Henry VI comes to throne as a nine-month-old child in 1422. Deposed by Edward Duke of York in 1460, who becomes Edward IV. (Henry imprisoned in Scotland and in Tower of London). Edward IV deposed by forces of Henry VI in 1570; Henry VI restored briefly. Henry VI deposed, then murdered. Edward IV restored. Edward dies, Richard Duke of Gloucester initially regent for Edward’s young son, who is Edward V. But Richard seizes the throne, becomes Richard III, 1474. In 1484 HenryTudor defeats Richard III in battle (Bosworth) and becomes Henry VII.
Second “tetralogy” Second written, but goes back behind “Wars of Roses” to tell the beginning. The “moral” antecedent of the Wars. Begins with Richard II’s reign at end of the 14 th century (Richard deposed in 1399). Ends with Henry V and battle of Agincourt, which seems a glorious conclusion, but leads to reign of Henry VI.
Richard II and Queen Elizabeth In 1599 followers of Earl of Essex pay Lord Chamberlain’s Men to perform Richard II just before Essex’s attempted coup d’etat against Elizabeth. Elizabeth, around this time: “Know you not that I am Richard II?”
The first scene of the play A “big” scene, filling the stage with actors, heralded no doubt by trumpets. Much formality of language, presumably of action and gesture. Speeches sometimes conclude with rhyme. The enmity of Bolingbroke (Henry Hereford) and Mowbray (Duke of Norfolk) is clear.
Bolingbroke’s accusation Mowbray has misappropriated funds (the 8,000 nobles to pay troops). All treasons of the past 18 years were plotted by Mowbray! Plotted Duke of Gloucester’s death (Gloucester, also called “Woodstock” was king’s uncle and Bolingbroke’s uncle) – a kind of “original sin” in the play.
Mowbray’s defense Three quarters of the money was disbursed to soldiers, one fourth to pay the debt the king owed him. Didn’t kill Gloucester. But mysteriously: “to my own disgrace,/ Neglected my sworn duty in that case.” And tried to ambush Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster), Bolingbroke’s father, but has confessed the fault and received Gaunt’s pardon.
The sense of mystery in it all Why does the king want to make peace between them? Why does he not want to know who killed Gloucester, his uncle? Why does Gaunt also want to make peace? Who did kill Gloucester?
The contrast of I, 2 “Small” scene, just Gaunt and Duchess of Gloucester. Meaning of Gaunt’s first three lines. In Duchess’s sense: Gaunt’s sacred duty to avenge Gloucester’s death. Gaunt’s response: I can’t avenge, because of who the murderer is. A competing sacred duty not to avenge.
The Lists at Coventry, I, 3 Another “big” scene. Much formality, much chivalrous language, high poetry. Much swearing of loyalty to God, king, self. Much sounding of trumpets...... and the battle is called off. Why?
The rationale of banishment for Richard Mowbray’s continued loyalty. His riff on “native English,” 1.3, 160. His “silence” on Richard becomes literal in banishment. Partiality of revocation of part of Bolingbroke’s banishment. Why?
Richard in private, I.4 Change of tone in language, irony. Another set of characters: Aumerle, Bushy, Bagot, Green. Richard’s response to news of Gaunt’s sickness: 59-60ff. “Pray God we may make haste, and come too late.”
“This sceptered isle” II, i Prophetic Gaunt: his tongue the opposite of Mowbray’s. His poetic construction of England: ll. 40- 58...... is cancelled by the lines that follow, 59-60. The pattern repeated in ll. 61-66. His mockery of his name. His final truth-speaking to Richard, 93ff. And his tongue, now “a stringless instrument,” like Mowbray’s.