An attempt to sort Shakespeare's plays into neat categories may appear to have its benefits when striving to understand his work, but even a superficial reading of Richard II indicates that this approach is largely futile and sometimes misleading. While it cannot be doubted that the play is of a historical nature, based on events recorded in Holinshed's Chronicles of 1577 and named after an actual king, a sense of true Shakespearean tragedy is also present throughout. Instead of trying to analyse or appreciate the differences between these two forms, it is more interesting to understand how they complement each other. Shakespeare vividly brings the past to life in Richard II, and it is surely the careful mingling of historical fact and tragic elements that is responsible for the great dramatic value of the play.
Knowledge of the period of history from which the play is drawn means that the audience is prepared for Richard's fate, for example, and this only serves to illuminate the tragic inevitability of his downfall. The audience is aware that Richard II is only the first in a series of history plays, and will be followed by Henry IV (parts one and two) and Henry V. In this sense Richard could be viewed in a potentially unemotional light, as a component of English history whose reign simply linked the reigns of two others. The fact that he was usurped from the throne and murdered is not overwhelmingly tragic when seen in the context of world history, especially if his reign is being viewed with cold hindsight. However, Shakespeare's colourful portrayal of Richard and his fate means that the audience can in many ways appreciate the king in terms of a ...
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...te history in a new, more colourful light.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Eccles, Mark. "Richard III on Stage and Screen." Richard III. New York: Signet Classic, 1988. 265-78.
Fields, Bertram. Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes. New York: ReganBooks, 1998.
Hallett, Charles A. and Elaine S. Hallett. The Revenger's Madness. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1980. (Epigraph)
Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard the Third. New York: Norton, 1983.
- - - . Richard III: The Great Debate. New York: Norton, 1992.
Ornstein, Richard. "Richard III." Richard III. New York: Signet Classic, 1988. 239-264.
Shakespeare, William. Richard III. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997
Spivack, Charlotte. The Comedy of Evil on Shakespeare's Stage. London: Associated UPs, 1978.
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