So: Henry Bolingbroke, is he a jerk for deposing Richard II or what? Turns out, nope. If anything, Henry goes easy on ole Richie. Not only did Richard banish Henry from England for six years over a dumb argument, he seized all of the guy's inheritance when his dad dies in Act II. What the hell kind of dick move is that? How could Richard have thought it was a good idea to straight-up steal a bunch of crap from one of the most popular dudes at court, right after exiling him? Smooth move, numb-nuts.
To compound matters, Richard is a screw-up not only on the personal level, but on the public: he insists on waging costly campaigns against the Irish, even though his subjects have no interest in conquering the nation at such expense.
The King backed his lords and subjects into a corner, so it's no surprise that Henry earns widespread support for his takeover of the throne. He returns to England from exile while Richard II is beating up on people in Ireland, rallies his troops, and immediately strips power from his cousin when the rebellion forces him back to Wales. Richard is shocked to discover that not only did he fail to conquer the Emerald Isle (again!), he has failed to keep his very own islands too.
I admit, it made me feel bad for him. For about ONE SECOND.
But then, he spends at least half of the play just kind of wandering around with this cloying, self-pitying attitude. "POOR ME, I'M NOT KING ANYMORE." You know what, you big cry baby? Shit or get off the pot. Either die defending your right to the throne, or shut up about it. But no, he drifts through scenes being a total bitch about the injustice of it all. It doesn't help that he speaks in perfect verse, waxing poetic about his angst in brilliantly flowery ways. Where usually this makes me fall in love with a character, I found it grating with RIchard II. You get this overriding feeling that he puts all of his energy into the presentation of his ideas, but zero effort in the ideas themselves. That is one of the most frustrating attitudes a person can have, and Shakespeare milks it like a juicy soy bean.
Side note: since Richard II reigned during the tail end of the Black Plague, I feel like every person in the play should have been grateful to wake up every morning without having their flesh replaced with bug crap. Perspective, guys.
Richard's wife is the only one to point out what an epic wet noodle is being when, in Act V, she says her goodbyes.
Queen. What! is my Richard both in shape and mind
Transform'd and weakened! Hath Bolingbroke deposed
Thine intellect? hath he been in thy heart?
The lion dying thrusteth forth his paw
And wounds the earth, if nothing else, with rage
To be o'erpowered; and wilt thou, pupil-like,
Take thy correction mildly, kiss the rod,
And fawn on rage with base humility,
Which art a lion and a king of beasts?
K. Rich. A king of beasts indeed; if aught
but beasts, I had been still a happy king of men.
Good sometime queen, prepare thee hence for France,
Think I am dead, and that even here thou tak'st,
As from my death-bed, my last living leave.
In winter's tedious nights sit by the fire
With good old folks, and let them tell thee tales
Of woeful ages, long ago betid;
And ere thou bid good night, to quit their grief,
Tell thou the lamentable tale of me,
And send the hearers weeping to their beds:
For why the senseless brands will sympathize
The heavy accent of thy moving tongue,
And in compassion weep the fire out;
And some will mourn in ashes, some coal- black,
For the deposing of a rightful king.
God, I hate his answer! She tries to pull a Lady Macbeth on him by kicking him in the nuts a bit for the benefit of them both. He's like, "nah, honey, go to France and tell everyone how sad my life is, even though everything was completely preventable and all my fault." Blech.
It would appear that some part of her speech rubs off on him though, because the play ends with Richard II's one moment of glory. Having figured out he's probably going to be quietly assassinated at some point, he goes apeshit in his prison cell and murders a bunch of servants with an axe. He is immediately killed by a supervising lord, but it's a thrilling moment nonetheless, and it's nice to see the deposed king DO something about his predicament for once in the entire play. Plus, who doesn't love a good old-fashioned axe massacre? Shakespeare knew how to cap off a story with style (and hopefully some projectile fake blood...no point to that scene without it).
All in all, an aggressively average Shakespearean play, though I am looking forward to all the fallout over the course of the next three plays. Gotta love the Lancasters, those scheming bastards.
Biggest Self-Awareness Fail: Early in the play, Richard has the balls to say, "The breath of worldly men cannot depose/ The deputy elected by the Lord." Yeah...you might want to read the history of YOUR OWN FAMILY there, Richard. You might find some interesting factoids.
Most Random Genius Character: The best role in this whole play is some weird gardener that shows up for only one scene (Act III, Scene iv), delivers an awesome speech, then drops the mic, never to be seen again. He has the balls to tell the Queen that England is like a bountiful garden, and Richard II was a crappy gardener. Great metaphor, beautiful language, easily the best scene in the play. I was left wondering why the hell they didn't make that random gardener the new King because he really seemed to have his shit together. Also, I loved the speech because it was like a condensed, Shakespearean version of Voltaire's Candide. Gotta cultivate your own garden, bros. You just gotta.
Lazy Day for Shakespeare: There are a LOT of lords in this play, and they are all cousins or brother or uncles because aristocracy = incest. It was pretty confusing at times, apparently even for Shakespeare. By Act V, even he decided to peace out on the whole mess and simply named a new character, "Another Lord." Ain't nobody got time for keeping track of every nobleman, not even Shakespeare.