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Ricardo II: Episode 3

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Dec 03, 2020 at 09:01 PM in Fringe Projects

Episode three of Ricardo II: A Bilingual Adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard II reads like a miniature study of land relations across various factions of the Merced Shakespearefest's bilingual cast. Following the failed duel between Henry Bolingbroke and Tomás Mercedes/Mowbray, this episode follows Henry, his father John of Gaunt, and king Ricardo II, as the six-year exile of Henry introduces grief and geographical distance into the relationships between these characters. 

The scene opens with John of Gaunt following his exiled son from the court after the king's decree. As father and son come to terms with their imposed separation, they wander through a lush garden, weaving between leafy branches as the speak. John's dialogue invokes imagination, imploring his son to imagine exile as a pleasurable journey, or as a retreat from a plague-ridden country (needless to say, John's suggestion to "suppose devouring pestilence hangs in our air" rings uncomfortably literal as the Covid-19 pandemic continues). In the same breath, John also implores his son to imagine his environment--the birds, the flowers--as those things he holds dear. However, John's idealistic vision of the environment as a stand-in for what his son may soon lack is quickly undercut by Henry's literalism. When Henry kneels to bid England farewell, he rests his hand tenderly on the earth, establishing that, for him, it is the land he has grown relations with and on that he wishes not to leave behind. This is further emphasized by a softly-scored montage of Henry walking away from his home across various areas of the production's Merced setting, during which he stops to gaze longingly at the familiar sunset from a bridge. 

Henry's attachment to his environment, and John's lyrical imaginary of the land are further contrasted by the following scene, which shows Ricardo II and his courtiers having a decadent tea party near a wall of rigid, ornamental plants. As Ricardo mocks Henry for his tears upon departing, but also for his "courtship of the common people," news arrives that John of Gaunt is on his deathbed, sick with grief at his son's exile. As Ricardo and his courtiers continue to laugh at this news, joking that John would do well to die faster, their disregard for the lives that surround them becomes more and more evident. Down to the setting of this scene as they consume delicacies against a backdrop of purely ornamental vegetation, every detail spells out the king and court's exploitative ease with their surroundings; any life that does not serve Ricardo's immediate will is seen as disposable. 

This cruelty is especially emphasized by this episode's final scene, as the camera cuts to John of Gaunt sitting patiently under a tree, wearing a starkly medical N95 mask, and waiting for the king's arrival. "Strive not with your breath," counsels John's attendant, the Duke of York, as John removes his mask to speak. The episode ends with John giving an impassioned, prophetic speech, in which he seems to invoke living being in England, including the land itself, to expel the Ricardo's corruption and restore balance to the island. 

Tune in to our blog every alternating week as we continue to reflect on episodes of Ricardo II, and watch ahead on Youtube!