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Ricardo II: Episode 6

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Feb 08, 2021 at 05:48 PM in Fringe Projects

Episode six of Merced Shakespearefest's Ricardo II: A Bilingual Adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard II, entitled “Derechos y Regalias / Rights and Royalties,” dramatizes the play’s power imbalances through vastly contrasting natural settings. The king’s excesses and mismanagement of resources are embodied in the stark contrast between the almost literally scorched earth he has left across the land, and the artificial lushness of the spaces he himself inhabits.

A brilliant opening frame suggests the effects of Ricardo’s environmental neglect and weaponization of resources. The episode opens with Henry returning to Britain accompanied by Northumberland, only to find a parched, almost savannah-like landscape. This setting is established with close-ups of desiccated grasses bisected horizontally by barbed wire and wide shots that show the extent of the damage. The series uses this hilly, burned-looking area of Merced, with its tall yellow grasses and blackened, leafless trees, to stand in for a damaged Gloucestershire, creating a visual impression of the political exclusion, resource deprivation, and territorial dispossession mandated by Ricardo.

As the story moves to Ricardo, returning from his campaign in Ireland, the visual juxtaposition is almost shocking. This scene is filmed in a completely different landscape: artificially watered green lawns, neat concrete sidewalks, and bollard lights along the path that are lit, even in daylight. These all read as evidence of the wasteful consumption of Ricardo’s regime. Even Aumerio following behind Richard, distracted by his phone, self-absorbed and largely ignoring the king’s monologue, suggests the unsustainable ecologies and political alliances the king has made of his environment.

This scene is charged with visual irony. Viewers recognize this is an artificial landscape and unnatural environment because we have also seen the impoverished landscape through which Bolingbroke walks on the “other side” of Berkeley Castle. This irony is heightened when Ricardo, enraged by the news of Bolingbroke’s return, bends to touch the earth and curse his rivals. “Mock not my senseless conjuration,” he pleads, as he commands spiders, nettles, and stones to turn against his enemies. While this strange and sudden turn to invoking the land’s agency at first seems out of character, Ricardo’s invocation continues his instrumentalizing view of the non-human as a mere resource he wishes to command in service of his own interests. His attempt to magically reaffirm his right to power in the land only proves he has not earned that kind of magic—or the land’s respect.

Meanwhile, as Bolingbroke’s return heralds a turning point in Richard’s fortunes, the natural world seems to be leading the changeover in political power, as though the land itself is pushing back against Richard’s environmental degradations. The scene returns to Bolingbroke as he is reunited with and reconciles with former allies, gathering a resistance force. As he journeys through these reunions, the characters move through an ecological transition zone, where the parched hillside he entered upon earlier meshes into a leafier, wooded area. This changing landscape leads the soon-to-come re-balancing of power, showing the regeneration and sustainable relations that Bolingbroke’s stewardship will bring anew.

Watch the video above, and join us again soon as this exciting series draws the play to its conclusion. To share your thoughts about this episode on Twitter, tag us at @ecocymbeline or use the hashtag #cymbelineanthropocene.