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Ricardo II: Episodes 7 & 8

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Feb 16, 2021 at 09:02 PM in Fringe Projects

Episodes 7 and 8 of Merced Shakespearefest's Ricardo II: A Bilingual Adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard II document the impetuous king's breakdown, leading to him reliquishing the throne to Henry Bolingbroke. 

Featuring some of the play's best-known monologues, Episode 7 "La Corona Hueca / The Hollow Crown" opens with the arrival of Bolinbroke and his army in the city streets of Merced. Capturing Bushy and Verde, two of Richard's closest allies and enablers, Henry reproaches their crimes. An additional line as he recounts their wrongs includes reference to the careless luxuries they have indulged in with the king: "drinking fancy teas, going to local theatre productions, sans masks, sans gloves, sans hand sanitizer; these and much more condemns you to death.” This line adds a chilling reminder of the risks this company has taken to create a theatrical series during a global pandemic, and deftly indicts the carelessness of public officials who have allowed the Covid-19 pandemic to run rampant in communities, while they themselves indulge in a privileged safety. 

The bulk of this episode, however, follows King Ricardo as his arrogant command dissolves into desperation. Pacing furiously near a pond framed with willows, the king rages against followers he suspects have abandoned him for Bolingbroke--only to learn the reason they are not by his side is they have already been executed. "Let’s talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs,” he says, becoming bitter as his rage flags into despair and grief. Followed by his concerned allies, Ricardo crumbles to the ground on a grassy hillside as he comes to term with his loss of both friends and power in the famous "hollow crown" speech.

Actor Alejandro Gutierrez delivers a masterful performance as the disgraced king in these two episodes. He transforms the haughty, buoyant ruler into a raging spectre, and finally, into a desperate man doubting everything he has known about his power and identity; all of this is delivered in both Spanish and English, with the actor's emotional intensity blending both languages seamlessly.

Episode 7 ends with Ricardo bitterly discharging his followers--"how can you say to me I am a king?”--then with a shot of the king standing silently beside an artificial fountain, gazing across the water at a wall of yellow and grey townhouses that obscure his horizon.

Episode 8 "El Fulgurante Faeton / The Glistering Phaethon" opens with a similarly solemn Ricardo taking refuge in Flint Castle, which is filmed as a stark, metallic-walled tower. When Bolingbroke's allies arrive, with Northumberland taunting the king, Ricardo oscillates again between vindictive threats of war, and finally, a deflated resignation to Bolingbroke's victory. 

Ricardo's final capitulation is illustrated in visual terms, both in the text and the blocking of these final scenes. Descending the spiral staircase inside the tower representing Flint Castle to surrender, Ricardo muses that he is descending to the "base court, where kings grow base, / To come at traitors' calls and do them grace. / In the base court? Come down? Down, court! / down, king!." The king has literally spiralled down out of control, and fallen from power. This contrasts even more starkly with his greeting to Bolingbroke, objecting to his cousin's kneeling before him: "up, cousin, up; your heart is up."

Episode 8 ends with a callback to the script's addition in Episode 7, in which Bolingbroke condemns Bushy and Verde for flouting pandemic protocols. In a gesture that shows the previously careless king's genuine capitulation, he and all of his attendants emerge from Flint Castle to meet Bolingbroke with their matching masks on properly. This subtle costuming cue signals a rare show of deference for this faction of characters, suggesting that Ricardo has not only given up his hold of the throne, but also the careless luxury with which he has endangered the nation. 

Stay tuned to our blog as we recap the final episodes of this exciting series, and for more details about two upcoming productions of Cymbeline by our collaborators in Merced and Melbourne!