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Ricardo II: Finale

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Mar 30, 2021 at 08:12 PM in Fringe Projects

Merced Shakespearefest's Ricardo II: A Bilingual Adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard II comes to a close with episode 12 "Rey de Fieras / King of Beasts." In stark contrast to the lush, green, outdoor settings that framed the play's political intrigues, the play ends on a backdrop of harsh concrete settings that eerily stand for the violence humans wreak against one another and their environments. 

The miniseries demonstrates the kingdom's descent from disturbed peace to treason and chaos by drastically shifting the setting in this final act. We have already discussed in previous episode recaps the differing land relations of Ricardo and John of Gaunt, as well as how the artificially manicured lawns Ricardo dwells in contrast the scorched wilderness he has left by mismanaging the kingdom's resources. The significance of these outdoor landscapes took a turn in episode 11, in which most scenes suddenly take place indoors to characterize the episode's focus political conflict in the the domestic sphere

In episode 12, nearly all the settings are bleak, shadowy, and claustrophobic concrete structures. The play's last gasp of greenery is visible in the opening scene, as Queen Isabella returns to bid farewell to her imprisoned husband before he is transported North to his permanent prison at Pomfret. Ricardo emerges from a building where he has been held by several guards, stripped of his formal clothing, hunched and shackled. He is allowed to briefly speak to Isabella in a garden, though he is not allowed either to veer from the concrete path or to embrace his wife as he implores her to flee to France, and think of him as dead. After delivering his "king of beasts" speech, Ricardo is separated from Isabella, and taken to his final prison.

The next scene opens with Ricardo sitting on the floor of a bare, concrete prison cell. The camera angle makes the space feel as though it is closing in on the deposed king. Soon, he is visited by a hooded and masked figure who identifies himself as a stable groom, and informs him that Henry Bolingbroke has taken ownership of Ricardo's favourite horses; Ricardo's jealous lamentations here throw the "king of beasts" speech into particular irony, as he is left without kin of any species. In a departure from the text, the stable groom is shown exiting the prison and revealing that it was indeed a disguised Bolingbroke, presumably assessing his prisoner's mental state in isolation. It is in this same claustrophobic, underground cell that Ricardo watches his killers arrive, and dies bitter and alone on the cold stone floor.

The final scene opens on Henry's court, again situated on the large concrete steps where he put Ricardo on trial; this area's harsh grey angles stand in contrast to Ricardo's former court in a white stone archway near an ornamentally treed garden. King Henry is devastated when Aumerio and Bushy bring him a wheelbarrow bearing, as with a prize quarry, the body of Ricardo. Feeling both enraged and deeply guilty of this crime, Henry pledges himself to a pilgrimage to repent that his ascent to power cost Ricardo's life. The final shot firmly places this play in the realm of tragedy: as Henry sits to weep on the lowest concrete step, Northumberland stands above him, looking triumphant--meanwhile, the camera continues to pan upward past more concrete, gesturing toward a sky that never becomes fully visible. 

Ricardo II is an accomplished new adaptation of Ricard II that makes itself accessible to both English- and Spanish-speaking audiences, with an online reach that makes it possible for audiences far beyond Merced, California to immerse themselves in this story.

The miniseries succeeds also as an ecocritical case study of outdoor theatre. The sudden shift in settings in the final episodes reminds us that even the lush, green settings of the earlier episodes were still man-made, being as they are parks, gardens, and planned green spaces. This reminds us to reflect upon the character's relationships to the land and how their political conflicts affect their environments, but also reminds audiences to reflect upon our own relations with power and ecology, especially in artificial or urban environments.  

To join our discussion of Ricardo II and to see what Merced Shakespearefest is planning next, tag us on Twitter or Instagram @ecocymbeline, and Merced Shakespearefest at @mercedshakes.