The historical play Richard the Second, by William Shakespeare, was written sometime around 1595. It is based on Raphael Holinshed‘s Chronicles. The play focuses on the the last two years of the life of King Richard II of England, 1398-1400, especially the conflict between Richard and Henry Bolingbroke (later King Henry IV) over the kingship. A synopsis is given by Sir Paul Harvey, from The Oxford Companion to English Literature:
It deals with the arbitrary exile of Henry Bolingbroke and the duke of Norfolk by King Richard, the death of John the Gaunt and the confiscation of his property by the king; the invasion of England by Bolingbroke during the king’s absence in Ireland, the king’s return ad withdrawal to Flint Castle; his surrender to Bolingbroke; the latter’s triumphal progress through London with Richard in his train; Richard’s removal to Pomfret and his murder.
Richard II is written entirely in verse, one of only four from Shakespeare that contains no prose. Shakespeare presents Richard as analytical, talking in rich language, full of symbolism and metaphors. Walter Pater, in “Appreciations” (MacMillan, 1889), as copied in the preface to the play (in the prospectus), says:
What a garden of words! With him, blank verse, infinitely graceful, deliberate, musical in inflection, becomes indeed a true “verse royal”…
A “garden of words” is a good description, as Richard certainly speaks in flowery language throughout. While he can occasionally say something short, lively and with wit, such as the following…
Give Richard leave to live till Richard die!
…he often speaks in beautiful, thoughtful, symbolistic and elaborate language such as:
No matter where; of comfort no man speake:
Let’s talk of Graves, or Wormes, and Epitaphs,
Make Dust our Paper, and with Raynie eyes
Write Sorrow on the Bosome of the Earth.
Let’s chuse Executors, and talke of Wills:
And yet not so; for what can we bequeath,
Save our deposited bodies to the ground?
Richard’s contemplation of his martyrdom and his impending doom provides the mass of the play.
And my large Kingdome, for a little Grave,
A little little Grave, an obscure Grave.
Or Ile be buried in the Kings high-way,
Some way of common Trade, where Subjects feet
May howrely trample on their Soveraignes Head:
For on my heart they tread now, whilest I live;
And buried once, why not upon my Head?
Make me, that nothing have, with nothing grieved
And thou with all pleas’d, that hast all achieved.
Long may’st thou live in Richards Seat to sit,
And soon lye Richard in an Earthie Pit.
God save King Harry, un-king’d Richard sayes,
And send him many yeeres of Sunne-shine dayes.
What more remaines?
The Love of wicked men converts to Feare;
That Feare, to Hate; and Hate turnes one, or both,
To worthy Danger, and deserved Death.
Lastly, Richard tells us what we all would do well to keep in the front of our minds:
I wasted Time, and now doth Time wasted me
The play is more singularly focused than most, highlighting the duality of Richard the man and Richard the king as his life approaches an end. Pater praises the play:
Richard the Second does, like a musical composition, possess a certain concentration of all its parts, a simple continuity, an evenness in execution…dramatic form approaches to something like the unity of a lyrical ballad, lyric, a song, a single strain of music.
This edition of Richard the Second is part of the marvelous 1939/1940 thirty seven volume The Plays of William Shakespeare by the Limited Editions Club (LEC), which was designed by the great Bruce Rogers. Like all editions in this set, it uses the text of the First Folio, with Quarto insertions, edited and amended where obscure by Herbert Farjeon. The type is an 18 point close facsimile of Janson, made by the Lanston Monotype Company, with the italic used being a creation of the Monotype Company since Bruce Rogers did not like the Janson 18 point italic; italic small capitals were made by re-cutting the Italic capitals of the Monotype Garamond Bold in a special size and with slight alterations of a few of the characters with a close new type face. It is bound with gilt tops and uncut edges in backs of American linen, with the titles stamped in gold on the spine. The cover design is based on a decorative wall design in a house that that Shakespeare was thought to have stayed at frequently.
A different artist was used for each of the 37 volumes in this set. Richard the Second was illustrated by the great Scotch artist Agnes Miller Parker. Miller Parker (1895-1980) was a Scottish painter, illustrator and celebrated wood-engraver. She was born in Irvine and from 1911-1917 attended the Glasgow School of Art where she met the art critic and painter William McCance who she married in 1918. McCance and Miller Parker lived in Chiswick in the twenties and were near neighbours of Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-Stanton with whom they became close friends. Agnes Miller Parker provided wood-engravings for many beautiful books from the LEC, including the ‘Thomas Hardy‘ volumes as well as the 1967 Poems of William Shakespeare. Three of her best works of illustration are unquestionably Thomas Gray‘s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, published by the LEC in 1938, and two magnificent volumes she illustrated for Gregynog, The Fables of Esope in 1931 and XXI Welsh Gypsy Folk-Tales in 1933.
In the prospectus that accompanied this volume, Miller Parker discusses her approach to illustrations, saying:
The illustrator , then, must not try to compete with the producer or actor. Nor must he (in my case, she) interfere too much with the reader’s freedom to react to the words by creating a picture which will destroy the reader’s secret joy of creating his own mind pictures.
As for her work for this edition, she goes on to say:
I would be quite content if I could produce a parallel piece of craftsmanship….I would be competing, neither with Shakespeare, nor with the conception of the qualified producer, nor the interpretation of the actor, nor with the images and associations of the reader.
She accomplished this well, the pictures contributing to a somber and foreboding mood which complements the play.
About the Edition
- Part of the 1939/1940 thirty seven volume The Plays of William Shakespeare by the Limited Editions Club
- Designed by Bruce Rogers
- Text of the First Folio, with Quarto insertions, edited and amended where obscure by Herbert Farjeon
- Illustrations are wood-engravings by Agnes Miller-Parker
- Note concerning the play (in the prospectus) by Sir Paul Harvey, from The Oxford Companion to English Literature
- Preface to the play (in the prospectus) by Walter Pater, from “Appreciations” (MacMillan, 1889)
- Printed at the Press of A. Colish in New York
- Type is an 18 point close facsimile of Janson, made by the Lanston Monotype Company, with the italic used being a creation of the Monotype Company since Rogers did not like the Janson 18 point italic; italic small capitals were made by re-cutting the Italic capitals of the Monotype Garamond Bold in a special size and with slight alterations of a few of the characters with a close new type face
- New paper created for this edition by the Worthy Paper Company of Springfield
- The binding was done by Russell-Rutter Company in New York
- Bound with gilt tops and uncut edges in backs of American linen, with the titles stamped in gold on the spine
- Cover design based on a decoration wall design in a house that that Shakespeare was thought to have stayed at frequently (a friend of his)
- 8 3/4″ x 13″, 98 pages
- Limited to 1950 copies
Pictures of the Edition
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