A fancy note for the audiences who will be coming to Kentucky Shakespeare’s Richard II:
For all of the political goings-on in Shakespeare’s Histories, the thing to bear in mind while you’re needlessly stressing yourself out about who’s going by which title in this scene (and it is needless; don’t stress out) is that they’re really all family affairs, tales of fathers and sons and cousins and brothers (yes, predominantly men, though the women, sparse as their stage time may be, always seem to be the people most concerned about the cohesion of the family unit) doing rotten stuff to each other in the name of something that falls between Honor and Ambition, with sprinkles of Vengeance thrown in.
Richard II, for example, could easily be described as the story of a couple of brothers who have just lost another brother, probably killed at the command of their nephew, who just happens to be king. Or the story of two cousins, both with powerful fathers who never quite got to be in charge, metaphorically arm-wrestling over which of them gets to be in charge. Almost all the major players are closely related by blood or marriage. Here’s a simple Wikipedia family tree, drawn by Muriel Gottrop (all that Creative Commons stuff applies here).
And this one doesn’t even include all the many, many sons of Edward III. They were coming out his ears. Good standard policy for a king: one or two sons? Great. But it reaches a point where too many sons become a problem and people start waking up dead in the morning. But, as is noted by James Goldman’s Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter, “what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”
All of these sons of Edward III got up to all sorts of nonsense that Shakespeare mercifully leaves out and/or condenses (the less said about John of Gaunt’s attempts to claim a Spanish throne, the better), but the thrust of this particular play isn’t even the internecine family shenanigans so much as the question of who (if anyone) gets to decide whether the Heaven-Anointed King is rotten at his job, and if so, what can be done about it.
Now, Shakespeare’s audience would have probably known a fair amount about the main players in this story, in part because it was their nation’s history, in part because royals & rulers have been afforded celebrity status for centuries – The Queen Herself bets in the middle of this play that a pair of commoners she encounters will “talk of State: for everyone doth so/ Against a change” (the change in this case not being a good one for her…) – and in part because they didn’t live in our age of Television Renaissance and absent a new episode of Nashville waiting for them when they got home, they had to have something in their heads. So they had a basic familiarity with these powerful families in a way that we might, in a poorly combined analogy, have of the Kennedys and the Skywalkers.
A version of all the “Previously on…” information needed to make sense of Richard II would have been easy to acquire to folks in Elizabethan London since there was a popular not-by-Shakespeare play, often called Woodstock, that covered the events leading up to Shakespeare’s – namely, the sketchy death of Thomas Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, Richard’s uncle. It’s assumed that its popularity was one of the reasons Shakespeare even wrote his “sequel” to it. But we’re not doing that play (I’ve read it; it’s pretty lumpy). So this production will open with a prologue written/assembled for the occasion that will, one hopes,put forward all you need to know leading up to Act I Scene I.
Seeing a good production is, as is true of any play, always clearer than reading it, if for no other reason than you have faces and voices to put with the names. And lord knows the British aristocracy depicted in Shakespeare collected names/titles like characters in Russian novels. So this prologue is also a nice chance to say (though not so baldly), “See that guy? He’s the Duke of York. See her? Her husband just died and almost nobody’s happy about it.”
Here’s something else that might be handy: a map of England at around (just after) Richard’s time.
So if you’re wondering where he lands when we come back from intermission (and he comes back from Ireland), it’s just west of the E in WALES. Or where Bullingbrooke lands when he comes back from exile? Ravenspur is on the northeast coast, north of The Wash. Bristol isn’t terribly hard to find on here, and I’ll trust you to spot London on your own. There isn’t a terrible amount of fighting in the play (which is one of the big problems some of the other nobles have with Richard’s reign, really – the missed opportunity to gain money and land through fighting. Though being less war-prone would be seen as a strength to modern eyes. Except he manages to send soldiers off to Ireland, so, his hands aren’t that clean). So feel free to ignore the battlefields until next year when Henry IV née Bullingbrooke does a fair amount of sparring with…well, I won’t tell you until 2018.
All three shows in this summer’s season of Kentucky Shakespeare feature one of those little moments I love, which keep us (the show-makers) from getting too precious about ourselves. Shakespeare loves to throw these in, but they’re not always there and I’m glad we have one in each of this year’s scripts.
That is to say: cheap and easy metatheatre, not of the more obvious and showier Hamlet/Midsummer lay-within-a-play type but rather that kind where a character says in so many words, “Huh; it’s almost like you people are watching a play right now or something…” and the audience says, “Yup.” No litcrit treatises required, just a pleasant but trippy little flash of the Droste effect.
The techniques of actors are mentioned when the conspirators meet in Julius Caesar and Brutus admonishes them not to look all dark and guilty about this (“good! – I swear! – good!”) project they’re about to embark on, lest someone catch on too soon:
Let not our lookes put on our purposes,
But beare it as our Roman Actors do,
With untyr’d Spirits and formal Constancie,
“untyr’d” in this case playing with the obvious sense of “not tired” but also “undressed”, “not attired” (seeing as how the Frenchy word “costume” didn’t sneak across the Channel for another couple of hundred years and actors were still changing backstage in what they called a “tiring house”), which is gloriously tricky talk: don’t look guilty because a) that will blow the whole plan but also importantly b) what, when you strip everything away, do you have to look guilty about when our basic purpose is so gosh-darned pure? Oh, Brutus. Stoicism doesn’t mix well with your naïve grasp on human nature. Been there, pal.
But that’s less metatheatre than a useful simile. The fun bit comes right after the fun and difficult to stage stabby scene* when Cassius has the (purely genuine or meant to manipulate or both? Actor’s call) philosophical presence of mind to wonder:
How many Ages hence
Shall this our lofty Scene be acted over,
In State unborne, and Accents yet unknowne?
Brutus picks up the thought:
How many times shall Caesar bleed in Sport
That now…lye along,
No worthier than the dust?
And then Cassius chimes back in with one of the play’s many understatements of gross miscalculation:
So oft as that shall be,
So often shall the knot of us be called,
The Men that gave their Country liberty.
The path of that thought gives the audience a nice trajectory from “You called it, Cassius” to “Cool; we’re watching that happen right now” to “But guys, that whole spin doesn’t really play out for you in the long run” (or, if the audience knows the play, even the incredibly short run).
Richard II is all about pageantry and a king who lives for it, but he doesn’t speak in theatrical terms as often as you’d think. The real meta moment comes just after his super-fancy deposition scene with the broken mirror and the “Ay, no, no, I” business and all kinds of melodrama, Richard being a terrific part to tear a cat in** – and the next scene starts with Richard’s uncle York telling his wife the story of Henry IV’s triumphant ride amongst the people and the way-less-triumphant Richard’s similar ride after him:
As in a Theater, the eyes of Men,
After a well grac’d Actor leaves the Stage,
Are idlely bent on him that enters next,
Thinking his prattle to be tedious,
which manages both to compare the less-popular Richard with the triumphant Henry, but also compare the scattered and about-to-be-quite-comic (at last – this play is sparse on the levity) actor playing York with the impressiveness of the big Richard set piece that preceded this little scene of would-be domesticity and boots. I laugh every time in rehearsal, and the actor playing York isn’t particularly playing it up. It’s just unavoidable.
There’s little of this in Much Ado, since the scenes in which Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into romance are so inherently theatrical it’s scarcely worth mentioning in great detail. But just in case you were nodding off, at the end of the fooling of Benedick, Don Pedro mentions it anyway:
the sport will be, when they hold one an opinion of another’s dotage, and no such matter, that’s the Scene that I would see, which will be merely a dumb show…
“merely a dumb show” being an odd way to describe any scene between Beatrice and Benedick, who even for characters in Shakespeare are chatty (and prose-chatty at that which is harder to memorize than verse-chatty, believe you me). Perhaps he’s just thinking wishfully; perhaps, considering that the dumb show usually served as a prologue to the main action, that’s more what he’s going for. There are, as always, options.
As I said, I’m happy these little nuggets appear in each of the summer’s plays because I love to look for the little similarities in plays that weren’t chosen by that criteria. More connections will start popping up once we’re doing all three in rotation. They always do. Assuming there’s anything left of our minds to notice such things at that point…
*I’ll be Caska in ours and I’m looking forward to going in with the first poke, partially for Drama and partially because it’s only going to get harder to stage from there.
** that’s from Shakespeare…
Something that’s been discussed as we begin this multi-season Henriad enterprise at Kentucky Shakespeare, with casting and design that carry over from production to production and year to year until we’re done or it kills us (it’s hot out there), is how to…not change anything about the plays themselves, exactly, but how to convince people that they are certainly no harder (and perhaps much easier) to follow than, say, Game of Thrones.
And yet when you mention Shakespeare’s Histories to even a fairly well-read person, there’s that tendency to recoil, as if the word “history” has already made things sound homeworky and antiseptic. Often the person will be able to bob and weave effortlessly through the subtle complexities of House Lannister or the cultural reasons for dwarf/elf antagonism in Middle Earth, but as soon as the names aren’t made up, they go cold as any stone. Never underestimate the educational incentives that are Boobs’n’Dragons, I guess.
I need to be clear here that I’m casting no aspersions – this is more of a marketing perplexity. I’m an avid watcher of Game of Thrones, a still-avid reader of Tolkien (though there is a point at which I don’t need to read every published napkin he scribbled on, Christopher). I’m working my way through Rothfuss, too, though I’m enjoying it enough that I’m intentionally making it last.
That’s a good example, in fact: the Kingkiller Chronicles have a distinctive world with distinctive rules, but they are being told to you as if you already knew those rules, which you then pick up by context and gradual revelation. And people love it because the writing is good. I don’t think I’m being excessive when I say it would be easy to write the same sentence about the Histories.
I wonder if it would help people to know the plays are wildly inaccurate. Maybe not wildly, but certainly…condensed & made more legendary than factual. Partially because you’re on dangerous ground when you start attaching motives to people whose Houses are still walking the streets and patronizing theater companies and beheading people. Partially because speculation is more interesting, even within those boundaries. Partially because of the bit of wisdom from John Ford (the filmmaker, not the Jacobean playwright – though cf. Angela Carter’s “John Ford’s ‘ ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore’” which is a favorite of mine) regarding whether to print truth or legend (I’m betting both Fords would agree the latter).
In fairness, there are people you’re introduced to whose names you barely know and whose backstory you have to imagine, if you even care to; even a historian would have some trouble digging up useful information on some of the all-but-supernumeraries. But if you put this in a modern scenario, these would be the very characters making a living by making appearances at conventions populated by people who learn Klingon (and therefore can totally handle Elizabethan English). Signing autographs and obscure Kenner figures, taking photos with fans astounded to meet “one of the guys who drowns George, Duke of Clarence!!”
I’m trying to avoid bringing the Hollow Crown series into this so as to duck the inevitable flaming that would follow my true opinion, but suffice it to say that it is not the answer I’m looking for.
Anyway. I don’t have a conclusion to this ongoing process. I’m just musing as I type or vice versa. Fortunately, this is only Year One. We just have to convince audiences to see Richard II, which in this political climate should be a cinch.
Because the scripts are finished at last.
I mean, they’re not printed or hole-punched or anything; that’s not my department.
But all the punctuation is bolded so as to be unavoidable and therefore dealt with. Period spelling is retained except where it was guaranteed to cause more harm than help. Judicious trimming has been done out of respect for our airplane-, siren-, darkness-, beersale-heavy urban surroundings, as well as the basic health of a group of actors who will have to do all three shows consecutively one afternoon/night in July (the racist parts are gone too – “Ethiope” hasn’t aged well, Mr. S.). Every expurgated “God” has been reinstated where the Folio was legally forced put “Heaven” in Richard II. Tiny histories of the individuals Shakespeare adhered to the biographies of when it was dramatically expedient. Every i dotted, and in some cases turned into a j.
And, this year, notes. So many notes. Notes that shouldn’t be overwhelming to have on hand, but were a little overwhelming to compile. Notes that I hope no one takes as insulting because you never know what words a person has come across or never had to say aloud or what a definition or paraphrase for clarity is going to trigger when learning lines and seeking to grok the situations in which the lines are spoken. And some are just thoughts about the bigger WTF moments: the “Leonato had a silent wife?” (solution: cut); the “who the hell is Woodstock, exactly” issue hanging over our heads (solution: prologue); and that whole thing with Portia’s “voluntary wound” in the thigh (solution: hope for the best).
Plus a few of those fancy “circles” from Ben & David Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words book/site. I love those.
Which all means I can at last stop poring over every single line in three plays and start working on just those for which I’m responsible, lest I be embarrassingly bad on stage.
Always a concern. And if you’ve seen me on stage, a legitimate one.
gif by EditingAndLayout
I didn’t sit down to write this because of International Women’s Day or the attached Day Without a Woman, but it’s at the very least standing in the corner of this post, arms crossed, tapping its toe.
I’ve finally hit roughly the midpoint of annotating Richard II for this summer’s Kentucky Shakespeare production. This one is a little denser than some, probably because of it’s being 100% verse and all. We’re up to the Gardener Scene.
But it’s not really his scene – it’s also the closest thing to a tiny almost-Bechdel moment we have, and even it’s a definite almost-. It opens with two Ladies and the Queen.
Now, there are those who call her Isabel because that’s who Richard was married to in 1399, but the stage directions only ever call her “Queene”.
You see, Isabel was his second wife, about ten years old at the time. (Before you get creeped out, I should note that Richard, in his early thirties, married her to secure a peace with France. Still sketchy to us, but in the 1390s, not particularly shocking.) His relationship with his late first wife, Anne of Bohemia, was famously (in Holinshed, at least, as well as Woodstock, the anonymous play to which this one is a sort-of sequel) happy and romantic and devoted and such. At least so it is said.
This is why I’m resistant calling her Isabel. A lot of characters and places and time-spans are conflated in the Shakespeare’s histories. What’s one more?
Anyway, the Queen is a lovely role, but is unsurprisingly tiny – her husband has 758 lines, she has about 115. But pound for pound, she holds her own.
I should admit to a professional sexism here: it’s my job to trim these plays judiciously for our summer seasons, but in the interests of parity when paring, the men often get sliced without mercy and if possible I don’t touch the women’s lines at all. I don’t know that that’s a uniformly good thing (I’m still worried that leaving Hermione almost entirely intact last year despite everyone else’s trims gave her more social power than she evidently had and skewed a play that already literally idolized her, but I’m going to screw this up one way or another so it might as well be that way). But there it is.
So this summer we’ll be hearing from the Queen(e) and attendant Ladies about bowling and whatnot because dammit they barely have a scene, let’s let them have their whole scene. III iv is already so concise that to cut the distractions her waiting-gentlewomen attempt before she gives in (well, again, almost-) to grief would be lumpy anyway.
So, bowling, dancing, singing, grief:
Lady: Madame, I’ll sing.
Queene: ‘Tis well that thou hast cause:
But thou should’st please me better, would’st thou weepe.
Lady: I could weepe, Madame, would it doe you good.
Queene: And I could sing, would weeping doe me good,
And never borrow any Teare of thee.
(See? Lovely.) And then Men approach. A Gardener and his two assistants. And out rang the lines that like so much of this play resonated as if sung by the Heavenly Choir of Weighty Current Events. For our Queen sayeth:
But stay, here comes the Gardiners,
(alright not that line so much; wait for it)
Let’s step into the shadow of these Trees.
My wretchednesse, unto a Rowe of Pins,
(a little obscure, but I love this: roughly translates as “I’ll bet my sorry state against a row of (proverbially worthless) sewing pins”)
They’le talke of State:
(of COURSE she wants to hide in the trees – no sane person really looks forward to talking politics with strangers, internet be damned.)
for every one doth so,
Against a Change;
(again, she hits it on the head: the day’s big story is the day’s big story and it takes some skill to distract people from it coughcough. Then comes the kicker.)
Woe is fore-runne with Woe.
Now, I was peeking through the Arden edition’s notes, usually reliable and always plentiful, and it suggests this could be restated “Gloomy happenings (in politics) are heralded by gloomy predictions.” Which works in a way, I suppose, but seems so specific, especially when coming from a person who has been discussing her reasons for woefulness just before. And, yes, she’s queen, so her woes will always have politics attached to them, but they’ll always be personal, too.
It’s that “fore-runne” that does it for me. “When it rains, it pours” is all very well, but the image of one Woe running in front of another, either as herald to something worse or just because these Woes of hers are racing and one is a bit faster than the other (the OED backs up both of these options) is a far piece stronger than any handy clichés. The Queen can talk, is what I’m saying, and talk well.
So while absolutely nothing happens in this scene that is essential to the plot, you’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.*
Enough ravings. On to Act Four.
*no one has for a moment suggested I should cut any of the scene; whether this is because all right-thinking people agree or they fear the twitchy eye I might get from it is anybody’s guess.
Still hard at work on trimming and annotating Richard II today, and for some reason (which though well known to me, I yet will gag), rang louder today than when last I read it.
At the top of Act Two, a dying John of Gaunt is talking to his brother Ed (let’s call him York) about hopes that the uncounselable Richard will at least listen to a dying man’s advice. Or, In Gaunt’s words:
Though Richard my lives counsell would not heare,
My death’s sad tale, may yet undeafe his eare.
To which his brother responds (ellipses, emphases, and a bit of clarifying punctuation are mine):
No, it is stopt with other flatt’ring sounds
As praises, of whose taste th’unwise are fond…
Where doth the world thrust forth a vanity
(So it be new, there’s no respect how vile)
That is not quickly buz’d into his eares?
That all too late comes Counsell to be heard,
Where Will doth mutiny with Wit’s regard:
Direct not him, whose way himselfe will choose,
Tis breath thou lackst, and that breath wilt thou lose.
One chunk of this that stood out to me could roughly be restated as, “When any novelty is so distracting to him, can well-reasoned & perspective-considering advice ever come fast enough to be heard by ears where stubbornness rebels against sense?”
Just sittin’ here, readin’ Shakespeare, tryin’ to avoid the news. Good day, all.
A couple of weeks ago, I taught this Shakespeare workshop – co-taught, really, but the other honcho was focused on audition skills and my area was verse and especially picking meaning out of the Folio – and I have to say, despite my dismal history as an instructor (I can count on Harold Lloyd’s right hand the times I’ve really enjoyed it or felt like I should be the one doing it), I had a ball. The opportunity to geek out with a group of people who asked for it is a pleasure.
I remembered only after the fact why I brought up the idea of this workshop in the first place, or at least what made the nickel drop and remind me that I feel strongly about contributing to this particular kind of conversation with actors: one line.
Not even a line. A turnaround between two lines of verse. There’s this moment in Act III, Scene iii, around the middle of Richard II where Bullingbrooke is about to show off the size of his not-quite-yet-rebelling forces to Richard, who is above peeking out a castle window. Bullingbrooke ponders how their impending parley might go.
Me thinkes King Richard and my selfe should meet
With no lesse terror then the Elements
Of Fire and Water…
Then a whole scientifically dubious thing about how fire and water make lightning which isn’t important to this discussion. Then:
Be he the fire, Ile be the yeelding Water;
The Rage be his, while on the Earth I raine
My Waters on the Earth, and not on him.
Now, were this not in verse (and Richard II is written entirely in verse, which is uncommon for Shakespeare), that phrase would read:
The Rage be his, while on the Earth I raine my Waters on the Earth, and not on him.
Sure, fine. But it is in verse, and the line break is there, and it is dancing on the edge of treason. Spelling is dicey enough in this era, but pronunciation here is important.
The Rage be his, while on the Earth I raine…
…a pause, pregnant, or playful, or threatening – does he mean “reign”? Because this speech is full of tricky stuff to talk about right here with Richard the Still Actual King nearby. Not to mention that even if the listener hears the less threatening “rain”, Bullingbrooke has said seconds before that if Richard will un-banish him and give him back the inheritance that was absconded with to help pay for an Irish campaign, he’ll say thank you and move on:
If not, Ile use th’advantage of my Power,
And lay the Summers dust with showers of blood,
Rayn’d from the wounds of slaughter’d Englishmen;
There’s about a fifteen line distance between that equating of rain with battle-shed blood and the next use of the word. So again, even if Bullingbrooke means “rain” and not “reign”, it’s dancing on the border of Ain’t Good. Where was he? Ah, yes:
The Rage be his, while on the Earth I raine […tick tock tick tock…]
My Waters […why? What did you think I meant?] on the Earth, and not on him.
And yes, I have spent all this precious time on a homophone that anyone can see and hear easily. But it’s the one I remember reading and thinking that if the actor doesn’t deal with the verse as it is and just reads the sentence, well…in this instance, the character and the moment change significantly. Not the hinge of an entire play, not some revelation of Whodunnit or Why, but still a moment that ought to be attended to.
I didn’t bring this example up in the workshop, but plenty of other things came up, so all is well. My next devious plan is to try to put together a similar workshop for non-actors, meant for those who would like to read this stuff in the convenience of home but can’t because it makes for dreadful reading…unless…
Must go dig out the extra-large thermos. The debate is settled, the sweaters are out, and in the morning, bright and early (though not so early as it could be thanks to the outmoded but welcome tweaks of Daylight Savings), I’ll be teaching a Dealing with Verse in Shakespeare workshop to a bunch of unsuspecting actors. I’m looking forward to it, in part because I love the opportunity to practice my brand of geek evangelism. But like all evangelists, I’ll be in danger of crossing over into zealot territory, try as I might to rein it in.
I am in many ways a terrible, cruel, unfeeling person when it comes to The Good Of The Show; my concern for the emotions and often the needs of others and self almost always comes after TGOTS (or what I diagnose as falling into that category) which sits poorly with my non-confrontational tendencies and my deeply held but spottily obeyed belief that nothing is so important as to really freak out about it. One of these days I’ll figure out how to surf the balance between wielding a Buddhist’s calm and a nun’s knuckle ruler. Probably. Maybe. Back to Stoppard:
Guildenstern: Do I contradict myself?
Rosencrantz: I can’t remember.
It happens onstage sometimes, this balance, but less frequently off it. Which is why actors behave the way they do offstage, I expect (insert cocktail emoji), as well as why Chazz Palminteri shot Jennifer Tilly, though I’ve never taken it that far except in my mind. At least once a production, but still.
But since I’ve been digging through Richard II, living with my contradictions is a little less tricky…
…For no thought is contented. The better sort,
As thoughts of things Divine, are intermixt
With scruples, and do set the word it selfe
Against the word, as thus: ‘Come litle ones’: & then again,
‘It is as hard to come, as for a Camell
To thred the posterne of a Needle’s eye’.
Except that’s not what the Folio says, now that I think of it, what with the “Don’t Say The Name of Our Lord Or Anything Too Sacrilegious On Stage You Repulsive Little Actors” Puritan Bullshit Act of 1606 making it illegal to say “the word” in the context of “Bible stuff”. No, unlike the 1597 Quarto, the 1623 Folio says, with my emphasis,
…and do set the Faith it selfe
Against the Faith: as thus: Come litle ones…
Which someone felt was better (?). Odd that what may be the two most famous lines from Richard II, this and “For [God’s? Heaven’s?] sake let us sit upon the ground…”, are both affected by this.
Also the punctuation’s a little different, as if to remind me to go lightly on the Folio Zealotry mentioned above since the Folio is every bit as inconsistent as the Bible Richard of Bordeaux is musing on about.
Also, Shakespeare’s use of antithesis will figure into the workshop prominently, so the old actor chestnut of setting the word itself against the word is every bit as likely to come up as suiting the action to the word, the word to the action, so .
Also Richard is murderèd about five minutes later, assuming the pace of the Visiting Groom section doesn’t get too melodramatic. So maybe I’m taking the wrong lesson away from here altogether.
Now, where is that thermos?
Spending a calm day off working on making a Folio edition of Richard II readable by a sane person who doesn’t spend time buried in such details, I’m thinking about the coming Kentucky Shakespeare season, which is at least two-thirds (counting Julius Caesar) about the inevitable violence and crumbling of trust that historically follows a non-peaceful transfer of power. But these are 400-year-old plays and in no way topical. In no way.
Anyway, there’s this line (quoted above) in what’s often called The Deposition Scene or The Abdication Scene or the like. It’s a scene that was illegal during the life of Elizabeth I. When Richard II was first printed in 1597 and 1598 (it was popular enough that it went through three Quarto editions in two years), this scene was not included. We know it was performed at least once illegally, because the acting company was fined for doing so…after being hired to do the uncut version for the Earl of Essex (you know: Errol Flynn) the day before his rebellion against QE.
(There was once a foolish time when even tangential or metaphorical talk about subjects a ruler didn’t want talked about was met with financial reprisals and legal threats. Again, 400-year-old plays. In no way topical. In no way.)
Now after Elizabeth’s death, when James popped down and was just teeming with heirs (more of them than he ever acknowledged, really), this whole succession deal was less of an issue, so the next edition printed the Scene In Question, so we have what we believe to be a more or less intact version of the play now.
In that scene is a lovely weird little moment that can go a couple of ways, both of which work and play well in performance but give you some idea of the trickiness of making decisions while figuring out an edition of one of these scripts. Bullingbroke (who will – spoiler – be King Henry IV in a couple of pages) asks the barely-still-King Richard II:
Are you contented to resigne the Crowne?
and Richard, in the Folio, responds:
I, no; no, I: for I must nothing bee:
Therefore no, no, for I resigne to thee.
It’s important to know that a capital I in the Folio can be either the usual first person singular or, context clues considered, be an affirmative “Ay”. Sometimes it’s tricky to tell which one it should be. So is it “Ay, no; no, ay” – simple unwillingness/inability to make a stand? Is it the earliest recorded example of modern parlance’s eminently meme-able “Yeah, no” and “No, yeah”? Is it the always-in-his-head Richard’s inability to deal with this last chance moment without niggling wordplay? He’s certainly pretty saucy about it in the rest of the scene.
As the line continues, it’s worth remembering that Elizabethans probably pronounced “nothing” with the long o as if it were the two words “no thing”. So we have the option “Ay, no; (blinks; realizes he’s said something that sounds odd and paradoxical) no ‘I’ – for ‘I’, that thing which is ‘me’ and sounds like an affirmative must without the crown be no thing at all – therefore no ‘no’ for I –meaning ‘ay’, or actually just kidding with that slight pause, I really meant ‘I’ – resign to thee.
I’m not even going to try to explicate all the other possible permutations of how this works, of what it could mean, of how the interplay of the four I/ays and the five no/knows (I didn’t even begin to get into the possibilities of those two – “I know no ‘I’”). It would be exhausting to read and would be dependent upon sound and tiny pauses for emphasis and all kinds of things that don’t work in writing. It’s a booger of a couplet to make happen right, but not so difficult that different Richards can’t make different options of meaning work for them. Let it suffice that I’ve warned you before this stuff has to be at least read aloud if not fully performed/heard.
My choice for this particular bit of the editing process will be to write a blog post about it to clarify my thoughts (check), leave it as it is in the Folio, and wait for the role of Richard to be cast so this can be unpacked in conversation with a single human actor out loud. As it should be.
Myself, I firmly believe lines like this are designed by Shakespeare to make the audience just a little less sad when Richard dies. I know. No. Ay.