“Richard II” a Play by William Shakespeare Essay (Movie Review)

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: May 18th, 2020


Richard II is a Shakespeare’s play, which centers on the rise and fall of Richard II, the King of England. King Richard II ascends into the throne of England when still young, but lands himself into a sequence of troubles that lead to his fall and death. King Richards starts experiencing troubles when he intervenes in the conflict of inheritance between his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, and Thomas Mowbray. King Richard II exiles Henry Bolingbroke for ten years and later reduces the period of exile to six years, while Thomas Mowbray receives a complete exile. After exiling Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, King Richard II inherits a piece of land, which belongs to the father of Henry Bolingbroke, and thus acting as the heir.

When Henry Bolingbroke hears the news that King Richard II has inherited his piece of land, he plans to come from exile and recover it. Thus, the climax of the play, Richard II, is in the third scene in the third act, where Henry Bolingbroke dethrones King Richard II and takes over as King Henry IV. Hence, the movie review interprets the performances of Fiona Shaw and Ben Whishaw in the third scene in the third act, where they act as King Richard II in the play, Richard II.

Why Act Three, Scene Three

The third scene in the third act is a very important scene because it depicts the climax of Richard II. In the third scene, Richard II reaches climax because it portrays the fall of King Richard II from the throne and the ascension of Henry Bolingbroke into power as King Henry IV. King Richard II makes two major mistakes in his reign as a King of England. Firstly, King Richard II exiles his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, and inherits his land and thus creates enmity between him and his cousin. Secondly, King Richard II fails to govern his Kingdom with diligence.

The trouble of King Richard II also starts when he loses his ability to govern people due to wasteful spending on wars, cronies, and self-indulgence, which increase taxes and thus create a sense of displeasure among the people. When Henry Bolingbroke returns from the exile, he takes the advantage of the weaknesses of King Richard and mobilizes his troops to dethrone him while away from the palace. Therefore, the third scene is important to the whole play because it provides the climax of the conflict between King Richard II and his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who takes over the throne after overthrowing King Richard II.

Changes Made by Fiona Shaw and Ben Whishaw

Fiona Shaw makes significant changes to the original play in terms of cuts, insertions, and reorganizations to fit the changes in the roles that King Richard II performs in the play. The major change that is evident is the change of King Richard II from masculine to feminine gender. In the third scene, Fiona Shaw converses with Henry Bolingbroke as her cousin. The version of Fiona Shaw cuts masculine terms and inserts feminine terms as the conversations in the third scene requires. Fiona Shaw acts as queen in the play and all the texts that regard Richard II as a king become queen. Moreover, Fiona Shaw tells Henry Bolingbroke that she is too young to be her mother, yet in the original text, Richard II tells Henry Bolingbroke that he is too young to be his father. Such alterations in texts change the original texts of Richard II.

Concerning reorganization, the third scene is unique when compared to the original organization because of the stage performance. Burnett and Wray argue that Fiona Shaw performance has a traverse stage with the audience on either side (33). The stage performance contrasts that of the original performance, where the stage is on one side, while the audience is on the other side.

The play of Richard II with Ben Whishaw acting as King Richard II does not have significant changes when compared to the original play of Shakespeare. Since Ben Shaw is male actor, the gender of the King Richard II does not change, unlike in the case of Fiona Shaw. This implies that the text regarding gender does not change in the third scene of the play. Edmondson, Prescott, and Sullivan state that Ben Whishaw Richard II depicts a tough and rough King, who does not spare rebels in his kingdom. In this view, what Ben Whishaw adds to the play is sternness of a king (56). In the third scene, Ben Whishaw warns Henry Bolingbroke not to overthrow him because he would be inviting bloodshed and divine curse.

Thus, Ben Whishaw is stricter than King Richard II in the original play. The organization of the play is also different from the original one since the dressing code of Ben Whishaw and the cast give a new depiction of the original play (Edmondson, Prescott, and Sullivan 67). Hence, Ben Whishaw enhances the performance and themes that Richard II presents.

Effect of Changes on Performance and Notable Style Actors

The changes that Fiona Shaw and Ben Whishaw introduce affect the performance of the play. By introducing the queen in place of King Richard II, Fiona Shaw changes the view of gender in the play. The original play has men as actors, which gives the play a masculine view. In contrast, introduction of queen gives the play a feminine picture that changes the interaction between characters. The interaction between Fiona Shaw and Henry Bolingbroke offers gender balance and reflect a different social interaction (Burnett and Wray 25). Thus, as Fiona Shaw brings the aspect of gender into the play, it transforms the play and gives it the perspective of gender. Comparatively, Ben Whishaw brings in the aspects of toughness and roughness in the play. These aspects of his characters portray King Richard as a stern and strict king

The notable styles that both Fiona Shaw and Ben Whishaw employ in the play revolve around the themes that the play portrays. In the third scene, Fiona Shaw depicts femininity as an element of the play, which depicts women as powerful, trendy, and prone to make mistakes, just like King Richard II. Burnett and Wray assert that Fiona Shaw introduces an element of intimacy between two cousins, although Henry Bolingbroke eventually destroys his cousin (48).

In this view, the notable style of Fiona Shaw is a feminine approach to the experiences of King Richard II. The feminine approach, as a notable style, is exaggerated because it is extremely difficult for a female actor to act in place of a male actor. In contrast, the notable style of Ben Whishaw is the divine approach. Ben Whishaw presents himself as not only a mere King, but also as a divine being with imminence divine powers. In solicitude, after Henry Bolingbroke scares him, Ben Whishaw invokes divine powers and appears as a divine being with immense powers to overcome the threats that Henry Bolingbroke pose on his throne and life (Edmondson, Prescott, and Sullivan 237). Therefore, Ben Whishaw manages to depict frailty and hypocrisy of King Richard II in a bid to restore his power amidst defeat. The divine powers, which Ben Whishaw invoke and present, are emotive because they make him look helpless in the face of Henry Bolingbroke, who threatens his life and throne.

Nonverbal Elements

In the third scene, the cinematic view depicts both plays as interesting movies of the 16th century given the nature of environmental scene and clothing that the characters wear. The dominant aspect of the third scene in the third act is the scaring castle and prison, where Henry Bolingbroke and King Richard II meet. When King Richard II hears that Henry Bolingbroke wants to dethrone him, he runs away with some of his aides and hides in the castle.

Music, which accompanies his escape with aides, creates a somber mood and signifies the bad luck for King Richard II. After his arrest and imprisonment, King Richard II appears lonely in the prison while making a solemn prayer with hope that God would rescue him. Wild environment, where birds sing, portrays the solitude of King Richard II in prison (Edmondson, Prescott, and Sullivan 23). Moreover, the moods that characters depict in the scene show the helplessness of their situation since Henry Bolingbroke manages to take over the throne.

Effective Interpretation

Analysis of the two versions of Richard II shows that the version of Ben Whishaw is an effective interpretation of the play. Firstly, the version of Ben Whishaw does not have significant changes in terms of masculine nature of King Richard II, unlike the version of Fiona Shaw. Secondly, the version of Ben Whishaw does not have considerable changes in organization, cast, scene, and text. Thirdly, Ben Whishaw clearly depicts King Richard II as a religious king, who relies on the divine power.

Enhanced Understanding

Examination of the two versions of Richard II enhances understanding of the play because it broadens the interpretations and perspectives of viewing the play. The version of Fiona Shaw expands my understanding of the play because it brings to fore the essence of fashions and gender. Although King Richard II is a man, his indulgence on fashions contrasts his character and gender. Likewise, the version of Ben Whishaw explains why King Richard II likes fighting with his enemies quite often. Moreover, the version of Ben Whishaw emphasizes the essence of divine power in the play. Overall, these two versions enhance my understanding of the play, Richard II.


Richard II is an interesting play, which describes the fall of King Richard II and the rise of Henry IV. The fall of King Richard II happens because he fails to govern his people diligently by indulging in unnecessary pleasures. Moreover, King Richard II exiles his cousin and illegally inherits his land. Thus, when Henry Bolingbroke returns from exile, he dethrones and kills him. The interpretations of Richard II by Fiona Shaw and Ben Whishaw broaden the view of the play. As Fiona Shaw provides a feminine view of King Richard II, she adds intimacy as a theme of the play. Comparatively, Ben Whishaw gives a masculine view of the play and thus provides an effective interpretation of the original play. In this case, Ben Whishaw provides an effective interpretation of the play because it maintains masculine nature and presents divine belief of King Richard II.

Works Cited

Burnett, Mark, and Ramona Wray. Screening Shakespeare in the twenty-first century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. Print.

Edmondson, Paul, Paul Prescott, and Erin Sullivan. A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival, New York: A&C Black, 2013. Print.

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