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Ambiguities Answered in Derek Jacobi's Richard II Essay

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Ambiguities Answered in Derek Jacobi's Richard II

 
The plain text of a script does not live and breathe as a visual performance must. Both director and actors have to make choices in a production, to interpret and make clear the plot and purpose of the play. The Derek Jacobi Richard II uses the capabilities of film to remove many of the ambiguities that plague interpretation of that text. In doing so, it creates a passionate yet ineffective King Richard who, between his own insecurity and Northumberland's conniving, hurls the crown to the willing if uneasy Bullingbrook.

Richard's character becomes evident through costume, acting, and script choices. Throughout the play, Richard wears some of the lightest colors on stage -- his white robe at court in I.i, his sky-blue garments at the lists in I.iii, even a pure white robe as opposed to the off-white the "caterpillars" wear in the bathroom in I.iv. Even in the deposition sequence of IV.i, the brown robe Richard is clad in is still light, almost pastel. This wardrobe choice has two effects. The light colors draw visual attention to Richard, just as he continually tries to draw aural attention with his high-flown speeches. Yet the constant parade of pastels and watered-down shades also makes Richard look weak, particularly next to the more soberly-dressed court or the much darker-clad Bullingbrook and Northumberland. Richard's costume style reinforces the impression: in the white robe he seems to typically use for court occasions, the huge sleeves incapacitate his hands (obviously intended in the period as an emblem of leisure, but here also serving as an image of powerlessness) and the high collar forces his neck up, strengthening an appearance of arrogance and aloofness. ...


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...n the shoulder and thrusting the summary of charges at him, expressively rolling his eyes at the dethroned king's constant refusals, to his smug parting of Richard and his queen.

The Derek Jacobi production of Richard II provides its own answers to many of the ambiguities posed by the text alone. Richard is portrayed as an ineffective ruler ripe for overthrow, and Bullingbrook as a more capable man boosted to power by the scheming of the Machiavellian Northumberland. Many other interpretations are valid -- indeed, some of this production's choices were made easier by judicious cuts in the script -- but this production provides an entertaining, reasonable, and self-consistent interpretation of the welter of events surrounding the deposition of a king. And, in so doing, the production proves the almost limitless variety of theater, particularly of Shakespeare.



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