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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Oil Paintings on Shakespearean Themes

#118 "KING RICHARD II"
Description of Painting - Oil on canvas 18" x 28"
by Hannah Tompkins

 

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Richard, the only son of the Black Prince, was castle-born and bred in France. At age 10 he was crowned king of England and married at 15 though he sired no heirs. He considered his royal state as immutable and kept a lavish court.

To maintain this extravagance he confiscated lordly estates including that of Duke of Lancaster, on his death. When he learns that Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke's son and heir is returning from banishment with an army to claim his inheritance and title, Richard flippantly dismisses the threat with:
"Not all the water in the rough, rude sea
Can wash the balm off from an anointed king:
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the lord."     (III.ii.)
But when the threat is realized in Bolingbroke's successful coup, Richard surrenders without a fight and grovels for pity:
"And nothing can we call our own but death...
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings,
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court.."     ( III.ii.)
But it does not go down easily. For 22 years he played with that power and with mens' lives, and to suddenly give it all up is for him a painful grief:
"Oh, that I could forget what I have been
Or not remember what I must be now."    ( III.ii.)
From an opulent court peppered with flatterers he goes to a solitary cell, alone and forgotten.
Thus he is seen in the painting, sitting on the ground, in a fetal posture in a very narrow cell with a very narrow window. He has symbolically spilled the water of his life, never growing to the stature of a man to even sit upon a stool no less a throne.

For without the crown and robes he is nothing, and the tiny candle by his side offers little illumination for self-introspection. He mollifies his grief with massive doses of self-pity. That's all he has left.. a once self-indulgent monarch who could not even rule his own soul.

FIN


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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