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Shakespeare is known for his remarkable plays and is often regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of his time as well as today. Enclosed in his anthology of historical plays, he referred to many historical documents to gather the information he needed. But in reality, Shakespeare dramatized many of these historical events, which also included the addition of certain fictitious events, scenes, and dialogues as well as the removal of certain historical accounts to add a greater dramatic effect for his audience. This can be seen explicitly in The Tragedy of King Richard the Second where he aims his sights on Richard’s negative aspects as well as providing a grandly compressed version of the events that unfolded during Richard’s downfall. Shakespeare highlights Bolingbroke and Mowbray’s feud all the while eliminating the events that provide a direct link to the reason behind their dispute, as well as changing Queen Isabel’s age, neglecting Aumerle’s true character and embellishing the crucial deposition scene. Altering these historical facts provides Shakespeare with the tools to broadcast an even more entrancing play for his audience.

Shakespeare in a variety of ways diverges from the real history that occurred during King Richard II’s rule, one of which begins with Shakespeare by putting the focal point on the last few years of his reign. The Tragedy of King Richard the Second begins with a dispute between Bolingbroke and Mowbray both of which accuse each other of treason. In Scene 1, Shakespeare focuses on this specific part of history for dramatic effect, one where the play has an exciting beginning and entices the audience. Indeed, during the battle between Mowbray and Bolingbroke, Richard stopped them before they could begin and instead stated that he would be deciding their fates. In reality Richard “conferred with the parliamentary committee for two hours” but “Shakespeare telescopes this conference into a bit of a pantomime covered by a long flourish’” (Saccio 25). It could be said that Shakespeare shortens this meeting to continue his storyline without a long and dull break, but it could also be said that he does this to provide a greater dramatized effect for his audience who is shocked by Richard’s abrupt actions. It is important to note that the quarrel between Mowbray and Bolingbroke “arose out of out of earlier conflicts to which Shakespeare alludes sparsely and unclearly” (Saccio 18). By unclearly acknowledging the past between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, Shakespeare leaves the audience to make their assumptions, with a certain mysterious edge provided to them.

By focusing on the negative aspects of Richard such as his extravagant nature and dishonest use of funds instead of his achievements, such as the pacification of Ireland (Saccio 22), Shakespeare paints him in an unflattering light where the audience longs for him to fall. The play also alludes to the death of the Duke of Gloucester with Richard being one of the lead suspects in his murder. Shakespeare only implies how Richard may have had a hand in the Duke’s death but does not talk about how Gloucester along with other senior Appellants consistently belittled Richard’s rule (Saccio 24), which certainly would have played a major role in Richard’s alleged instruction of the Duke’s murder. In reality, Richard was at the brunt of many treacheries (Saccio 30) but Shakespeare focuses on a Richard that is challenged by honorable opponents and depicts him in such a light that Bolingbroke looks like an innocent and a more worthy king. Shakespeare’s focus on the later years of Richard II’s reign when he lost his crown could allude to the fact that he wanted to create a play that would entrance his audience, where they could watch the fall of a royal as well as deem him as a fraud, automatically leaving them to seek his ruin.

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Shakespeare also changes several characters’ ages in the play one of the main ones being Queen Isabel. Historically, in 1396, Richard devised a truce with France by marrying the French king’s daughter Isabel when she was only seven years old. In The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Shakespeare diverges from this record and Isabel is made to be older than she was during that historical period. The main objective behind making Isabel older than she was falls purely on evocative entertainment for Shakespeare’s audience. During Act 5 Scene 1, Isabel and Richard meet on his way to prison, a scene that “is Shakespeare’s invention” (Chernaik 12), and the main “function of the scene, quite overtly, is to extort sympathetic tears from the audience” (Chernaik 112). If Shakespeare had not altered Isabel’s age, adding a crucial layer to the spectacle of this scene and this play, the effect would have not been the same, since it would correspond to a more father-daughter conversation rather than two adults in love. In changing Isabel’s age, Shakespeare uses it to his advantage and allows it to carry a deeper response in his viewers.

Equally as important, is the fact that Shakespeare changes The Duke of Aumerle’s character as well. In reality, after providing Richard with a “disastrous council” (Saccio 29) in the dismissal of his troops, Aumerle decided to join Bolingbroke. All the while Shakespeare makes Aumerle “a loyal friend trying to support Richard’s spirits and urging him to decisive action” (Saccio 30). Although Shakespeare makes Rutland out to be a kind and supportive friend to Richard, Shakespeare omits his betrayal (Saccio 34), first with his council on dismissing the southern troops in Wales and secondly going to Bolingbroke for a pardon after the Earl’s rebellion. Not to mention, Shakespeare transfers the chief dramatic authority to Aumerle’s mother where she states that the Duke of York could not bear to understand the pain he was putting her through since he had not been in labor with Aumerle (5.2.102). In Act 5 Scene 3, the Duchess of York comes to beg for Aumerle’s life at the feet of King Henry which “Shakespeare heightens – quite without warrant from history” (Saccio 34-35) where Aumerle’s mother in the play turns out to be his stepmother in reality. A relationship in which it would have been rare to find such profound love between a stepmother and stepson. By transforming Aumerle’s stepmother into his mother in the play, Shakespeare evokes an emotional response in his audience, by providing them with the emotional turmoil of witnessing a mother begging for her son’s life as if it were her own.

One of the play’s most pivotal scenes occurs in Act 4 where Richard is deposed in front of the parliament which “was thought so inflammatory that it was censored out of the earliest editions of Richard II” (Saccio 32) since it followed such an unhistorical path. The scene acts as the pinnacle of the play where Richard is acquiesced to hand over the crown to Henry and is virtually downgraded from royalty to a commoner. Shakespeare used this scene to provide the audience with another viewpoint on Richard, where for the first of the play they loathe him as the king who failed over his jurisdiction and now, they see him in an exceptionally vulnerable state. As soon as his crown is handed over, Richard is stripped of his identity and is left exposed, unadorned, and desolate. One of the main parts of this act revolves around the completely fabricated mirror scene where Richard stares at his reflection, and does not recognize what stares back at him, for he does not know who he is without his ornaments and in shattering the mirror, Shakespeare raises an interplay of sympathies (Chernaik 97) from the audience. By rewriting and adding to this crucial act, Shakespeare delivers an unforgettable and harrowing emotional experience for his audience.

Shakespeare, by centering his play in a compressed timeline set in the direct trajectory of Richard’s ruin, as well as encompassing all his negative attributes and eliminating key historical facts can portray Richard as an unworthy ruler. Shakespeare alters both Isabel’s age to gain an important romantic link between Richard and her as well as Aumerle’s character to provide a more dramatic and surprising turn of events for his viewers. Lastly, Shakespeare’s fabrication of the deposition scene provided a momentous emotional breakthrough for his audience. By reworking the historical elements of King Richard II’s undoing to his advantage, Shakespeare can provide his audience with a superior play leaving them to crave more.

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