“Breath of Kings”: Political and Theatrical Power in Richard II


  • Elena Pellone Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham
  • David Schalkwyk Queen Mary University of London and University of Warwick




This essay challenges the way in which Richard II has been perceived and portrayed in recent films and theatrical adaptations and in literary criticism since Coleridge. It bases its research on experimental productions by Anərkē Shakespeare, using original practice techniques without a director, relying solely on the text rather than external conceptual impositions. Scrutinising Richard’s language as both an embodiment of performance, and embodied in performance, obviates received caricatures of Richard as weak, effeminate, gay, and capricious. It uses J.L. Austin’s analysis of perlocutionary and illocutionary performatives to show the degree to which Richard’s illocutionary fragility, as he loses political power at a local level, develops a perlocutionary strength in which he demonstrates unexpected performative capacities. It argues that political power and theatrical power in the play are inversely proportional to each other. Consequently, as Richard gains theatrical power he achieves a far greater political force beyond the confines of the play. In the only soliloquy, Richard appeals directly to a universal need to accept our common state of nothingness: “whate’er I be, / Nor I nor any man that but man is / With nothing shall be pleased till he be eased / With being nothing”. Revealing only then that we can be something.

Author Biography

David Schalkwyk, Queen Mary University of London and University of Warwick

Academic Director, Global ShakespeareSchool of English and DramaQueen Mary University of London






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