Drama in the Eye of the Beholder





Drama in the Eye of the Beholder
Performance of plays can take various shapes depending on the director’s perspective of the text, the key element, within the framework of the play. In addition text can be interpreted different ways, regarding directing technique, such as style and action choices, and scenery decisions. These factors contribute to the overall result of the performance containing either conventional elements or having a contemporary twist. Examples of the two perspectives could include costume selection or incorporating bizarre props into the performance. Throughout Shakespeare’s writing career, no play has been transformed more than the historical plays of King Richard. Richard the II and Richard III over the years have been performed either the time-honored way or containing modern elements relating to the style, action, and visual aspects chosen. These revisions to the classic renewed the audience’s sense that art does come in many shapes and forms. Specifically, during the late 19th century, director Frank Benson and Triple Action Theatre have concentrated on the aforementioned modern adaptations regarding structure and costume/scenery of the performance.
Richard the II has been a central play to analyze and revise due to the continuous debate of King Richard’s personality. The debate revolves around the difference in King Richard’s public versus private self, whether he was as powerful as he appeared on the throne compared to behind curtains. Margaret Shewring, author of Shakespeare in Performance: Richard the II

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emphasized this point by saying, “Although it was not until the mid to late nineteenth century that the personality of the King… of the actor playing the King- was allowed to dominate the stage” (63). Many directors and theatre companies delight in this debate for it allows them to take their imagination and rework the play to their liking, or view on the debate. Benson was one of these directors who decided to take Richard the II and structure it to his perspective of the play and King Richard’s personae. Benson liked to play with the idea of imagery and “made use of the full range of performance languages, ensuring that costume, too, contributed to his portrayal” (65).
Performance language can also be related to the actual action of the play. Directors like Benson, decided to add little quirks to the characters to give them their unique feel. For instance, the famous scene where King Richard and Bolingbroke interact in the Westminster Hall, “After crowning Bolingbroke, he proceeds to examine himself in the glass and in doing so… ascends the steps to the vacant throne… suddenly remembers himself with a short laugh… (66). This is further evidence of a director putting his own twist on the original version. For in the original King Richard the II, he seems to give up the crown and realize his defeat. This is shown in lines 289- 302 of Act 4.1 where after throwing the mirror down, King Richard says, “For there it is, cracked in a hundred shivers. Mark, silent king, the moral of this sport: How soon my sorrow hath destroyed my face.” This line compared to Benson’s directions seems to contradict the other completely. For with the former version, Benson seems to be saying that King Richard doesn’t believe he has been beaten, reluctantly giving up the crown whereas the latter version suggests

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that King Richard knew all along and was realized it was his time of dissension. Shewring comments on the interpretation of Benson’ King Richard as “a poet flowering in the face of
harsh reality” (68). This proves the point that directors when adapting do just that, interpret the original differently.
Along with performance interpretation is the aspect of costume choice, which includes various props, further demonstrating Benson’s viewpoint. Shewring gave her perspective on Benson’s costume choice of King Richard’s extravagant furred lime- green robe as a sign of “the King’s concern with his own splendid self-image…” (66). Another example is that many of the royal men within Benson’s production such as Mowbray and Bolingbroke held colorful family coat of arms and banners. “Mowbray’s surcoat and banner had embroidered on them the white lions rampant while Bolingbroke’s had a swan” (64). This unusual use of animal depiction could convey to the audience that Benson perceives Bolingbroke as a