The Deposition That Is

Yesterday, we introduced Act Four, Scene One of Richard the Second, and its discussion of the succession from Richard to Bolingbroke. We also mentioned that the scene seems to jump about 160 lines, and I implied that not only did I skip those lines in my explication but so did Shakespeare. Here’s what I mean…

Those lines do not appear in the First Quarto printing of 1597, as well as the subsequent Quartos of 1598, 1608, and 1615. In fact, the lines did not appear in print until after Shakespeare’s death (1616), in the 1623 First Folio printing. But it’s not as if the lines hadn’t appeared in the play on stage (critical opinion is that they did).

So what’s in those missing lines?

The actual “deposing” of King Richard the Second. Bolingbroke orders, “Fetch hither Richard, that in common view // He may surrender” (IV.i.155-156). Richard arrives to wonder why he is called by a king “before (Richard has) shook off the regal thoughts // Wherewith (he) reigned” (IV.i.163-164). Richard understands there is a new king, but he hasn’t stopped thinking like one himself. When York asks Richard to do what he had offered, resign the throne, Richard demands that Bolingbroke “seize the crown” (IV.i.181).

Bolingbroke continues to ask that Richard “resign the crown” (IV.i.200), to which Richard answers, “Ay, no; no, ay; for I must nothing be; // Therefore no no, for I resign to thee” (IV.i.201-202). Of course, what’s interesting here is the use of sound: while the line can be visually read as written, the words SOUND like, “I, no. No I…” It’s not just a self-debate, it’s a refusal, especially as Richard believes that the end of his reign means the end of his life: “soon lie Richard in an earthy pit” (IV.i.219).

After he demands a mirror be brought, and into it he ponders what has happened to himself and his life, Richard dashes the mirror and finally calls Bolingbroke “king” (IV.i.299). Richard then asks that he be taken somewhere out of Bolingbroke’s sight, and the new king has him “convey(ed)… to the Tower” (IV.i.316). Richard mocks this and questions the use of the word “convey,” which also meant “to steal” (Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM [v. 4.0]). They have stolen him, his essence, his title, his crown. And they take him away.

And the missing lines end.

So why were the lines missing in the Quarto editions?

Some have surmised that the scene was too inflammatory. But it’s not as if Shakespeare had shied away from depictions of regime change before (see the first tetralogy). Then what makes this one different? Is it because the scene doesn’t depict a deposition so much as an abdication? Is abdication worse than deposition? Would it be too painful for an Elizabethan audience (especially one near the close of her reign) to watch a monarch willingly give up the Divine Right?