To celebrate the World Shakespeare Festival 2012, the BBC has dramatised four of Shakespeare’s history plays; Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V, in a series called The Hollow Crown. Written and first performed in 1595 or 1596, Richard II is the most poetic of Shakespeare’s history plays and is written entirely in verse. In this play Shakespeare is fascinated by the question of how our rulers should be judged. Richard believes in the Divine Right of Kings; he has been anointed by God as the rightful king, even though he has shown himself to be a poor ruler and judge of character. But his cousin and rival Bullingbrook believes he can do a better job of restoring England to greatness. Shakespeare poses the following question in the play: Is the removal of a king from his throne a crime against God and the order of nature?
In 1973, John Barton directed Richard Pasco and Ian Richardson in his “mirror-image version of the play where the two actors alternated the roles of Richard and Bullingbrook. Regarded by many as the definitive, modern version of the play, July’s Picture of the Month depicts the two actors each holding one side of the crown. It is as highly emotional and dramatic as is the “Deposition” scene itself, when Richard formally hands over his crown to Bullingbrook and removes himself from the throne:
Here, cousin, seize the crown:
Here, cousin, on this side my hand, on that side thine. (Act IV scene i)
This photograph was taken by local photographer Joe Cocks, one of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s commissioned photographers from the late 1960s up until his death in 1991. The SBT’s Collections department looks after this wonderful record of RSC productions, and many of these images have been reproduced in editions of and commentaries on Shakespeare’s plays.