|September 29th, 2010|
II: THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK
END OF THE STORY
Tonight at the Gremlin Theater in Minneapolis, MN,
the Complete Readings of William
Shakespeare continue with Richard
Tickets: Pay What You Can!
2400 University Avenue West
St. Paul, MN
to the Theater
II is the second part of a September Saga which reunites
two plays starring Richard II which haven't appeared on the same stage
and starring the same acting company since the reign of King James I.
It started two weeks ago with the little-known Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock.
Thomas of Woodstock only survives in a well-thumbed
manuscript. Literally well-thumbed: The edges of its pages, worn thin
by apparently decades of use as a playhouse prompt script, are
But that’s not all: The manuscript’s cover sheet
has been lost, taking with it the original name of the play and the
author’s name. The last few pages are also missing, taking with them
the end of the play.
Despite being battered and beaten, the play has
survived. And it brings with it a host of mysteries of enigmas.
First, and perhaps foremost, is the play’s
anonymity. Take any half-decent, anonymous play from Elizabethan
England and it won’t be long before the question, “Who wrote this?”
starts attracting answers of, “William Shakespeare”.
Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock,
on the other hand, is a very good play from
Elizabethan England, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to discover that
the name “William Shakespeare” has been periodically dogging its heels
for at least the last couple of centuries. But the heat really cranked
up in 2005 when Michael Egan picked up the torch. Egan didn’t just
content himself with writing a mammoth tome making his case that
Shakespeare was the author of “Richard II, Part 1″ (as he called it):
He wrote four. And then he followed it up with a blitzkrieg of
Which, to make a long story short, is how the play finds its way into
the apocryphal cycle of the Complete
Readings of William Shakespeare.
Putting together a script for Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock
was a complicated project, and you can read more about the general
problems I face in this
essay. But what I want to particularly focus on right now is
the most devastating loss suffered by the manuscript: Its finale.
At least one full leaf is missing at the end of
the play, taking with it at least 120 lines (based on the number of
lines per leaf in the rest of the manuscript). It’s unlikely that we
are missing more than one or two leaves, as the play is already rather
long at 2,989 lines and is clearly heading towards a conclusion.
The ending of a play, of course, contains the
culmination of its plot, theme, and characters. Therefore, in order to
discuss or analyze Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock,
one must hypothesize the nature of its ending. (If Godot shows up, Waiting
for Godot looks like a very different play.) And if one is
going to perform it, of course, a conclusion of some sort must
It is perhaps unsurprising to discover that the
hypothetical ending of the play has become a crucible for the authorship
debate: Write the ending one way, and it strengthens the
play’s ties to Shakespeare’s Richard
II. Write it a different way and the plays become
(If you'd like to, you can read the full
play and/or the new
ending before delving into the discussion of what I did and
why I did it.)
Much like the authorship debate itself, there are
basically two possibilities for the ending of Richard II:
Thomas of Woodstock:
First, the play could be viewed as a complete
conflation of Richard’s reign: The cronies of Richard’s final crisis
(Bushy, Bagot, Scroop, and Green) are transplanted into Richard’s first
crisis (which historically featured an entirely different set of
nobles). Gloucester’s death, which in real life took place between the
two crises, is dramatically shifted to the culmination of the first.
But instead of being resolved in a series of primarily political
maneuvers, this crisis is instead resolved on the field of battle in
the fashion of the second crisis.
Theoretically one could argue that this is not a
prequel to Shakespeare’s Richard II, but rather
supercedes it entirely: All one needs to do is provide an ending in
which Richard abdicates his throne in order to complete the play’s
masterful blending of every crisis in Richard’s reign into a single,
This theory runs into a rather significant
stumbling block, however, when one notices that Henry Bolingbroke –
Richard’s replacement and the future Henry IV – is conspicuously
missing from the play. While it’s impossible to completely rule out a
last minute revelation of the heir apparent (akin to Henry VII in Richard
III or Fortinbras in Hamlet), it’s
rather difficult to imagine how the play would simultaneously remove
Bolingbroke’s father (the Duke of Lancaster), who has also been left
rather inconveniently alive.
Thus we are forced to turn to the second
possibility, in which Richard’s first deposition is carried out:
Stripped of his friends and with their tyrannies revoked, Richard is
allowed to keep his throne. Much like the historical record, there is a
return to a sort of status quo, allowing for a relatively seamless
continuity with the beginning of Richard II.
In addition to Richard’s fate, there’s the
question of how the issue of Woodstock’s murder was to be resolved. It
has been hypothesized that Lapoole’s entrance as a prisoner at the top
of the scene must presage an ultimate revelation of Woodstock’s fate,
but this isn’t necessarily true: Lapoole may merely be rounding out the
crowd of Richard’s cronies who have been captured during the battle
(and destined to be sentenced during the course of the scene). If the
play is connected to Richard II, it’s notable
that while Gloucester’s death is known at the beginning of that play,
even Lancaster and York are left to speculate on the king’s guilt in
Tying off the loose ends of the plot in R2:
Woodstock is largely a matter of shuffling historical
necessity and guessing which bits the author intended to include. More
difficult to guess are the particular conclusions of each character’s
arc, since each character – although largely drawn from the historical
record – is nevertheless the unique creation of the author’s genius.
Of course, not every character in a drama is
necessarily worthy of equal attention. Therefore, one needs to choose
which characters are to be given the spotlight’s focus. In the case of R2:
Woodstock, my best guess is that this focus belongs to
Nimble and Tresilian (who have been the focus of the play’s B-plot),
Richard (by necessity of his deposition if nothing else), and the
king’s surviving uncles (partly as a continuation of Woodstock’s
important legacy within he play).
As for Nimble and Tresilian, the thrust of their
arc has already been initiated in Act 5, Scene 5, and is being drawn to
a close when the script abruptly cuts off. It’s not difficult,
therefore, to round off an ending in which the servant becomes the
master (completing a cycle of class inversion found throughout the
play) and Tresilian is brought to justice for his tricks in the
culmination of a final trick played by Nimble.
Next we turn to Richard, who is most likely
brought onstage as a captive by the Duke of York (who is conspicuously
absent at the beginning of the final scene). Is he to be humbled like
Tresilian? Perhaps. But if Richard is to end with his crown intact, it
may make more sense to draw a contrast between his fate and that of his
false judge. Let us instead suppose a Richard who, out of his need to
find some strength to rely on, turns to the surety of his divine right
to the throne: This harrowing experience can actually serve to
strengthen and purify that belief, already found as a subtext
throughout R2: Woodstock, into the central tenet
of his existence (and thus setting the stage for Richard II).
Finally we come to the dukes of York and
Lancaster. Throughout the play they have largely acted in concert as
“headstrong uncles to the gentle king” (as Greene describes them in
1.2), but there have also been subtle divisions drawn between their
characters: The “relenting Duke of York” (2.1) being contrasted against
a Lancaster who is frequently “past all patience” (1.1).
Let’s suppose that in this final scene this
division between brothers is brought into the open, perhaps driven by
their different responses to Woodstock’s death. Lancaster, who had
already sworn to “call King Richard to a strict account” (5.3) can
follow their initial inclination to its extreme and depose Richard.
York, on the other hand, can learn from Woodstock’s counsel and follow
his example of temperance and patience, thus turning Woodstock’s death
into a final sacrifice in accordance with Woodstock’s final prayer.
(And this, too, transitions the characters
naturally to the beginning of Richard II.)
Even moreso than with plot or character,
attempting to provide a thematic conclusion for the play bears the risk
of stamping it with one’s own interpretation of the drama. Thus I have
chosen to walk carefully, preferring to include thematic elements
without necessarily seeking to summarize or pass judgment on them.
Occasionally, however, boldness is called for. In
particular, I have chosen to take up key themes of Richard II.
Many of these themes have already been highlighted in Richard
II: Thomas of Woodstock, but others which have not
previously been present in the play are established as the
transformation of one theme into another.
Thus, for example, a king who has been vain turns
reflective. And whereas in the aftermath of Anne a Beame’s death
Richard says of himself, “My wounds are inward, inward burn my woe.” In
the face of fresher losses, we find that his woe has consumed entirely,
transforming him into a hollow king.
Have I overstepped scholastic certainty? Of
course. But the ending of a play should never be completely
predictable. So if we limit ourselves to providing an ending which does
nothing that is not already contained in the play as it exists, we
would confine ourselves to an artistically and dramatically
unfulfilling conclusion. In seeking to push the boundaries of the play
beyond the known limitation of its final, broken page, aiming towards Richard
II as lodestar provides at least some guidance where we
might otherwise find ourselves stumbling blindly in the dark.
Here are links to PDF copies of the new ending and
the full script of Richard
II: Thomas of Woodstock. You can find more about
the play at the American
II: THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK - THE NEW ENDING
II: THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK - FULL SCRIPT
Permission to use
this additional material in print or production is freely granted as
long as the following notice is included on either (a) the title page
or cover of the printed publication or (b) the cover of the
production’s program, website, and any posters, postcards, or similar
Ending Written by Justin Alexander
Produced by the
American Shakespeare Repertory