One night during my first semester of undergrad, I flipped on PBS on my tiny dorm room TV to watch Richard II. Or, half-watch, I should say – I was still convinced that I could multitask, so I was also reading one of my history textbooks. As I nursed a cup of black tea and highlighted what was probably entire pages of that book, I would look up occasionally to see Ben Whishaw’s performance. My memories of the event are a little hazy (that’s what I get for multitasking, I suppose), but I can recall the ephemerality of the blue, gold, and white color palette, the powerful emotions captured in the cast’s performance (especially during Richard’s deposition), and the brilliant ways the cast played off each other, especially Whishaw’s Richard and Rory Kinnear’s Bolingbroke.

I also distinctly remember watching Whishaw write “Richard II” in the sand, only for it to be washed away by the waves, and thinking how amazing it was. I did eventually sit down and watch Richard II without distractions (and on a better TV), but that first viewing shaped the way that I approach Shakespeare. Without that performance, I wouldn’t have become interested in Richard II, and I wouldn’t have become a graduate student studying early modern drama. My fascination with Whishaw’s performance led to my undergraduate senior seminar paper and helped to shape part of my Master’s thesis; I have no doubt that it will influence my dissertation, as well.

Most importantly, it changed how I think about plays and performance. I had always thought of Shakespeare’s plays as texts to be performed, but watching The Hollow Crown was the first time I realized just how much performance can bring to the text, as well. Whishaw’s writing on the sand, for example, isn’t in the text of Shakespeare’s play, but showing Richard’s name being washed away provides a clear image of the fragility of Richard’s kingship. Now, when I open up Shakespeare (or any other drama, for that matter), my first thought is always “how would someone stage this?” In my own research, I focus on these questions of performance (both by the characters in the text and actors on a stage); I want to know how to bring those nuances and details to life myself – to help others see the powerful emotions that these plays can provoke, just as The Hollow Crown did for me.

– Angeline Morris (Ph.D. Student)