The History Behind Fall of Kings

When William Shakespeare wrote Richard II in 1595, England and Ireland were at war. Hugh O’Neil, the Earl of Tyrone, and his allies were leading a rebellion against their English rulers, slaughtering the civilian soldiers who were sent to fight and returning stories of bloodshed and horror to England with the survivors. All the while Queen Elizabeth I and her government struggled to justify the taxes imposed on the English people in order to pay for their wars.

Shakespeare’s play tells the story of the medieval King Richard and the events that lead to his deposition by Henry Bolingbroke, his cousin and friend. Shakespeare’s critique of the political events taking place as he wrote the play is mirrored by Richard’s own struggle to maintain rule over his Irish subjects, and appease the unrest of his people back home.

Queen Elizabeth famously recognised the connection between herself and Richard and banned the play from being performed unless heavy cuts were made. Maybe it is partially because of this similarity that Richard II is often portrayed as an effeminate man in retellings of his story.

So often it happens that this effeminacy of Richard’s is displayed as a weakness and as something that makes him incapable of bringing glory and wealth to his country. Bolingbroke, on the other hand, is a warrior, a hyper-masculine man who will stop at nothing until he gets what he wants.

Fall of Kings draws on this relationship between masculinity and power to question why peacefulness should be considered weak. The play delves into the cruel, violent world that Shakespeare depicted for his audiences, where governments are more concerned by money than their people’s welfare, and brutality has more value than peace.

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