n Shakespeare in Southern Africa - The construction of a king : waste, effeminacy and queerness in Shakespeare's

Volume 26, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-582X



Performance politics has been a part of the historical reception of Shakespeare's since its probable composition in 1595. Notably, critics commonly connect this play to a request made in February 1601 by a group of the Earl of Essex's supporters, asking the Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare's acting troupe, to present a drama at the Globe theatre about the deposing and killing of Richard II. This drama might have been Shakespeare's history play. Essex's supporters apparently thought that staging such a play would generate favour for their aim to have Elizabeth I replace key members of her royal government, given that it imagines a successful change in state authority. This request engages with an analogy between the historical depiction of Richard II's reign and Elizabeth's rule that regularly circulated at the very end of the sixteenth century and early seventeenth century, especially as the problem of Elizabeth's succession loomed large. Later in 1601, for instance, while Elizabeth reviewed historical documents about the reign of Richard II, she supposedly voiced the observation "I am Richard II. Know ye not that?" to her archivist William Lambarde, a well-known quotation that points to the ubiquity of the association between the medieval king and early modern queen. Such an association, at the very least, indicates the evocative cultural environment in which some of the first performances of the play would have occurred, although this type of political interpretation is, of course, not the only viable one.

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