Laughter in King Richard II: The Subplot of Mood

  • Ralph Berry


The best-kept critical secret of King Richard II is that there are jokes in it, or at least moments when the audience is not discouraged from laughing. One may read widely in the commentaries without encountering this truth. In the theatre, King Richard II is well known to pose problems of laughter-control, and this is reflected in some distinguished commentary. Sir John Gielgud confesses himself unsure as to whether the Aumerle scenes should be retained or omitted.1 ‘Certainly the rhyming couplets in these scenes have a strong flavor of fustian melodrama, and many of the lines can seem ridiculous unless they are delivered with consummate power and tact.’2 Sir John alludes to a stage tradition of cutting the Aumerle scenes, which A. C. Sprague saw as dominant.3 In the same vein, Stanley Wells remarks of the Aumerle scenes that ‘Shakespeare is trying, not quite successfully, to achieve a subtle fusion of seriousness and comedy for which he cannot command the necessary technical resources, so that the comedy tends to submerge the seriousness.’4


Boot Camp Comic Possibility Strong Flavor Stage Tradition Shakespeare Play 
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  1. 9.
    J. C. Trewin, Shakespeare on the English Stage 1900–1964 (London: Barrie & Rockliff, 1964), p. 207. The production was at the New Theatre, London, 1947.Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    Eric Shorter, Daily Telegraph (12 September 1986). Irons starred in Barry Kyle’s RSC production of 1986.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    ‘Repetition overdone or not going anywhere belongs to comedy, for laughter is partly a reflex, and like other reflexes it can be conditioned by a simple repeated pattern.’ Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 168.Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    John Barber, Daily Telegraph, 4 November 1980.Google Scholar

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© Ralph Berry 1993

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  • Ralph Berry

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