The History of King Richard the Second

Shakespeare in Print –  Remaking Shakespeare

#35 Nahum Tate, The History of King Richard the Second (1681)

Due to the English Civil War, the theatres were closed from 1642-1660. When they reopened, Shakespeare’s plays were often adapted in order to suit contemporary needs and desires. Nahum Tate produced the most notorious adaptation of a Shakespeare play, giving King Lear a happy ending. (In fairness, Shakespeare’s version of the Lear story is the only one that ends in such a bleak manner). Tate also adapted Richard II, which was immediately banned from the stage due to its commentary on sensitive political topics (see item 8). Tate altered his adaptation by changing the names of the characters and the setting, renaming it “The Sicilian Usurper.” The authorities were not fooled, and the production was shut down once again. In the printed edition of the play, Tate defends himself by claiming that his adaptation “still retains the immortal Spirit of its first-Father” Shakespeare, and that he was merely “charmed with the many Beauties I discovered” in the original version. Even though it was “forbid to tread the Stage,” it will nevertheless “survive in Print.” This copy bears the name of an early owner, John Genet, who has dated his inscription 1817; the number “4” at the top of the title-page may indicate that this copy was once bound into a larger volume of plays (see item 39).

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