chapter  12
(Re)fracted Art and Ordered Nature: Italian Renaissance Aesthetics in Shakespeare’s Richard II
BySusan Payne
Pages 14

Surprisingly the relationship between Richard II (1595)1 and Italian aesthetics is cited hardly at all by editors and contributors of volumes on the conjunction between the Italian Renaissance and the, far later, English ‘Renaissance’. The play has been the object of two excellent Arden editions but the great majority of the many and detailed references to indirect sources of ideas and theories informing Shakespeare’s construction of the text are to those of English origin. I intend here to examine the aesthetic origins of two of the ‘minor’ scenes and attempt to trace the ideas they are based upon back to their undoubtedly Italian sources. In doing so I want to underline how these ideas help to render the ‘tragicall-historicall’ Richard II more ‘tragicall’ than ‘historicall’ – more as belonging to the dawn of the great tragedies than, paradoxically, to the ‘tetralogy’ of which it is the ‘first part’, and which it is possible from the textual and source-based clues available that Shakespeare intended it to be.2 Significantly these two scenes, the first part

1 The date of the play’s composition is still accepted as being problematic. Charles R. Forker, the editor of the latest Arden Richard II (London: Thomson, 2002) has this to say: ‘The obvious terminus a quo is the second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587), Shakespeare’s major source, while the terminus ad quem is clearly the first quarto of 1597. By this time the play had undoubtedly had its initial run by the Chamberlain’s Men, who then, apparently, released it for publication ... The style of the play, unusual among the histories, constitutes the most reliable way of narrowing its time limits, for its distinctive features group it obviously with Love’s Labours Lost, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, dramas that almost all scholars agree fall within the period 1594-95 ... If, in accord with most recent opinion, we accept Daniel’s first edition [of The First Four Books of the Civil Wars, 1595], as a valid Shakespearean source, the play could not have been composed earlier than the latter part of 1595’ Introduction, pp. 111-14.