Bid Time Return

Richard II, Act III

Many noteworthy novels, plays and movies have taken their titles from lines of Shakespeare – too many to list here (for a complete rundown, see WIKI.) When I stumbled upon the following quote from Richard II, “O call back yesterday, bid time return,” I knew at last where Richard Matheson drew his own title for what became the memorable film, Somewhere In Time.

The original novel, if you can find it, is called, of course, “Bid Time Return.” I tracked it down a long time ago and devoured it, in part because of its fantastic premise, but also because Matheson was one of the most influential novelists of the 20th century (if you doubt me, ask Stephen King).

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel or the movie, this might be a good place to start:

I most remember the novel for a detail that doesn’t end up in the movie. When Richard retreats to an historic hotel to contemplate man’s mortality and the meaning of life, he takes with him the complete symphonies of Gustav Mahler. I had only vaguely known about Mahler before then, but afterwards he became my favorite composer. More than that, one of the most important artistic figures in my life.

I owe that connection to Mr. Matheson, but really so much more. I got to meet him and thank him personally at a screenwriting conference in which he confessed that the inspiration for the story was his beloved wife. Known mostly for his writing on The Twilight Zone and groundbreaking novels of suspense and psychological horror (again, see: King, Stephen) – he winked at the audience and said that every so many years he wrote a love story just for her.

You might know one of these stories since it too is based on a line of Shakespeare: What Dreams May Come.

This is perhaps an overly long introduction to Act III of Richard II. But it’s far too short a reminder of how remarkable a man and writer Richard Matheson was.  He is and will be deeply missed.

As for Richard II, he is neither highly regarded nor much sought after in his absence, save for a small band of loyal followers who are either abdicating to Bolingbroke or losing their heads. The question lingers whether Bolingbroke has a right to do what he’s doing – at least from a legal standpoint. Richard is still hung up about his moral authority as God’s chosen vassal.  He has uttered a few odd curses upon Bolingbroke that to my ears harken back to similar foreboding in Richard III (a play that was written prior to Richard II, though the latter chronologically precedes it).

Richard, however, has an interesting reaction as he slowly wraps his mind around the concept that he is being stripped of his authority. It comes as a bracing shock to him that he might, in fact, be a mere mortal after all, just like everyone else.  He seems to savor the bittersweet schadenfreude of his pending demotion, saying with self-deprecating sarcasm:

KING: Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood

With solemn reverence. Throw away respect,

Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty;

For you have but mistook me all this while.

I live with bread like you, feel want, taste grief,

Need friends. Subjected thus,

How can you say to me I am a king?

The revelation in humility would be refreshing if genuine.  But it sounds more like pouting as Richard bemoans his misfortune at the hands of Bolingbroke – neglecting, mind, all he personally did to rile his subjects to turn against him.

Like it or not, however, the question remains, whether what Bolingbroke is just.  Will his actions right the foundering ship of England – or invite ruin upon the land by his quest to unseat a standing king?

We are still a ways from the end…and a definitive resolution.

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