Thursday, June 2, 2016

Richard III - Shakespeare

Now is the winter of our wading through mounds of similarly named nobles made glorious by a play which focuses on one central figure.

Richard III is very much a part of the same story that is set up by the Henry VI trilogy (and improved, I think, by reading them together) but it is very different in form.  The earlier plays are more of an epic and sprawling affair.  This one is the story of one man and his ambition.  As the play opens he calmly figures out just who would have to die in order for him to become king.  He then starts the wheels moving towards those deaths.  We, the audience, are invited to come along with him.  I won't go through the plot bit by bit, but I want to point out some of the highlights.

Near the beginning of the play, Richard woos Lady Anne, the widow of Prince Edward whom he had a direct hand in killing.  He meets her over the coffin of Henry VI, who he also killed.  In an astonishing manner, he woos and wins her by telling her that all of this was done for her beauty and for the future of England.  After she leaves, he winks at the audience to let them know that all of this was done for the sake of his schemes.
The deaths begin to mount and soon the only ones between Richard and the crown are his two young nephews.  They are 'invited' to London so that he can protect them.  This is done by stashing them in the Tower of London.  Richard quickly has them murdered.  (The Wikipedia article on the Princes in the Tower makes for good reading.)  Even as this has happened, Richard moves to make them illegitimate and therefore unable to inherit the throne.
The women of the play, Queens Elizabeth and Margaret and Anne, the Duchess of York) gather to lament the dead they have lost.  "I had an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him..."  They list the dead and their killers.  The effect is startling and I would love to see it live.  I'm sure it would bring chills.
Near the end, when Richard III is finally crowned and is readying for battle, he is visited by the ghosts of all he killed.  One by one they come and condemn him and then go over to the other side of the battlefield to bless his opponent, the future Henry VII.  Richard does indeed lose the battle, in part because he is unhorsed.  He is killed and the War of the Roses finally comes to an end.

This play is amazing.  I can see why top actors have tried their hand at the Richard III role.  He is devious and charming.  He is ruthless and evil.  He is a villain in the truest sense of the word.  Richard III is quite possibly the best villain that Shakespeare ever wrote. 
Over in England, they have capitalized on the success of the earlier 'Hollow Crown' series that dealt with Richard II, the Henry IV plays and Henry V.  They have created a sequel of sorts, that moves the Henry VI plays and Richard III into a trilogy.  I'm very anxious to watch it when it comes to the US.

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