Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Shakesblogging: Richard III

What I love about this play: First off, that verbal fencing scene with Lady Anne? Hothothot, if it’s done right. Oh yes, she should know better, but I can’t blame her for yielding in the slightest, because the Richard of Act I is almost impossible to resist. He’s not, as yet, noticeably worse than the rest of the nobles; indeed, he’s got his finger on the pulse of all of their vices, and makes them fodder for his abundant wit. (“Naught to do with Mistress Shore! ... / He that doth naught with her, excepting one / Were best he do it secretly, alone.” “Simple, plain Clarence! I do love thee so, / That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven, / If heaven will take the present at our hands.”)

And there’s that barbed edge of self-pity that makes me want to make excuses for him, even though I know better: “Upon my life, she finds, though I cannot, / Myself to be a marvelous proper man.”

All in all, it’s a hell of a sexy combination:

Anne: He is in heaven, where thou shalt never come.
Richard: Let him thank me, that holp to send him thither;
For he was fitter for that place than earth.
Anne: And thou unfit for any place but hell.
Richard: Yes, one place else, if you will hear me name it.
Anne: Some dungeon.
Richard: Your bedchamber.

Much later in the play, Richard matches wits with another woman, in a scene that closely balances this one. By then, of course, most of the audience is no longer rooting for him (and I think that Queen Elizabeth does come off the victor in this exchange; he’s pretty clearly on the verbal defensive as she twists his words and uses them against him, whereas he’s on the offensive with Lady Anne).

And, finally, there’s the wonderful “The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight” speech, in which four plays’ worth of civil wars culminate in Richard’s internal monologue, as all that violence turns inward:

What do I fear? myself? there’s none else by.
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? for any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O no! alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself.
I am a villain: yet I lie, I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter...

Favorite memory: Falling in love with Richard – dizzyingly, violently, against my better judgment, and in precisely the way Richard wants you to fall in love with him – when I first read the play as a freshman in college. As an older, more dispassionate reader, I can see all the ways he’s playing the audience. He induces us to fall into the same trap as Lady Anne, dazzling us with his wit and apparent candor, playing up his disability and self-loathing when it suits him to make us pity him, making us feel that we understand him when the rest of his world does not. But I kind of miss coming to this play as a naive reader, unable to see him pulling the strings.


Bardiac said...

I saw an absolutely stunning performance of this by the then Shenandoah Shakespeare Express. During the Buckingham/candidate Richard scene, Richard shook hands with audience members seated on the stage. It was brilliant!

Fretful Porpentine said...

The SSE (or ASC, or whatever they are now) rocks SO HARD.