Archive for the Richard III Category

Kevin Spacey Releases Richard III Documentary

Posted in Richard III on 2014/03/06 by mattermind

I wish I could say I was excited for this. But honestly, isn’t it just more self-important navel gazing?

What interest there is boils down to two things, really: reuniting the director and star of American Beauty and how it ties into the new rage, House of Cards.

So maybe that’s something to get excited about. But otherwise, as far as poor, maligned, historical Richard goes, it’s just more of the same.

Watch trailer:

Smithsonian Channel Details Quest to Recover Richard III’s Body

Posted in Richard III, YouTube with tags , , on 2014/02/09 by mattermind

UPDATE: The embedded viewer has been disabled by YouTube. The video now requires a link but will prove worth the extra click. My apologies.

While I process all the happenings this weekend at the 2014 California International Antiquarian Book Fair, I thought you might enjoy this video (recommended to me by YouTube…they’re learning!) explaining in great detail the recent quest to recover Richard III’s body from a Leicester parking lot.

A part of me, quite honestly, resists this type of slick, made-for-TV production. Yet I can’t help but be thankful that the truth, for Richard’s sake, whatever it turns out to be, gets made known to a wide, general audience.  He deserves nothing less.

As a recently-published review of Shakespeare’s Richard III suggests, the time may not be far off when theatergoers demand a more nuanced treatment than the typical, over-the-top, Richard-as-evil-henchman performances we have grown accustomed to. What that would look like is anybody’s guess.

It opens up a conundrum, welcome or not, regarding the desirability of absolute fidelity to an author’s intent, even when history discovers the basis for that intent to be patently false. The text will always remain the text [text qua text]. But in light of these events, one might reasonably ask if that should always be the case.

Perhaps Richard III’s lasting legacy will be as another lesson in how a lie told often enough – and well enough – can, over time, be taken for truth.  And that also, just maybe, given enough time, the actual truth will eventually out.

History could be in the midst of radical revision right in front of our very eyes.

Richard III: the Devil You Know

Posted in Performance, Richard III with tags , , , , , on 2014/02/06 by mattermind

Maybe it’s the recent discovery of Richard’s decomposed body in a Leicester car park, but performances of Shakespeare’s Richard III seem all the rage these days.

I’d like to mention a notable review which stands out to me for bringing up the growing understanding that Richard may have been the victim of one of the greatest political hit jobs in history.

This raises a crucial and complex issue of whether historical accuracy ought to affect our performance or appreciation of the play – or any fictional work that purports to be lifted from a true story.

Granted, Shakespeare never makes that claim. And the facts in this case are far from definitive. Nevertheless, it occurs to me that we watch fictional cotton candy like Shakespeare in Love or Amadeus and don’t complain. Should it be any different with Richard III?

I think of movies like JFK and Lincoln as well. We post-modernists have mixed up our creative liberties with our historical veracity. Or are we simply more lenient when it comes to dramatizations?

I’m confused by what our expectations ought to be. Novels, plays and screenplays will always demand the condensing of time, space and character within the parameters of the medium. We don’t really expect a film like Gladiator or 300 to portray actual life in Sparta or ancient Rome, do we?

Maybe it matters more to the extent our educational institutions fail us. These days, popular entertainment often provides the only snippets of information we will ever know about certain subjects. Yet, as with most topics, the more you learn about the real Richard, the harder it becomes accepting the cruel character assassination that most people have casually accepted as fact.

I’m not sure how to disentangle this complex riddle. But I am thrilled to see a recent critic kick the hornet’s nest regarding the issue.

The review begins:

In theater’s greatest hit piece, Richard remains the devil we know.

To read it in its entirety, please click HERE.

Richard III: Enter the Matrix

Posted in Richard III with tags , , , , , , , on 2014/02/03 by mattermind


Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time

Al Pacino: Looking for Richard

When I was in high school, one of my English teachers did an amazing thing.  After we finished Richard III, she had us read Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time,” a modern mystery novel about you-know-who.  Years later, I still remember being blown away by the case Tey made for Richard’s innocence, but for the life of me I could not recall her argument or why its effects had lingered.

So it only seemed appropriate that I revisit the novel after completing the play in my year of Shakespeare.  I wanted to know whether I would be moved again by the book, and if maybe now I could grab hold of it and retain more now that I had a better grasp of Shakespeare.  Wherever you are, Mrs. James, thank you.  Let that be a lesson for other teachers who wonder whether they are making an impact on students’ lives!

I set aside a bit of time after finishing the play to re-read the novel and watch a documentary by Al Pacino called “Looking for Richard,” hoping they would shed more light on the mysteries Karla Tipton elucidated in a recent guest blog.  I wanted to gather my own thoughts and weigh them against the story that Shakespeare presents.  But I also had to ask myself how much historical veracity mattered.  Does theater need to be accurate?  Where should I draw the line when making aesthetic judgments?  Tey wrote historic fiction – but was she telling the whole truth?  Was Shakespeare aware that the story he told was perhaps riddled with lies?

Right off the bat, Looking for Richard proved no help whatsoever.  It might have been called, “Looking at Al Pacino Looking for Richard” since it basically amounted to a visual diary of Mr. Pacino seeking the best way to film the play, not investigate the truth behind it.  I love Al Pacino.  I found the film entertaining, if perhaps a little depressing since the “man on the street” interviews only confirmed the idea that most people know nothing substantial about the historical Richard and what they assumed turned out to be either cliché, trivial or flat-out wrong.  Mr. Pacino, while attempting to render the play in the most dramatic manner possible, sought merely to reinforce the bias inherent in the text.  If those are lies, then the actual truth just gets more deeply distorted and ultimately engulfed by the prevailing dogma.

Josephine Tay (real name: Elizabeth Mackintosh) sets everything we presume to know about Richard on its head.  If I found her argument compelling way back in high school, it became all the more riveting now.  I doubt I’ll forget the gist of it this time, since I subscribe to the argument that Richard was innocent and slandered by the powers that shouldn’t have been – namely, the Tudors, who had zero claim to the throne.

I have stated before that I do not wish for this blog to become a book report.  So instead of recounting her entire argument, I will share what were for me her two most salient and convincing points:

1) Richard ascended to power legitimately via a document called Titulus Regius (“royal title” in Latin) which Wikipedia describes as: a statute of the Parliament of England, issued in 1484, by which the title of King of England was given to Richard III.

It is an official declaration that describes why the Parliament had found, the year before, that the marriage of Edward IV of England to Elizabeth Woodville had been invalid, and consequently their children, including Edward, Richard and Elizabeth, were illegitimate and, therefore, debarred from the throne. Thus Richard III was proclaimed the rightful king.

With this document in hand and having secured rule lawfully by declaration of Parliament, Richard had no reason to kill his nephews.  None.  Doing so would only have made him look bad at a time when England – aside from the Woodvilles and Lancastrians – embraced him as the new king.

2) Richmond/Henry VII had all the reason in the world to want the nephews dead.  Why?  Because in his desire to marry an empowered Elizabeth, he had the Titulus Regius revoked unread and expunged from the record.  But by doing so, he inadvertently restored the two nephews who were far more entitled to the throne than Henry!  The only way he could have it both ways was to disappear the two kids and blame it convincingly on Richard.

I have condensed and highlighted what for me are the most powerful arguments.  But there are others, including the dire fates of the the York children under Henry, how the murder “confession” came about twenty years too late and how the subsequent slanted history was written by Tudor loyalists and sycophants.

It’s here that Tey’s reasoning grows gargantuan and viral, gobbling more than just Richard III, Henry VII, Thomas More and Shakespeare.  For once her argument is absorbed and assimilated, we find ourselves like the lead character, Grant, proclaiming that we’ll never trust our history books again.

Winners write history.  Most of what we accept as fact comes with an implicit agenda.  When we’re finished questioning Richard, we start to wonder about other myths that may have been handed down to us: George Washington and the cherry tree, Honest Abe, the League of Nations, the creation of the Federal Reserve, the Bay of Pigs, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, Bobby and Malcom X.  Where does it end?  How much of what we have been told can we — and should we — believe?

Red pill or blue?  Which will you take?

My Kingdom for a Horse!

Posted in Richard III with tags , , on 2014/01/29 by mattermind

Richard III, Act 5

Here it is at last, the payoff line that everybody remembers from Richard III.

It seems that no matter what the play, Shakespeare had a knack for creating earworms, catchphrases that have become so familiar that they now sound to us like clichés.

We need to remind ourselves that there was once a time before Shakespeare invented such expressions as: “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” “To be or not to be, that is the question,” and “Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!”

Let’s face it.  The man just had a knack. One wonders what he would have created in our cinematic age, and what he’d think of these:

But what does this line in particular mean? And why has it, above all the others, been singled out by time from this play?

In fact, I am more intrigued by what happens and what Richard says immediately after. He stands on the battlefield, surrounded by enemies, his mount having been slain, in grave and mortal danger. And thus he utters the famous line:

RICHARD: A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!

Followed by a most curious exchange between Richard and Catesby:

CATESBY: Withdraw, my lord. I’ll help you to a horse.

RICHARD: Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die.

What just happened there?

Catesby urges him to remove himself from the fray and then he’ll help him find a horse. Sound advice offered to a man in dire straights. So why does Richard respond the way he does? “Slave,” he says, attacking Catesby for the very suggestion – what, that he’ll appear weak? But didn’t he just cry out for help? And then: I’ve thrown my lot in with this battle (and rise to the throne), and I’ll see it through to the end. Is that bravery? Foolishness? Stubbornness? Resignation? How can one line tell us so much about Richard’s character, yet leave so much unanswered?

The highlight of Act 5, however, is not the battle scene, but the haunting dream sequence that precedes it. Both Richard and Richmond fall into a slumber, during which time they are both visited by the ghosts of all the men and women that Richard has killed who tell him, in no uncertain terms, to “despair and die.” The forces of justice and righteousness have aligned themselves squarely behind Richmond. Richard will not only have to fight his earthly opponents, but the spirits of those he has deviously murdered as well.

After awakening, Richard attempts to shake off his foreboding dreams by saying:

RICHARD: What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by.
Richard loves Richard; that is, I and 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?

It’s a biting inner monologue that expresses the war of consciousness plaguing Richard as his mental state continues to deteriorate. We have seen subtle signs of this coming on. Shakespeare brilliantly has him forget his thoughts mid-sentence, ordering Ratcliff and Catesby to do his bidding and then wondering what he intended for them to do.

Richard III, then is, the study of a man in mental breakdown from the weight of his consciousness burdened from the wrongs he has committed. The rationalist Richard does not subscribe to such theories about his soul or the invisible forces of guilt from right and wrong. His reality is strictly objective, a clash of power and position.

Richmond, however, displays an entirely different model of humility both on the night before the battle against Richard and immediately afterward. Before he sleeps, he prays to God to assist him in doing what’s right and good:

RICHMOND: O thou, whose captain I account myself,
Look on my forces with a gracious eye.
Put in their hands thy bruising irons of wrath,
That they may crush down with a mighty fall
The usurping helmets of our adversaries!
Make us thy ministers of chastisement,
That we may praise thee in thy victory!

We intuit, by contrast, that what dooms Richard is not just his moral vacuum but his lack of humility. He suffers from the Greek fatal flaw of hubris. His vanity allows him to believe that he can manipulate history, alter destiny, destroy lives for his own gain and get away with impunity. But the ghosts of the dead, and Richmond’s desire to right the realm by uniting York and Lancaster – thus putting an end to the destructive War of the Roses – are much too strong. God, honor, justice and the future of England stand on Richmond’s side.

As much as from his heinous crimes, then, Richard fails because he overlooks the cumulative magnitude of all the niggling details. Individual sins and moral failings don’t add up to much in his own mind. Until the end, that is, when his life and entire kingdom suddenly turn on the presence of a single horse.

But by then Richard knows that it’s already too late. His die has been cast.  He has chosen a path, made his bed a long time ago, and now he will now have to lie in it.

His kingdom for a horse? Aye. Alas…he’s far too gone for that.

Bloody Thou Art, Bloody Will Be Thy End

Posted in Richard III with tags , , on 2014/01/28 by mattermind

Richard III, Act IV

Up until now, Richard III has followed a fairly predictable course: treachery, betrayal, murder – lather, rinse, repeat.  Which is not to say that the play is boring or doesn’t contain its share of arresting moments (the Anne “seduction” scene, for example), but on the whole, there hasn’t been much to elevate it to transcendental Shakespearean heights.

Yes, the murder of the innocent, young nephews is memorable in its barbarity.  And we take notice of Richard’s willingness to do just about anything to clear the way for his ascension, including the imprisonment and execution of rival factions (Rivers, Grey, Vaughan), the betrayal of close associates (Hastings, Buckingham), the death of his own brother (George, Duke of Clarence) and the disposal of his wife (Anne).  He sets the bar high (or low, depending on how you look at it) for what a person will do to attain power.

But a dialogue occurs within this act that changes everything.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is – without question – one of the greatest verbal exchanges in all of literature.  A bold statement, I know.  But before I quote the passage at length, let me tell you why I believe it to be so monumental.

The conversation between Richard and Queen Elizabeth has been set up by the earlier seduction scene between Richard and Anne.  Almost beyond the limits of credibility, Shakespeare convinces us somehow that Anne can be won over to Richard’s sympathies despite his having killed both her husband and her husband’s father (King Henry VI).  We have no choice to conclude – here and elsewhere – that Richard possesses an ability to sweet talk his way out of any difficulty or into any advantage.

But this scene, coming late, serves as a payoff to that setup in which Richard is outwitted and undone by a woman who more than holds her ground against him.  Now even more powerful as king, he attempts to woo Queen Elizabeth for her daughter’s hand – but she will have none of it.

The words ricochet like ping pong balls or topspin forehands in an extended Wimbledon rally.  What I love most about this scene is how witty and barbed the wordplay is, pushing and pulling at language as if words were swords and daggers drawn in a duel.

I have highlighted key words in this long but utterly riveting citation.  For me, this is as good as dramatic dialogue gets!

QUEEN ELIZABETH: What were I best to say? Her father’s brother

Would be her lord? Or shall I say her uncle?

Or he that slew her brothers and her uncles?

Under what title shall I woo for thee

That God, the law, my honor, and her love

Can make seem pleasing to her tender years?

RICHARD: Infer fair England’s peace by this alliance.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: Which she shall purchase with still-lasting war.

RICHARD: Tell her the king, that my command, entreats.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: That at her hands which the king’s King forbids.

RICHARD: Say she shall be a high and mighty queen.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: To veil the title, as her mother doth.

RICHARD: Say I shall love her everlastingly.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: But how long shall that title “ever” last?

RICHARD: Sweetly in force unto her fair life’s end.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: But how long shall her sweet life last?

RICHARD: As long as heaven and nature lengthens it.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: As long as hell and Richard likes of it.

RICHARD: Say I, her sovereign, am her subject low.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: But she, your subject, loathes such sovereignty.

RICHARD: Be eloquent on my behalf to her.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: An honest tale speeds best plainly told.

RICHARD: Then plainly to her tell my loving tale.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: Plain and not honest is too harsh a style.

RICHARD: Your reasons are too shallow and too quick.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: O no, my reasons are too deep and dead –

Too deep and dead, poor infants, in their graves.

RICHARD: Harp not on that string, madam, that is past.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: Harp on it still shall I till heartstrings break.

And this goes on for another two-and-a-half pages!  Rapid-fire, blasting back and forth like tennis balls on the fabled grass at centre court.  An utterly bravura performance by Shakespeare, who even at this early stage of his career proves that he’s got the stuff of the great masters.

That he, indeed, is the greatest of them all.

Bad Is the World, and All Will Come to Naught

Posted in Richard III with tags , , , on 2014/01/27 by mattermind

Liar (Kid)

Richard III, Act III

If Shakespeare were Sesame Street, today’s word of the day would be “dissembling.”  It’s a word we don’t hear much today, either in its gerund form or its root verb, “to dissemble.”  In fact, I had to look it up to make sure that its usage would not be listed as archaic.

To my  surprise, it remains very much in the active, English vocabulary.  Here is the definition from my Encarta dictionary:

dis·sem·ble [di sémb’l]

(past dis·sem·bled, past participle dis·sem·bled, present participle dis·sem·bling, 3rd person present singular dis·sem·bles)

1. vi put on false appearance: to put on a false appearance in order to conceal facts, feelings, or intentions
2. vt give appearance: to put on the appearance of something not actually felt or true (formal)
3. vt hide by pretense: to hide real beliefs or intentions through misleading speech or behavior (formal)

[15th century. From Old French dessembler “to be different,” from des- “dis-” and sembler “to seem” (see semblance).]

dis·sem·blance, noundis·sem·bler, noun

Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Now semblance is a word I know and use all the time.  Why hadn’t I grasped the connection?  As I learned with Othello, Shakespeare seems more than a little preoccupied by the gap between appearance and reality, that which can be seen and that which can remain concealed.  For in that gap, a dishonest person may take ruthless advantage of the innocent, honest and trusting.

Richard III fits a similar mold to both Othello and Titus Andronicus.  In fact, I’m wondering how often Shakespeare resorts to the same device to drive his plots and motivate his villains.  Or, to be even more blunt, now that I have discovered this trope running through all three plays read thus far this year, I hope I don’t get bored by the same ol’ pattern again and again and again.

Did Shakespeare discover a winning formula that worked so well he only need repeat it?  For in Othello we had Iago, the devious schemer.  In Titus, Aaron the Moor filled that role.  And now we have Richard, the dastardly power-grabber up to no good.

Yet again, trust, devotion and honesty are played for fools.  In Act III of Richard III, poor Hastings discovers too late that his faith in Richard’s word was misplaced.  He had been better off listening to a friend’s foreboding dream:

Woe, woe for England, not a whit for me,

For I, too fond, might have prevented this.

Stanley did dream the boar did raze our helms;

But I did scorn it and disdain to fly.

Hastings is not alone.  Remember poor George, Duke of Clarence, murdered in the Tower, believing to the end that his brother was his friend.  Then there is the nephew’s entourage, intercepted, betrayed and executed.  And of course the two young nephews who are “disappeared” for the crime of standing in the way of Richard’s succession.  Crimes and deceptions every which way you turn.

For Richard, inauthenticity is a way of life.  He’s such a conniving snake that he never presents himself with integrity – unless that too serves an ulterior purpose.  He’s so adaptable and chameleon-like that I wonder to what extent he deceives himself.  Does he trust anybody?  Can anybody trust him?  Is this the fatal flaw that will bite him in the end?

Buckingham has been Richard’s closest ally and partner in crime thus far.  Yet I keep expecting Richard to betray and sabotage him before long as well.  Perhaps Act III is still too early. Buckingham serves a useful purpose, therefore Richard lets him linger.

It reminds me very much of the brilliant opening to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises:

How does the saying go?  No honor among thieves.  Richard has created a world in which he is the mastermind of dishonesty and deception.  Yet in such a world he himself has nobody upon whom he can trust.  Once he gets what he wants, will he discover that he has no solid ground upon which to stand?

Was that not Margaret’s curse upon Richard?  That he shall trust the deceitful and doubt the loyal?  If that’s the case, a more fitting end could not be found for such a treacherous, back-stabbing double-crosser as Shakespeare’s master dissembler, Richard III.