William Shakespeare’s Richard III has been on my “to-read” list for quite some time now, accumulating some digital dust every now and then. Fortunately, it was the first to be read on my Shakespeare class’ syllabus, and a golden opportunity had at last nestled itself into my very hands.
As much as I tried to read Richard Gloucester’s iconic prologue in some fabricated voice looming in my head, I somehow involuntarily welcomed Mark Rylance’s irresistible call. Pity did and still does plague my heart once I read Richard’s self-depreciating remarks of being “scarce half made up”, so much so that dogs bark at him as he passes by in a shambling gait. This hatred for his own deformities then transfers to the biting jealousy of his own brother George, the present king’s successor.
The Machiavellian approach to Richard’s sanguinary efforts of de-heiring the lot of his family and wooing the likes of Anne Neville dangerously teeter between the lines of tragic and comical. Poisonous chemistry foams at the brim as Richard attempts to make Anne his wife (after her husband Edward was killed in battle. Great timing, Dick. Go tempt thy brother’s widow). For example:
RICHARD: He that bereft thee, lady, of that husband,
Did it to help thee to a better husband.
LADY ANNE: His better doth not breathe upon the earth.
RICHARD: He lives that loves thee better than he could.
LADY ANNE: Name him.
LADY ANNE: Why, that was he.
RICHARD: The selfsame name, but one of better nature.
LADY ANNE: Where is he?
She spits at him.
Oh, what a swooner!
To save his villainous hands from maintaining any trace of blood, Richard hires two assassins to kill Clarence (or George, whichever you prefer) as he (Clarence) recalls a dream of his in the Tower of London, which also unravels into one favorite scene of mine, brief but beautifully snort-worthy in itself:
CLARENCE: If two such murderers as yourselves came to you,
Would not entreat my life? As you would beg
Were you not in my distress–
SECOND MURDERER: Look behind you, my lord!
FIRST MURDERER: (He stabs [CLARENCE]) Take that, and that! If all this will not serve,
I’ll drown you in the malmsey butt within.
As the murders are all taking place, I couldn’t help but imagine Richard manically yacking into the night as he chucks yet another knife into the portrait of yet another royal heir (and another relative, no less), plotting ever so patiently as he tiptoes to his death in the final act. The climactic Buckingham/Richmond clash against the now King Richard III’s reign ends in a sort of Dickens-esque haunting with the ghosts of those murdered under his command…
…Which brings me to my favorite quote in the play when Richard’s epic and climactic recollection of his apparition-plagued dream reduces him to a maddened usurper:
All several sins, all used in each degree,
Throng to the bar, crying all, “Guilty! Guilty!”
After King Richard’s last breath was stopped short of a final prayer, Richmond succeeds as England’s new king, birthing the new and historic Tudor dynasty. Disappointed though I was to see another great villain depart, Richard III succeeded in another epic Shakespearean finality.
*Review(s) of Henry IV-Henry V are to follow.*