Sunday, October 29, 2006
They need a coda. Then, let's get it done.
I opened with some questions: Was this king
The devil, or a human sort of thing?
And what about his role as dramatist,
A major role, which hardly should be dissed?
I also said his battles as he rose
Might be worth note, espec-i-álly those
He had with Anne, with Marg'ret, and the Queen –
Elizabeth – who grows to her great scene.
And finally, to add a little tonic,
I said I thought much of this play was comic.
Language was key, and Randall, citing some,
Compared Dick's time to ours, and then, begun,
Considered how he shattered the "fourth wall"
And how his "Ha!" Is talking to us all.
Then Gilbert spoke to mention Dick's fixation
With his misshapen body, his elation
At noticing his brother's bodily lust,
Scorn spoke by women. Gilbert, then, I trust,
Suggested that, in Henry Six, Dick's flatter
By far than in this play. Here's deeper matter!
For here's a richer, thinking kind of man:
Human, creative, evil. Understand?
Ernst interrupted with a filmic point
About re-writing hist'ry and the joint
Time's thus put out of when we're caught
Somewhere 'twixt truth and fiction-what is what?
Which all led Cindy to apostrophize
McKellan's "fascist" Richard, which, with sighs
She often found quite chilling, to which I added
Some IMDb notes (Is this verse padded?).
Then Gilbert said this film was fun, but clear-
Ly "Good film-yes, but not-so-good Shakespeare."
And mentioned, passing, that late chevalier
Whose black-white film's superb: Olivier.
Then Randall, Ernst asked, "Is there something more
To say about this play, or does it bore
Us so we'd best close up our talk,
To which Ernst added (from fall-bright New Yawk)
An essay into Richard Three and women
Who form a doleful chorus, eyes a-brimmin'.
So Gilbert, with sheer formalistic brilliance
(And citing films and critics by the millions)
Chose 1, 1, 1 to 41 to scan,
Plus other lines to paint Richard a man
Who's master of his master's language skill,
Whose very words produce an awesome thrill.
Thus prodding John to make an exclamation
Regarding what oft seems exaggeration!
And raising yet again the theme of truth on
(Excuse me for my brusque anácolúthon)
The role of Shakespeare in this context Tudor:
Does literary gold turn into pewter?
Is Shakespeare showing us how much a lie
Is used by Bush types speaking from on high,
Or is he merely following his hunch on
Pleasing his patrons, gaining an escutcheon.
So Gilbert took this up with broad examples
From Dryden, Fielding and some other samples,
And turned it back to Ernst, that simple creature,
Who cited Marlowe's pop'lar "Overreacher,"
A term applied to Scythian Tamburlaine,
And "high astounding terms" he used to gain
A popularity phenomenal
Which Shakespeare might be spoofing after all.
Thus Gilbert, making pre-doctoral faces,
Brought up another term, one "Catabásis,"
And somehow, got from there to Richard's brother,
Whose vivid images all other such do smother –
Ill-fated Clarence and his dream most powerful
Which we might all debate another hour-full.
So John stepped back and found such talk delightful,
And mentioned other heroes archetypal.
Thus from the classic age life turns more hectic,
And we confront a different dialectic.
And Ernst concludes this many-circled dance:
"So that's what's 're-born' in the Renaissance!"
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
What literary riches you spread before us. The hells you raise bring me back to our earlier thread on evil and dualism. The difference between the shades that Odysseus meets and the devils in Faustus suggest that hell has changed – from a mere lack of life (Achilles says it is better to be a living stable boy than the king of the dead, but only because of the powerlessness and colorlessness of the afterlife, not because of any active torment), to a place of active retribution by agents of evil.
I think we have a parallel shift in the heroes themselves. Odysseus is every bit as scheming (famously) and murderous (see Illiad, Book 10) as Richard III, but he is presented as the sympathetic hero of his epic. We may be fascinated by Richard and his ilk, but is it possible any more for such a character to be presented as a hero with whom we may sympathize? My point is that both the cosmos and the individual has undergone a split, and the consequences for literature and life are enormous but not fully acknowledged.
I'm sure these issues will arise in other contexts, so we need not let it stop us from moving on.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Ernst provided the clue I had been searching for: the poetic and rhetorical pyrotechnics in Richard III influenced by the possibility of over-reaching Kit Marlowe. I've been threatening to comment on Clarence's "miserable night/ So full of fearful dreams" (Act I, scene iv). Next time through the canon (heh, heh) we might take on Richard III as tragedy, as Ernst notes there is a touch of comedy, the obstacle of history, and if Richard is detached from chronicle – Tudor or otherwise – a true tragedy.
But the element I've been waiting to introduce is from epic, the catabasis (sometimes, katabasis), the descent into the underworld made by the epic hero. Odysseus, protected by Tireseus, crosses into the realm of Hades, where he talks to his late mother and, in a remarkable exchange, summons the spirit of Achilles who tells Odysseus he would rather be a nameless swain following a plow than a renowned, and dead, warrior. Aeneas also goes into the underworld because, well, because Odysseus does. Even poor Gulliver descends in Book Three of Gulliver's Travels, where the poor middle-class, imagination-challenged Gulliver asks to see Alexander the Great on parade reviewing the panoply of his troops. Most to the point in 1592-3 is Marlowe's Dr. Faustus (c. 1588), in which Faustus bargains with Mephistophiles to descend into the underworld to achieve complete intellectual power. There, you remember, he summons the spirit of the most perfect beauty of all time, Helen of Troy, and exclaims, "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships/ And burned the topless towers of Ilium." (In the 19th century, during the scientific push to create measurements for all nature – the lumen, the volt, the erg, the picocurie – this line was the basis for the unit of measurement for female beauty; the millahelen, sufficient beauty to launch one ship.)
Clarence, in the Tower, has a phantasmagorical vision, a projection of poetry into the realm of subconscious twilight, "a kind of poetry, which the rest of the play, ferociously concentrated upon brutality and lust for power, can hardly parallel," comments Derek Traversi.
O Lord, methought what pain it was to drown!
What dreadful noise of waters in my ears!
What sights of ugly death within my eyes!
Methoughts I saw a thousand fearful wracks;
A thousand men that fishes gnaw'd upon
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,
All scatt'red in the bottom of the sea. (I.iv,21-8)
T.S. Eliot claims this is the best of Seneca, absorbed into English, "treating shadows like solid things." I'd say supernatural, if it did not evoke sci-fi. I can think only of Volpone here, and then the treasures beyond value are an inducement in the seduction of Celia. Clarence passes the melancholy flood with the sour ferryman, Charon, into the kingdom of perpetual night, where he is greeted by the renowned Warwick, then Prince Edward, slain at Tewksbury. Admittedly, this is not Achilles nor Helen nor even Alexander. But it is profound [pun intended] as little else in the play is, much richer, I think, than the vision or dreams of the revenging dead which visit Richard at Bosworth field. Clarence's dream is tragically ironic.
That's it for me on Richard III, lest one of you hint I am anal retentive. Obsessive/ compulsive, yes, but…
Saturday, October 21, 2006
I am in sympathy with John's characterization of the long choric lament for deceased Yorks (II.ii) as overwrought. First, it seems unseemly to show a competition among The Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth, and Clarence's two children on who has the right to the most – and how much – grief. The lead into the stichomythic (perfectly identified, John) ritual mourning is already fragile when Clarence's children pose a zero sum supply of tears (aunt, you didn't weep for our father, so we will not weep for your husband) and also twisted as the Duchess thinks she has the greatest maternal right to grief because she has lost a husband and two sons, while she curses her remaining son ("one false glass/ That grieves me when I see my shame in him" – thanks, Mom, I love you, too).
Perhaps the patterned lamentation is excessive because, as my previous posting explored, high art and classical rhetoric is the texture of the whole play, and how can one raise the volume if it is already at highest pitch. I don't immediately remember any similar passage in Shakespeare. My original marginal note says "reads sort of like Fielding's Tom Thumb," subtitled "Tragedy of Tragedies," which ends when the hero, Thumb, is (tragically) eaten by a cow. My other association is to a play I much admire, John Dryden's Antony and Cleopatra play, All for Love. Poor Antony is constantly being pulled between Rome and Egypt, passion and duty, love and honor. He changes sides five times, so I refer to him as zig-zag Antony.
In Act III, his friend Dolabella and the loyal Roman general, Ventidius, have brought Antony's wife Octavia ("your much injured wife") and his two little daughters from Rome, to appeal to his duty as soldier, husband and father to abandon Cleopatra ("that ba[aaa]d woman"). Duty…honor…virtue…merit…" [daughters] hang upon his arms/ clasp about his waist." Here the children go to him.
Was ever sight so moving? – Emperor!
I am vanquished; take me" [another decasyllabic line with four speeches]
My marginal note for both Shakespeare and Dryden is "can the play survive this?" The connection, apart from my queasy stomach, is the choric ritual, where even Shakespeare – and Dryden – nods.
John, we had some wise/ stupid citizens in 2 Henry VI, as part of the Jack Cade rebellion (no, don't go back), and we will have some meaningful citizens in the future in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus. But the cluster of proverbs in II.iii.31-47 seem to me choric, received wisdom, and proverbs – culture has always known this – impose an archaic perspective. But as these "pithy observations" stack up, the sheer repetition leeches insight out of them. Beyond the Fringe has a sketch "I'd rather be a judge than a miner" in which the miner characterizes conversation down the mine as "boring…it's boring down the mine…the word boring, leaps to mind…if you ask anyone about conversation down the mine, boring is what they'd say…I mean, it's really boring down the mine." Intentional fallacy, yeah, yeah, but my Shakespeare is poking fun.
Hoo, boy! I've waited decades for someone to ask me about anacoluthons, the failure to complete a sentence according to the syntax or structural plan on which it was started. It usually characterizes informal or colloquial error – "vulgar" (as in speech of the common folk). The example I remember from school is "I was going to the market I was." However, John correctly casts Hamlet's first soliloquy as anacoluthon, here, within the speech, there is obvious incoherence among the parts. It's not stream of consciousness, as much as three different subjects competing for focus: "within a month…frailty…Niobe." Artless, perhaps, overwhelmed, certainly. But either way, in perfect contrast to the artful order of Richard's opening soliloquy.
I leave others, perhaps Ernst's envoy, to consider Shakespeare's "spin" except to say that Shakespeare's sources Moore, Hall, and Holinshed had already spun Richard to death. If Washington's Senator Cantwell votes for the war because all the intel she has been given insists that WMD's exist and are pointed at us…?
Friday, October 20, 2006
To sneak in a few minor points before we move on:
The language struck me in this work as almost overwrought. The passages of relentless parallelism seem over the top even for Shakespeare (though maybe it has just been too long since I've read him). In the stychomythia (thanks for that wonderful term, by the way – tell me if I'm misusing it here) in the middle of Act II scene 2, for example, the parallelism would seem almost comic if the context weren't so tragic:
Ah for our father, for our dear lord Clarence!
Alas for both, both mine, Edward and Clarence!
What stay had we but Edward? And he's gone.
What stay had we but Clarence? And he's gone.
What stays had I but they? And they are gone.
Was never widow had so dear a loss!
Were never orphans had so dear a loss!
Is this degree of repetition and parallelism common in other plays and I've just missed it before? Is this Shakespeare discovering a device and working it to death for practice? And was anyone else struck by the non-stop proverbs in the last 16 lines of Act II scene 3, here not to make fun of pomposity (as elsewhere in Shakespeare) but to reflect folksy wisdom?
I agree with most of Gilbert's analyses, except that the hesitations and interruptions in Hamlet's speech are, of course, part of an even more subtle art, but it is Shakespeare's art portraying Hamlet's artlessness. (Gilbert, you seem to be up on your rhetorical terms – is it called anacoluthon when syntax is interrupted like this?)
In general, I found the constant spin that Richard puts on events quite contemporary and Rove-like. But there is also a deep irony here: others have pointed out that Shakespeare is doing his own spinning of history here, perhaps in part for his own political gain. Is the power of his artistry enough to forgive him this (deliberate?) misrepresentation of history, though he is condemning his main character for spinning events as they occur? Is the bard merely serving the (higher?) calling and needs of his art here, or is he misrepresenting a historical figure from a previous dynasty for cynical and political ends, to gain the greatest possible favor from the current regime?
The difference between creating truth for art's sake and creating truths to manipulate the populous and facilitate accumulation of power is perhaps an eternal issue, but one with particularly sharp resonance today. Has anyone read or heard Harold Pinter's acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize for Literature where he speaks forcefully on this issue?
I've gone on longer than I intended. Sorry to be so late to enter the fray.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Ernst originally challenged us to consider Richard in comparison to the Henry VI plays, with, perhaps, a focus on his character in relation to fated necessity. I thought to address this, but sidetracked into too much throat-clearing, reviewing the earlier Richard, but never getting to the point. Still, I incline toward Ernst's own summary: "Richard the actor-the supreme self-dramatizer and director/manipulator of show-piece scenes involving others." And, again, Ernst's insight, "language is key here" – is my inspiration and is the route to watching the women, the seduction of Anne, Margaret's curses, the attempted seduction of Princess Elizabeth by proxy of Queen Elizabeth, and even the sparing between Richard and his mother the Duchess of York.
Soon, Randall put the opening soliloquy before us, contrasting its purpose with Macbeth "talking to himself," Hamlet "weighing a course of action," and Jaques "philosophizing." Richard, he says, is summarizing. Richard is "talking to us," the audience, "taking credit." I see these ideas as all of a piece.
So, back to film, for only a moment. Randall notes that he tells his students "the basic stuff about a soliloquy is the inner thoughts of the character made audible by the playwright." I tell my students that, too. I remember the first Shakespeare film I saw was Olivier's Hamlet (1948). There was Sir Lawrence posed on the battlements of Elsinor, staring silently into the sea, and his thoughts (soliloquies) were provided by voice-over, truly stream of inner reasoning – introspection, self-appraisal. He must be telling the truth, I have long told my students, because there is no editing of speech to persuade, influence, or argue with others in social or political interaction. Very psychological, in keeping with Olivier's reliance on Freudian critic Ernest Jones's Hamlet and Oedipus.
But Hamlet's first soliloquy, (Hamlet, I.ii.129-159), "O that this too too sullied flesh would melt," (a neat little quiz question: does Hamlet here consider suicide, "self-slaughter," before or after he encounters the ghost's revelation of his father's murder), begins with perfect decasyllabic verse, but soon
"O God, God
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't, ah, fie, 'tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely...."
The decasyllabic verse breaks up, overwhelmed with enjambment and caesurae. Soon Hamlet cannot even finish his sentences:
"and yet, within a month--
Let me not think on't! Frailty, thy name is woman!--
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father's body
Like Niobe, all tears, why she, even she--
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer-..."
And though he has the classic allusions ("like Niobe"), he can't complete the explanations of the present by such references to history or culture. There is exposition regarding the o'er hasty marriage, and nasty commentary on Claudius' character, but, for me, what is revealed is a structural image of Hamlet's inner turmoil. Interesting that "wants discourse of reason" is a key phrase. I'm not insisting on psychology, here, just suggesting that the form the poetry takes is an image of the speaker.
Now, turn, if you will, to Richard III, Act 1, scene I, ll 1-41, and read it silently to yourselves. Enjambment at 1 and 3, but both flow into perfect (unrhymed) couplets. The other eight enjambed lines similarly flow into a complete image or statement. The other 31 lines are end-stopped. Similarly, there are no caesurae except to set off appositives, or parenthetical asides; nothing like the full-stops in the middle of Hamlet's lines. The only unfinished sentence is l.41, physically interrupted by the entrance of Clarence. And look at the structure of the whole argument; Now (1), now (5), and now (10); but I (14); and therefore (28). Would we could promote such reasoning in our student papers.
(I'm reminded of Marvell's "Coy Mistress"-"had we but world enough...," "but at my back I always hear...," "therefore...let us sport us while we may"-the poor girl doesn't stand a chance, unless she had said at line 1, "yeah, but we don't.").
Richard's speech is filled with polished poetic devices: the winter/summer, clouds/ocean metaphors (1-4); the sun/son pun (2); anaphora, the rhetorical use of repetition (6-8); internal rhyme: clouds, loured, our house (3); isocolon, semantically balanced prose (here with alliteration) as in "Our dreadful marches to delightful measures" (8); assonance and more alliteration: "unless to spy my shadow in the sun/ and descant on mine own deformity" (26-7); parallel syntax, e.g., pronoun followed by dependant clause (relative pronoun, verbal phrase, adjective, noun): "But I, that am not shaped-I that am rudely stamped--I that am curtailed" (14, 16, 18). Unlike what I hope I suggested about Hamlet, this is non-naturalistic, it is highly polished art. As Randall says, it summarizes, but it also states what Richard already knows about himself – a psychological soliloquy would not need to tell himself he is deformed, unfinished.
So who is this addressed to if not himself? To the audience, I think, and it says "watch me work"-there is a passion for pattern here, and Richard says I am an artist, director, actor and "plots have I laid" in our own dramatic sense. Hamlet invites the audience to experience; Richard invites observation of the art of it all, and he is a master of language. Russ McDonald, by the way, reminds me Richard never kills anyone in Richard III (unlike 3 Henry VI). He uses language to lead others to kill. (Parallel in Shrew: Petruchio never once strikes Kate.) This Richard is not the Richard of the chronicals, let alone history. And, to change my remark above, the one who is really saying "watch me work" is Shakespeare. [I'm working from my classroom notes so I know there should be more attributions than I show.]
There is much more immersion in language. The first scene ends, in soliloquy: "Clarence hath not another day to live:/ Which done, God take King Edward to his mercy,/ And leave the world for me to bustle in!" (I.i.150-52). Did you pause for a microsecond after "world" so Edward, as Clarence, dies by Richard's plot, before Richard is left to bustle? Act I, scene ii, Anne's lament over the coffin of Henry VI, has the rhetorical height of threnody, e.g., the curse, 14-28, with the anaphoric "cursed be the hand...cursed be the heart...cursed be the blood," intensified by hand/holes, heart/heart, blood/blood. (Though Anne is alone except for the Halberds, this is monologue rather than soliloquy, a formal statement rather than an inner discourse.)
Stichomythia (dialogue in alternate lines) when Richard interrupts this grief: Lady/villain. O wonderful/ more wonderful, vouchsafe/ vouchsafe; fairer than tongue.../fouler than heart..., that expands into discourse:
By such despairing I should accuse myself.
And by despairing shalt thou stand excused." (I.ii.68-86).
This scene is only prologue to the brilliant rhetorical duel between Richard and Queen Elizabeth (IV. iv.136-430) in which Richard plays on Elizabeth to affiance her daughter to the King, a struggle subtly won by Elizabeth's feigned acquiescence, but seemingly closed by Richard's "Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!" (IV.iv.431), for me the first sign that Richard's brilliant language has at last lost full power. Queen Margaret's catalogue of curses:
"Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy heavy mother's womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father's loins!
Thou rag of honor! Thou detested--
I call thee not.
I cry thee mercy then, for I did think
Thou hadst call'd me all these bitter names. (I.iii.227-235).
Wonderful. Margaret's whole scene, beginning with her caustic asides cursing everyone, then front and center to extravagantly curse Richard, is wittily turned into a verbal game. Notice line 233 is a single decasyllabic line, containing four speeches, gaily bouncing all the vituperation back onto Margaret. (It even reprises Randall's favorite line in the play: "Ha!")
Even in his most chilling moments, Richard still engages rich dimensions of language. Young Richard of York is brought to the tower (whence, of course, he will never return), and asks his uncle, "I pray you, uncle, give me this dagger." Richard replies: "My dagger, little cousin? With all my heart" (III.i.110-11). So the play-that-is-a-play continues. I don't cotton much to the most "theatrical" scene of all, staged by Buckingham, in which Richard walks with a "holy" book between two holy men, while Buckingham "sells" his piety to the mayor and citizens of London, that they may be manipulated, salted by ringers, to "force" the crown on "Richard, England's worthy king!" (IV.i.240) [notice how many scare quotes I had to use], and indeed from this point on, Richard III changes texture. Richard's script has reached its climax.
I must skip over the wonderful gamesmanship on both sides in the contest between Richard and Queen Elizabeth, but the last of the last high rhetoric is the coda, the quasi-liturgical vision of the ghosts generating power by formal repetition, "despair and die." I agree with Frank Kermode, Shakespeare's Language that this is less impressive than the poetic complexity I have been admiring. The play ends, absence of a horse apart, with Richmond's oration, in which he tells his soldiers "Got mit uns," and seems to draft Henry V's own pre-battle musing, "let us our lies, our debts, our careful wives, our children, and our sins lay on the king. We must bear all, oh hard condition." [Sorry, I'm quoting from memory.]
So, it is in the language. Shakespeare is Prospero, and he conjures Richard, who directs a play, in which he acts to display the power of language. Though the "Tudor myth" is forever underscored by the fascinating power of this Richard, the "play" (with language) is over in the Richard/Elizabeth argument. Thus, the relative brevity of the last two scenes.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
I suspect, as I suggested earlier, there may be a kind of lethargy in our responses related to the long time we have spent on these tales of the Wars of the Roses and our collective sense of almost too much familiarity with Richard III, a play about which it is a bit difficult to feel one is uncovering fresh ideas and/or thoughts. So I would say: Be done with it. Let's move on to something different. I will write a summary of what we have so far in the next couple of days.
Notes Toward a Discussion of Richard's Interaction With the Major Women in Richard III
Since no one took me up on this question, I have tried to answer part of it myself, although I have not gone into the interaction among the women when they talk together. At first, I tried all sorts of variations on “Richard III+compare+women” on Google and found absolutely nothing except a plea for help from a student named Heidi, who had been assigned the same topic. Lots and lots of people studied Richard as an example of male chauvinism (golly gee; I’d never noticed that), and there was considerable discussion of a recent all-woman performance of the play. All this reminded me of (a) the terrible effect critical faddism has had on the sorts of stuff our students and fellow-critics write, and (b) the general absence of the comparative mode from most contemporary teaching (or learning).
Lines: 1.2.1-229 (229)
Extent she is made to sympathize with Richard: She is swayed by Richard’s flattery and eventually made happy by the thought that Richard is “penitent.”
Attitude(s): ironic scorn with bits of disbelief thrown in, which enable Richard to argue that what seems unbelievable has roots in his love for her, which, in turn, allows him to turn her phases into counter-truths. The center of the scene is his offering to let Anne kill him, which she cannot do. Then Richard makes her feel that SHE is partly responsible for her husband’s death. In a way, this sense of taking part in her husband’s death, of having compromised proper values, breaks her spirit. What’s the point of continuing? She submits. She is killed by Richard’s order before the play ends.
Lines:1.3.40-109, 306-19; 2.1.73-83 (93, mixed in with others’ talk)
Extent she is made to sympathize with Richard: Awkwardly married into the York family, Elizabeth has to feel her way with Richard, whom she (like her brothers) intuitively distrusts. She is putty in his hands. The closest she comes to sympathizing with Richard is when she is briefly taken in by his remark about Margaret, “By God’s holy mother,/She hath had too much wrong, and I repent/My part thereof that I have done to her,” adding, sympathetically, “I never did her any, to my knowledge.”
Attitude(s): See above. Like, Anne, she is tricked by Richard into feeling that she (along with Edward) is part of the evil she decries when he announces that Clarence is dead and that she should know this well (as being the wife of the death’s “instigator”). Like Anne, she seems to despair: “All-seeing heaven, what a world is this!”
Lines: 1.3.188 (arguably) -308 (120)
Extent she is made to sympathize with Richard: Not at all.
Attitude: Margaret’s strong suit is her ability to remain somewhat removed for the plotting and maneuvering—so that she serves as a kind of Greek chorus. She refuses to be duped by Richard, and hates all the Yorkists. She is not a prophetess and thus does not know Buckingham will later ally himself with Richard—a lack of knowledge Shakespeare uses as a bit of splendid ironic foreshadowing. She looks down on Queen Elizabeth as low-bred, unobservant, and riding for a fall. Margaret has lost everything, so why not simply rail and call others on their flaws and weaknesses?
DUCHESS OF YORK (along with Elizabeth)
Lines: 4.4.136-196 (60)
Extent she is made to sympathize with Richard: Barely, although Richard tries to gain her sympathy by turning her question, “Art thou my son,” into the notion that his impatience is a reflection of hers. He does remind us that that, as a child, he was left to go hungry while she feasted plentifully. An interesting psychological insight Shakespeare offers us.
Attitude: There is a nice ironic echo in The Duchess’s interrupting this last procession much as Richard interrupted Anne’s funeral procession in Act 1. Most of her speech consists of accusations, which rise to a crescendo in the lines, “Hear me a word./For I shall never speak to thee again,” which IS prophetic and firmly predict Richard’s ensuing death: “Bloody thou are, bloody will be thy end;/Shame serves thy life and dost they death attend.” That end is now coming fast.
ELIZABETH—Second Encounter (at start, along with Duchess of York)
Lines: 4.4.140-47, 197-432 (242)
Extent she is made to sympathize with Richard: None at all until—possibly—the end of their interchange. Nice stichomythia in lines 210-224, in which Elizabeth refuses to pick up on any of Richard’s clever responses to her assertions. She almost rises to Richard’s equal as she counters his various arguments for allowing her daughter to marry him, lines 254-83, and she continues attacking him even after Richard’s 45-line speech (291-336) urging her to carry his suit to her daughter. She continues in this vein up until she breaks off the dialogue (and gains time) by saying, first, “Shall I be tempted of the devil thus?”, and concluding, “I go. Write to me very shortly,/And you shall understand from me her mind.” Richard takes this as proof of his victory (“Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!”), but he could be wrong.
Attitude: See above. The study question here is: Will Elizabeth REALLY carry his suit to her daughter? Most ambiguous.
I think I remember that, although I may confuse it with the worst Shakespeare performance I have ever seen, the retiring Larry Wismer's attempt at King Lear many years ago. Both Lear and Kent were played by elderly 5'2" drama profs who wore sneakers and looked like refugees from a retirement home. You couldn't tell the difference between Edgar and Edmund. And the costuming was stone-age-ish with various characters wearing grass-and-twig circlets on their heads, one of which was left hanging from the scenery as someone left the stage. A hand reached back and grabbed it about two minutes later. NOT a good moment. Whatever the case, I wouldn't trust ANY Bush-branch today. Not at all.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Cindy and Ernst have noted the 1995 Ian McKellen film of Richard III. The Royal Shakespeare actually toured this world-wide as a pre-film play, and I saw it in Denver. It was staged in Denver's huge Buell Theatre, maybe 2,500 seats. I went with CSU's wonderful Shakespeare prof, Dick Henze. We had tickets in the third (?) balcony. I remember most that the RSC refused to be miked, unlike every travelling Broadway musical, and the outrage from both the Denver audience and the management of the theatre was deafening.
Dick and I, in the third balcony, did not miss a line (but one must admit that both of us knew most of the play by heart), but to soothe the savage whining, the theatre management promised they would never allow the Royal Shakespeare to return to Denver. How about them Broncos? What we did take from the production was its brown-shirt hues, and the point about a fascist junta. The company was travelling light (from Europe on its way to Japan) so the staging was office tables and Nazi-like flags. Impressive acting quality (and, boy, did they know how to speak Shakespeare lines), but Dick and I agreed that the Nazi point was OK about power-seizing, but did little to illuminate the play or Richard other than as a vicious bureaucrat. I can't place my program, but the cast list was impressive.
Then the film, made after the company returned from its international tour. Now, all the vast panorama of film and effects were available, as well as expanding the cast to include a "star" in every role. Set sometime in the '20s, it is 1 hour, 44 minutes, very brisk for Shakespeare's second longest play (Hamlet is longer). So, no, Cindy, there is no Margaret, and for that matter there is no horse, of course. Most everyone else is there, but compacted. Tyrell is Richard's all-purpose murderer, from cutting Clarence's throat in a prison bath (strangely, there are five bathtubs side-by-side in a deserted room, and, as you must guess, I miss the butt of malmsey) to garroting Buckingham just before the final battle. Thus, it must be Tyrell under Lord River's bed; as Rivers is enduring fellatio in a hotel bed, a sword is thrust up through the mattress and spitted through his heart (Cindy said her then-boyfriend could not look, but my guess it was not tender sensibility but archetypal male fear that shriveled his timbers -- you know, the old 'sliding down a banister that turns into a razor blade' terror).
I'm not sure I'd call McKellen "fun"; he is quite sympathetic early on, then becomes a caricature toward the end. He is given to triumphant giggles (sort of verbal "high-fives" after he has fooled the Lord Mayor or Queen Elizabeth). Half his opening soliloquy is delivered at a '20s victory ball, after a torch singer has sung all of a swing song, "Come Live with Me and Be My Love." The "Now is the winter of my discontent" part is greeted with appreciative laughter from the partying Yorkists; irony is available only because a silent precredit scene shows Richard, in a gas mask, shooting Prince Edward (Henry VI's son) in the forehead. He then continues in the men's room while at a urinal, and describes his deformity and its resultant motivation to himself in a mirror, and finally he faces the film audience directly to declare "I am determined to prove a villain" and "plots have I laid." And away we go.
The seduction of Anne (in a morgue over Prince Edward's body) is still hard to comprehend. I got it for the first time, I think, on this most recent reading of the play, though after she accepts the ring, Richard dances up a stairwell, gimpy leg and all. Later, he seems to be sexually aroused by murder. When he receives an envelope with the late Clarence's glasses in it, he ignores the slinky Anne (Kristen Scott Thomas) waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs, satisfied, perhaps.
Anyway, the mis-en-scene counts for much -- massive buildings, corridors, all grey; barren fields; chambers deserted or filled with crowds to cheer the crowning of Richard (one expects he will begin his first regal address, "Deutsches volks genossen..." (pardon my spelling). I find the film interesting, yet it doesn't teach me much. And the ending is a shambles. None of the courage I see in the play or in my recent reading of history. Tanks, machine guns, armored cars (a few horses were paraded to stables before the battle). Richard's conscience is sort of there as a few voices while he sleeps, whereas Richmond prepares for battle by shagging the naked Elizabeth, his new bride (who says there is no sex in Shakespeare?) before putting on his pants and mounting [sic] his armored car with its machine gun.
Then, Richard's force is destroyed by bombs (Stanley is an air force general), and Richard's armored car gets stuck driving up a stone staircase -- Cindy is right; his "a horse, a horse" is a howler. Then, alone, he climbs high onto the scaffolding of one of those vacant industrial buildings that are cliches in most police-action TV dramas, pursued by young Richmond with his pistol. Up and up they go, until Richard tries to cross an exposed I-beam and is shot and falls, many stories into the bomb-induced conflagration (or hell, if you have any imagination left). And it ends with another swing song: "I'm Sitting on Top of the World" that has a line, "Like humpty-dumpty, I'm going to fall."
Good film, but not good Shakespeare. Still there are scenes, I would show a class were I teaching it. If there were world enough and time, maybe Randall and I can work on an analysis of the imagery here and in Olivier's 1955 version. Do I remember correctly, that at the end of the Olivier, his crown is hanging on the branch of a bush?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Cindy's comments on this film, portions of which I have seen in a next room someplace, sent me looking for write-ups to IMDb (Internet Movie Database). There were surprisingly few reviews of much depth, however. The best I found was in the San Francisco Chronicle, which I include with three other excerpts below.
1. Does Richard have a conscience? Can evil such as his triumph completely, with no recompense expected on this side of the grave? Can the British monarchy exist without venom and corruption filtering up to the highest levels? These are a few of the more cogent questions addressed by Richard III, and McKellan and director Richard Loncraine make sure that they remain intact in the final version of the film.
In its own bloody way, Richard III is as enjoyable to watch as any recent screen production of Shakespeare, and the shift to the 1930s with its attendant Nazi imagery (parallels between Richard III and Hitler abound) gives the film a twist that conventional productions do not have. If there's a flaw to the movie, it's that this is one of Shakespeare's least ambitious and less thematically rich plays. Nevertheless, since the only memorable motion picture version is Lawrence Olivier's 1956 version, Richard III doesn't suffer from overexposure, and this new interpretation offers an unconventional -- and easily accessible -- perspective.
2. There are other deft touches which distinguish the production. Casting the Queen Elizabeth and Earl Rivers roles as Americans not only lends international appeal to the film but also paints those characters as outsiders to the established York family. The set design is imaginative, with a miniaturized industrial-age London teeming with uniformed officers and the imposing, concrete Tower of London looming at the edge of town (actually an abandoned power station on the Thames, built in the 1930s). The rally that precedes Richard's coronation includes art deco-style murals (reminiscent of 1920s Soviet worker poster) in the back rooms as well as huge red banners decorating the arena whose central logo, a black boar, easily stands in for a swastika.
3. The sinister mood continues as McKellan and director Richard Loncraine manage to implicate the audience in Richard's wickedness by having him deliver his monologues directly to the camera. This may not sound like much but, maybe because no one does this in the movies (except, occasionally, stand up comics) it has surprising power. (Laurence Olivier did it too in his 1955 version, to lesser effect, maybe because close-ups have never been as close as they are these days.) There's something sly in the way this movie surprises and draws us in. When Richard begins his "Now is the winter of our discontent..." soliloquy, it takes the form of a victory speech at his brother's coronation. But then he leaves the hall and begins to mutter; by the time the more personal sections of the speech come along -- where Richard reveals his evil core -- he's alone, relieving himself in a urinal. His eye catches the camera in the mirror and suddenly, he isn't talking to himself anymore. He's talking directly to us.
This thoughtful playfulness in the adaptation is so delightful that I found myself willing to forgive it some misses. The play has been cut down and streamlined so much that it pops from event to event without pausing to fill us in on background and motives, like a comic book version of the classic. Thus, Clarence of Gloucester is sentenced to death for no apparent reason, and within a few moments he's executed. Richard says he plans to wed Lady Anne and the next thing we know it's a done deal. Speeches are cut back to the bare bone, so at times it sounds like a Greatest Hits of the 1600s spot: "That I may die to look upon death no more..." and "A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"
4. Right Time for "Richard III": The lowdown on Ian McKellen's '30s melodrama
by Mick LaSalle
Richard III combines a shrewd understanding of Shakespeare with a healthy, low-brow approach to cinema. The result is the best Shakespeare on screen since Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing.
Star Ian McKellen, who wrote the adaptation, and Richard Loncraine, who directed it, avoid the play's two pitfalls -- namely, comedy and drama. Err too much on the side of drama with Richard III, and you lose the humor. Err too much on the side of comedy, and you have a shambles.
McKellen and Loncraine split the difference here and give us what Shakespeare intended -- a melodrama. Along the way, they give us a lot of things Shakespeare didn't intend but might have found interesting: a new setting, new scenes (but no new dialogue) and lots of tanks, airplanes and machine guns.
Richard III moves the action of the Shakespeare play to a fictional Britain some time in the late 1930s. The country is in the midst of a civil war between the houses of York (Richard's side) and Lancaster. The war ends when Richard (McKellen) drives a tank through Lancaster headquarters and kills King Henry VI and his son.
It's a brazen opening to a film that, unlike many other literary adaptations, never seems uncomfortable being a movie. Richard III is a wholehearted embrace of movie-ness, an unembarrassed wallow in filmhood. The film makers know that with Richard III the bigger, the wilder, the crazier things get, the better, so long as the actors can match the movie's scale -- yet play it straight.
McKellen sets the tone. He makes Richard an appealing man, despite the hunchback, the limp and the useless left arm. He never acts like a sneak but like a sincere person. You'd believe his lies, too -- except that you know his real intentions from his asides and soliloquies spoken directly to the camera.
His first words in the film are public. He's at a banquet celebrating the Yorkist victory. The dance band is belting out a swing tune. Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, takes the microphone and toasts his brother, King Edward: "Now is the winter of our discontent . . ."
He says the friendly half of his speech there but finishes it privately in the men's room, while standing at the urinal: He is ugly. He wasn't made for peace and love. So he's going to be a villain and mess everybody up.
A good rule of thumb for Richard III is that if it's not fun, somebody's doing something wrong. Nothing's wrong here. Some of the unexpected visual touches are brilliant, others simply entertaining. But the picture never stops coming at you.
Switching the setting to the 1930s works as more than a gimmick. It makes the barbarism more immediate, while reminding us of the streak in human nature that has given rise to even worse atrocities this century. The '30s setting also allows for the novel touch of King Edward's wife Elizabeth (Annette Bening), and her brother, Rivers (Robert Downey Jr.), being played as Americans.
Bening is radiant as Elizabeth. Her recent roles have not been flattering to her nor have shown what she can do. But here -- as the fiercely intelligent and desperate queen of a dying monarch -- she makes the best case for herself as a film star since The Grifters.
The screenplay trims the play by about a third. I would have loved to have seen Bening in the scene in which Elizabeth begs the mad queen Margaret to teach her how to curse, but alas, 'tis gone. And the scene in which Clarence begs the paid assassins for his life is a bare shell of itself, even though Clarence is played by none other than Nigel Hawthorne.
But the cuts give the film velocity, and -- unlike in the film version of Othello -- they don't diminish our understanding of the central character. Richard's journey is complete.
Despite added scenes, the film only makes one addition to Shakespeare's text, a swing number, "Come Live With Me and Be My Love." Shakespeare didn't write it. The lyrics are a conflation of two poems: Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd to His Lover" and Sir Walter Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd.''
It's a witty touch that makes people in the know feel smart.
–Mick Lasalle (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/19/06)
Monday, October 9, 2006
A couple of weeks ago, PBS broadcast the 1994 version of Richard III with Ian McKellan as our beloved Dastardly Dick. I saw it when it came out and liked it then, despite my cowardly boyfriend, at the time, who buried his head in my shoulder during the scene when the queen's brother is skewered from under the bed. So much for the expression on the character's face being one of ecstasy, eh?
Has anybody else seen this one? I would love hearing your thoughts. Quick thoughts: loved Maggie Smith, as always. Ian McKellan, fun. I howled during his "a horse, as horse..." lament. The scene where the kingdom rallies behind Richard? The Nazi imagery? chilling.
Question: where was Margaret? Did I miss her amidst the sea of exams I was grading whilst Richard III was on my telly?
My name is Solomon Levy
The desert is my house
My mother's breast was thorny
and fathers had I none.
The sands whispered Be separate.
The stones taught me Be hard.
I dance for the joy of surviving
on the edge of the road.
Sorry about that naughty Monmouth Henry, oh misjudged R III.
Other thoughts on the play? Please?
Thursday, October 5, 2006
Well, it all shows what a poor reader I am. I DID send an e-mail, that must have been lost, asking if the senior Findlays were going to New York. And then I started imagining. We, on the other hand, have made a trip to Peoria/Chicago/Milwaukee and back. That was a trip! En route, we saw Hansel and Gretel in Milwaukee (a wonderful production that made me wish I had the list of boy-appropriate actions the young woman playing Hansel studied) and the new The Queen, which Ernst managed to download to show us last night in Ithaca (I ask no questions).
The whole reason I bring this up is that the film (which I think I liked better than Anthony Lane, who looks ever-so-slightly down his nose at it) is, like More's Richard III (and, subsequently, Shakespeare's), a re-working of relatively recent history (things pass into the past more rapidly today than in 16th-century England, perhaps). It is and it isn't revisionist. It isn't in that it seems to me less about rewriting history than about the curious ways random happenings and human motivation interact to create "history." It is revisionist, but less in the way it biases our opinions than in how it tries to adjust the ways the still-very-present Queen and Prime Minister might see themselves.Ernst
At the end of my hurried recapitulation of Richard in Henry VI, I said I would be off-(my)Island for a week, but I promised an anecdote about the guide on a sightseeing bus in York. Since then, Ernst who is currently in NEW York has been sending me his Manhattan phone number, hoping I found a cheap hotel, and asking for reviews of any shows I might see. Actually, I was only in dark and mysterious Tacoma, whose motto is "the wired city" -- I'm not making that up -- to go with the state's tourist motto, "just say WA" -- ditto.
So back to OLD York. Jean and I rented a car in Yorkshire in 1994, drove to the village where I lived when I was an adolescent, Great Ayton, birthplace of Capt. Cook and site of the River Leavin (Leavin what? Leavin' Great Ayton), drove to my old school, Wennington, now closed, in Wetherby where we visited my English master, a poet, who once had me memorize Sonnet 29 to salve adolescent heartbreak; then, in York, visited my old headmaster, who, indifferent to my professorial career in English, boasted of the Old Wenningtonians who had degrees in Science. We saw The Madness of King George at a York theatre said to be haunted by the Grey Lady, and indeed there was moaning and mumbled dialogue during the performance, but the ushers escorted the inebriated unghostly woman out at intermission. (Otherwise, a good show, Ernst.) We ate at a pub owned by -- alas! -- Budweiser, which has a brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, so I amused myself by teaching the buxom Yorkshire lasses how to say "Buhdd."
We walked the York wall, looked at both Roman and Saxon ruins (try to get a building permit in York), then took a double-decker sightseeing bus around the city. The guide was bright, hugely informed, and both witty and joke-inclined, but when we arrived at York Minster, he turned passionately serious, and denounced the villainous William Shakespeare for slandering, libeling, and otherwise lying about the great Yorkist king, Richard III. How quaint, thought I, this is an anachronistic salvo in the War of the Roses.
Well, you will remember that I thought the Henry VI plays were choked with history and the obligation to get almost everyone who lived in England in the 15th century into the dramatis personae. Notes made clear that Shakespeare had taken some liberties for dramatic effect: Henry should have been a baby when he is bring crowned in 1 Henry VI or Rutland an adolescent warrior killed in battle rather than a boy murdered by Clifford in 3 Henry VI. Shakespeare sends Richard into the battle of Tewksbury when he was, historically, eight. Riverside or Signet notes often say, historically, Shakespeare has conflated two battles or placed a death several years earlier than history.
But, our impression was that the Henry VIs are overwhelmingly historical, taken from the chronicles of Hall and Holinshed. Ernst's starter, then, was to explore how Richard III is different from the Richards we see in the Henry VI plays. I tried to summarize that earlier Richard, straight-forward dutiful son and successful warrior up to act III, scene ii of 3 Henry VI, when in soliloquy, Richard gives us an outline of how his deformity will shape (sic) his ambition for the crown. Then, Randall took on the first scenes of Richard III, especially the war imagery, and we can confront, at last, Richard III's Richard.
But not so fast (well, fast is the wrong word). After my "Crookback Dick" posting, I reread Josephine Tey's detective novel The Daughter of Time (1951) in which her detective, Alan Grant, is hospitalized with a sprained back and a broken leg (apparently, such injuries in 1951 England confined one to a hospital for several months). Intrigued by the suffering implied in a portrait of Richard III and to pass the time, he connects with an American graduate student who is hanging out at the British Museum. Recognizing that the popular "knowledge" of Richard is a monster, the crunchbacked murderer of the princes in the Tower, Grant sends young Carradine on multiple research missions, and "solves" the historical truth ("Truth is the daughter of time") about the king.
The history that we all know was written by John Morton (Bishop of Ely in our play), transcribed by Saint Sir Thomas More as The History of King Richard the Third, adapted by Hall, then Holinshed, and the latter three were Shakespeare's sources. All were writing under the patronage of the Tudors, Henry VII, Henry VIII, and then Elizabeth. Winners write history. Henry VII had a most marginal claim to the throne, his father Owen Tudor, married the granddaughter of John of Gaunt's illegitimate son. We know from Henry IV through Henry VI how usurpation is the stain from which there is no escape. Henry VII, with such tenuous legitimacy, then disposed of every more legitimate claimant, including -- TA DA! -- the princes in the tower. Then, his historians "murdered" Richard's reputation post mortem. Richard was not even deformed, though apparently thin and one shoulder was slightly higher than the other.
Yeah, it's only a detective novel, but it apparently is built on the more accurate account of Richard who, after the Tudor reign and their creation of the Tudor myth, has been rehabilitated. So, instead of being at a show in NEW York, I have spent the fortnight back on a sightseeing bus in old York, screwing up my ability to read Shakespeare. Start with Horace Walpole, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third (1768), Sir Clements R. Markham, Richard III, A Doubtful Verdict Reviewed (1891), Alec R. Myers, "The Character of Richard III" (1954) and Peter Saccio, Shakespeare's English Kings (1976), 156-186. Richard Plantagenet was apparently quite an admirable personage, who ably administered the North as deputy to his brother Edward IV, to whom he was unwaveringly loyal. According to Myers, he showed zeal for trade and English interests abroad; he tried to repress disorder and promote justice; he showed generous magnanimity toward the dependents of some of his fallen opponents; he made it easier for poor suitors to present their petitions to him and his council; he strove to make financial reforms; he instituted law on land uses.
He did not kill Prince Edward of Lancaster (so much for Margaret's curses in I.iii). He did not kill his brother Clarence, whose death was the responsibility of Edward IV, against whom Clarence had madly plotted (though I am pleased that my favorite part of the myth, death by drowning in a butt of malmsey, is apparently accurate). He did not poison his wife Anne. "The existing historical evidence does not permit a firm conclusion on the fate of the princes. There is really no courtroom evidence upon which to convict anyone. We must rest content with a probability, and the probability points to Richard" (Saccio, 177). Still Sir James Tyrell did not confess to killing the princes until nineteen years later, having lived abroad with good livings provided by the Tudors. But disaffected nobles began to support the insurgency of Henry Tudor, our Richmond, and Richard died ("courageously," say even the Tudors) at the Battle of Market Bosworth, leaving the ruthless Henry Tudor to exterminate the remaining Plantagenets, and reign over the revision of history.
I'm left with four Richards: 1) the historically accurate, in so far as post-Tudor historians are able to reconstruct him; 2) Thomas More's and others' Tudor mythical monster, twisted of body and mind; 3) the young, valiant, loyal Richard of Henry VI, except for that little out-of-character soliloquy in 3 Henry VI, Act III, Scene ii, 124-195 ("Why, I can smile, and murther whiles I smile"); then 4) Shakespeare's Richard constructed from the sources and legends available to him. Unlike the Henry VIs, Richard III is not history; it is a complex drama, constructed and directed, then acted in by Shakespeare's fascinating character, Richard. "As myth, the Tudor Richard is indestructible, nor should one try to destroy him. This demonic jester and archetypal wicked uncle is far too satisfying a creation, and the works of More and Shakespeare are far too vigorous, for us to wish them otherwise" (Saccio, 159). So, once more, "now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this crunchback Dick."