Friday, October 20, 2006

RE: Richard III - Richard and Language

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.


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