Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Richard III - Notes Toward a Discussion of Richard's Interaction With Women


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.

ELIZABETH—First Encounter
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.


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