Monday, July 23, 2007

RE: Rhetorical Richard II and History Plays

I am humbled and inspired by Gil's eloquence. I am indebted to him for his vision of this as a play containing a romantic element. I had not seen it before his post.

I have to now confess to an odd response I am having to these plays. Romeo and Juliet set me reflecting on the Old Norse story of the wooing of Gerd. The gods are in mortal battle with the giants, yet Njorthr, the sea god,falls in love with and woos Gerd, a mountain giant. (One happy outcome of their marriage is the invention of the sport of skiing, as a means of rapid transit between their two abodes.)

This story, according to many scholars (including that Anglo-Saxonist famous for his popular story telling, Tolkien), is reflected in the story of Ingeld and Freawaru, referred to in the Beowulf. Desires across irreconcilable boundaries are a deep part of the spirit and lore of the North (and of my life). I know there are many sources identified for this tale, most of them from the Romance languages, but I think an old Northern theme reverberates here as well.

As I am preparing now to teach something of the Arthurian tradition this fall, I am keenly aware of the tradition of the threat to kingship when the king is away fighting foreign wars. (What an advantage to our current "king"George that the tradition no longer holds that the king must accompany his soldiers in foreign wars.)

In the two versions I am working with (the metrical and alliterative Middle English "Morte D'Arthur"s), the king is away on foreign expeditions (to fight Lancelot or the Roman Emperor Lucius, respectively) when the regent at home (Mordred) decides to usurp the queen's bed and the throne (equivalent?).This story seems to supply the essential plot line of our play. Are there other overt or covert references to that most English (yet most un-Anglo-Saxon) of stories – Arthur and his knights – in Shakespeare? If not,why not?

Forgive me for again seeing a striking connection between ancient story and early modern dramatic representation. I think Will is drawing on some pretty deep wells in both cases. The yet deeper issue of the legitimacy of kings (or of any authority) is, of course, implied in both stories. What makes rule legitimate? What makes it illegitimate? These are deep and lasting questions for any society…why do we docilely accept the legitimacy of a 'ruler' who did not win the majority, nor even the peculiar electoral college in his first "election" while he drags us into a futile and fruitless, illegal war?

Enough mythopeia and realpolitik for one e-mail.


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