Sunday, October 15, 2017

Harvard with My Daughter: Richard III


Below is my homework on Richard III: that revengeful, plotting, deformed Machiavellian tyrant we love to hate. I got a B+. 

ENGL E-124
Shakespeare’s Early Plays
Fall 2017

1. The first thirteen lines in Richard III’s opening soliloquy are about the improved state of affairs for his family after the ascendency of his brother King Edward IV to the English Crown. “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York” (1.1.1-1.1.2). Using winter and summer as metaphors for sadness and celebration, Richard III reminds the audience that his family suffered during the civil wars and the wars of the Roses, when “clouds … loured” (1.1.3) upon their house (of York). But in line fourteen, the monologue shifts from a relieved Duke of Gloucester for his family’s “victorious wreaths” (1.1.5) to the revengeful, plotting, deformed tyrant, known as Richard III: “I, that am rudely stamped (1.1.16) / Cheated of feature by dissembling nature (1.1.19) / Deformed, unfinished (1.1.20) ... villain” (1.1.30). Here, we discover that the kingdom may be at peace: “Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings” (1.1.7) under the sunny reign of his brother Edward IV, but the spell of the long winter: “In the deep bosom of the ocean buried” (1.1.4) remains with our vibrantly melodramatic hero-villain who has “no delight to pass away the time” (1.1.25). His determination to become the villain speaks to the real-life political scheming – made ever more popular by the Tudors - of a tyrant’s ascent to political power. Richard III laments that he “hate[s] the idle pleasures of these days” (1.1.31), then declares “And if King Edward be as true and just / As I am subtle, false and treacherous / This day should Clarence closely be mewed up” (1.1.37 – 1.1.38). Here, Richard IIIs plotting and promulgation of the false prophesy “which says that ‘G’ / Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be” (1.1.39 – 1.1.40) stops with the poignantly abrupt: “Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here Clarence comes” (1.1.41). At the surface, it is as if he is silencing the mechanisms of his own tyrannical thoughts in order to falsely greet Clarence with the mild smile and gracious air tyrants put on when rallying support for power. No strenuous effort is required on behalf of the audience/Reader to recognize Richard III as the rationalist tyrant. In Book VIII of Plato’s Republic, the regime of the tyrant is examined, explaining that in the early days he has a smile and a greeting for everyone he meets (such as how Richard III greets Clarence); he disclaims absolute power (Buckingham convinces the people that Richard III is the true ruler; then Richard III feigns modesty: (3.7.204) “I am unfit for state and majesty.”); essentially scheming (spreads lies, slanders others, generates conflicts between others to promote his plot) his way to the throne. Richard IIIs deceitful machinations are transparent and ironic, bringing an Elizabethan/modern audience to delight in the notion that the unflinching, unsparing villainous Richard III lost more than his life in the process - he lost his soul.

2. When in Act I, Scene III, it is proclaimed that King Edward IV wants to make peace between his wife Queen Elizabeth and Richard III, and their respective kinsmen, Richard III takes the offense, accusing Queen Elizabeth of wishing her husband dead and imprisoning Clarence and Lord Hastings: “Meantime, God grants that I have need of you: / Our brother is imprison’d by your means” (1.3.76-77) and “You may deny that you were not the mean / Of my Lord Hastings’ late imprisonment” (1.3.89-90).  Naturally, Queen Elizabeth is forced into defensive posturing: “Brother of Gloucester, you mistake the matter / The king, on his own royal disposition, / And not provoked by any suitor else / Aiming, belike, at your interior hatred / That in your outward action shows itself / Against my children, brothers, and myself / Makes him to send, that he may learn the ground” (1.3.62).  Entering the scene, at first unnoticed, Queen Margaret, widow of Henry VI, upon overhearing Richard III and Queen Elizabeth’s discord, laments for her lost husband, son, and title: “I was, but I do find more pain in banishment / Than death can yield me here by my abode / A husband and a son thou ow’st to me / And thou a kingdom; all of you allegiance / The sorry that I have, by right is yours / And all the pleasures you usurp are mine” (1.3.166-171).  Queen Margaret further curses Richard III: “And leave out thee? Stay, dog, for thou shalt hear me / If heaven have any grievous plague in store / Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee / O, let them keep it till thy sins be ripe” (1.3.214-217) and then curses Elizabeth: “Poor painted queen, vain flourish of my fortune / Why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spider / Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about? / Fool, fool, thou whet’st a knife to kill thyself / The day will come that thou shalt wish for me / To help thee curse this poisonous bunch-backed toad” (1.3.242-247). Essentially, Queen Margaret is portrayed as bitter about the assignation of her husband and son and her loss of power: “I was, but I do find more pain in banishment / Than death can yield me here by my abode” (1.3.166-167). Out of pain and grief, she curses Queen Elizabeth to the same fate: “Thyself a queen, for me that was a queen / Outlive thy glory, like my wretched self! / Long mayst thou live to wail thy children's death / And see another, as I see thee now / Decked in thy rights, as thou art stalled in mine / Long die thy happy days before thy death / And, after many lengthened hours of grief / Die neither mother, wife, nor England’s queen” (1.3.200-207), and with these poignant words she foreshadows the play’s plot. When Queen Margaret returns in Act 4 Scene 4 she admits how her curses come to fruition: “... prosperity begins to mellow / And drop into the rotten mouth of death” (4.4.1-2). Margaret further warns the Duchess of York, Mother to King Edward IV, Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, that she is: “hungry for revenge” (4.4.60) and that of Richard III she aspires to declare: “The dog is dead!” (4.4.77). It is here when Queen Elizabeth recites Queen Margaret’s curse: “O, thou didst prophesy the time would come / That I should wish for thee to help me curse / That bottled spider, that foul bunch-backed toad!” (4.4.78-80). Again we see the use of a toad as a metaphor. In the Book of Exodus, the Second Plague brings frogs and Richard III is being likened to one. Aesop wrote a fable about an old frog who died after trying to inflate herself to become as big and powerful as the ox that crushed a young frog into the mud (perhaps a metaphor for Richard III’s involvement in the demise of the essentially helpless Edward V, King of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York – the two young brothers and only sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville). Here we see an almost woeful prophet of God, Queen Margaret, acknowledging how she had cursed Queen Elizabeth: “I called thee then vain flourish of my fortune” (4.4.81) but now, seeing it come to fruition, acquiesces to Queen Elizabeth’s request to “quicken” (4.4.123) her words so that they will “pierce” (4.4.124) like her own. Here she comes to the aid of Queen Elizabeth. After bestowing a gift in recompense, Queen Margaret exits, but her wrath continues in Queen Elizabeth’s Margaretian-like curses of Richard III. Without Queen Margaret the play would lose the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ logic derived from the Bible (“Vengence is mine.” Deuteronomy 32.35), though Queen Margaret’s willingness to help Queen Elizabeth find the words to curse Richard III almost implies a ‘turn the other cheek’ (Matthew 5:39) attitude. While the divine right of kings, or God’s mandate, the political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy asserting that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God, did not come to the fore until under the reign of James I of England (1603-1625), the Christian notion of a divine right can be traced back to 1 Samuel (24:6-7) when “[David] said to his men, ‘The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” In this way, Queen Margaret could not vow to harm Richard III, only curse him, for it would be against the word of God to do otherwise. This keeps the play in check with the Protestant Rule of Faith: “ALL Protestants agree in teaching that “the word of God, as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” (Archibald Alexander Hodge). Under Queen Elizabeth I, the scriptures were infallible, and given in inspiration by God. This aspect speaks to the divine authority of the Tudor monarchy, attesting that it is by the will of God that the monarchs reign on Earth.

3. When Richard III with his train enter, asking: “Who intercepts me in my expedition?” (4.4.135), his mother, the Duchess of York, claims it is “she that might have intercepted thee / By strangling thee in her accursed womb / From all the slaughters, wretch, that thou hast done!” (4.4.136 – 138). Here, his own mother laments his very existence, but he reminds her that he is “... the lord’s anointed” (4.4.150), further attesting to his legitimacy and the fine line upon which even his mother treads. He implores that she: “Either be patient and entreat me fair” (4.4.151) or he will “...with the clamorous report of war / ... drown your exclamations” (4.4.152-153), which he does with the sounding of alarums. His mother demands to speak: “O, let me speak!” (4.4.159) to which he retorts: “Do then, but I’ll not hear” (4.4.160). The Duchess of York softens her tone: “I will be mild and gentle in my words” (4.4.161). “I have stayed for thee / God knows, in torment and in agony” (4.4.163). Here, Richard III reassures his mother, “And came I not at last to comfort you?” (4.4.165). But it is to no avail, for his mother now recounts of the burdens of her pregnancy with him: “A grievous burden was thy birth to me” (4.4.168) and how he, despite in his prime being “daring, bold, and venturous” (4.4.171) only in age to be: “confirmed, proud, subtle, sly and bloody / More mild, but yet more harmful, kind in hatred / What comfortable hour canst though name / That ever graced me with thy company?” (4.4.172-175). Basically, she is giving him the ultimate guilt trip. Richard III reminds her that they had “breakfast once forth” (4.4.177) but that if he “be so disgracious in your eye / Let me march on and not offend you, madam / Strike up the drum” (4.4.178-180).  Here, his mother pleads again: “I prithee hear me speak ... Hear me a word / For I shall never speak to thee again” (4.4.181, 4.4.183-184). Richard III consents, really he has no choice as she words are thunderous over the alarums. Now begins the curse put upon Richard III by his own mother: “Either thou wilt die, by God’s just ordinance / Ere from this war thou turn a conqueror / Or I with grief and extreme age shall perish / And never more behold thy face again / Therefore take with thee my most grievous curse / Which in the day of battle tire thee more / Than all the complete armour that thou wear’st! / My prayers on the adverse party fight / And there the little souls of Edward’s children / Whisper the spirits of thine enemies / And promise them success and victory / Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end / Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend” (4.4.186-198). Richard III does not succeed in silencing his mother’s attacks with the sounding of drums (music); thus, he listens. It is almost as if his silence here tells us that he is considering her words, taking them to heart. The next scene, of course, is a discussion on matters of the heart, as if his mother’s curse is not only a prophesy for his ultimate demise, but also as a set-up for the ensuing dialogue between Richard III and Queen Elizabeth on his love for her daughter: “I mean that with my soul I love thy daughter / And do intend to make her Queen of England” (4.4.265-266).   

4. It is difficult to separate Richard Burbage’s original delivery of: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (5.3.361, 5.3.367) from the intensity of how the line is remembered, but the line itself returns us full-circle, back to the irony with which the play begins. Richard III was discontent during a time of great peace and celebration. At the beginning of the play his family was victorious, but he was: “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature / Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time / Into this breathing world, scarce half made up / And that so lamely and unfashionable / That dogs bark at me as I halt by them” (1.1.19 - 1.1.23). Here, Richard III’s lament that he was cheated out of his rightful inheritance (good looks, healthy body for wooing women) foreshadows his final lament that he was also cheated out of victory by a horse. In 2 Kings 23:11 it is writ: “He removed from the entrance to the temple of the LORD the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melek. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.” In this Biblical passage horses and chariots were being used in idolatrous processions, as noticed in regard to the sun. In the opening soliloquy of the play, the Duke of Gloucester states: “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York” (1.1.1-1.1.2). Metaphorically, Richard III destroys his entire family (the chariots) under his brother’s (son of York) sunny reign. He beings with the plural “we” and “our” and ends with the singular “my”, which speaks to his lament: “I shall despair. There is no creature loves me / And if I die, no soul shall pity me” (5.3.204-205). It is as if the play ends on the same ironic thread with which it begins, with false glory in relation the sun of York, King Edward IV.