Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Reading Richard III

I read Richard III over break. Actually, I read most of it coming back on the train.

A couple of thoughts:

1. Yet again, it seems to be a cautionary tale about "misplaced ambition." Richard wants to be king, but there are far too many others "in the way," and so (not unlike Louis Mazzini in "Kind Hearts and Coronets"), he manages to get them "out of the way," one by one. And he winds up paying for it.

2. I described the action as "brutal" but actually only one death (Richard's) takes place on stage. The play is sometimes classed as a "History" but sometimes as a "Tragedy." (It's kind of both, though that is the typical classification of Shakespeare's plays: it's either a Comedy, a History, or a Tragedy)

3. It's funny. I started out reading it and thinking, "Wow. This is like a really early example of propaganda; they are portraying Richard as super-evil and gross*" but by the end I was so caught up in the story that I kind of hung up my cynicism in that regard.

(*Gross, because at one point he woos a grieving widow, and at another point - even worse - he plots to marry his own niece. Ick.)

4. Women seemed to have a bigger role in this play than in many of Shakespeare's plays. (Of course, in Shakespeare's day, they would have been played by men in drag). It would actually be kind of fun, I think, to act the part of Queen Margaret, with her getting to curse everyone and all.

5. There's also a lot of Biblical quotation in the play, moreso than I remember from other of Shakespeare's plays. As I remember, in a few places Richard quoted in order to cover himself with a mantle of (apparent) holiness.

6. The propaganda element is probably stemming from Shakespeare wanting to flatter those currently in power; also it seems he drew heavily on a history that was very slanted. (But what do I know? Richard may have been a very bad dude but I can't see him as being as horrible as Shakespeare portrayed him).

And a side-note on that: If you are really conscious of that thought all the time, it will make you REALLY begin to give the side-eye to movies and some television programming. "How much of this is designed to make me think a certain way about the current power structure?" I'm guessing dissent was less likely in Shakespeare's time, however: maybe your head wasn't in danger but your future employability sure would be. But still, there's a lot of cultural stuff these days that I give the side-eye to a little bit because I feel like it's trying to make me feel a particular way.

7. The whole Tudor/York/Lancaster thing is wicked confusing. I feel like I need to read a book on the Wars of the Roses now, and probably need a program ("You can't tell one duke from another without a program!") to keep all the people straight. And apparently they were all cousins of each other somehow, yet were fighting to the death. (Or maybe the fight was so ugly BECAUSE they were all so closely related)

8. Two famous quotations that I recognized: first, the frantic "My kingdom for a horse!" just before Richard's undoing, and then the famous "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech at the very beginning.

I want to rent that movie version some time; apparently it's a re-set of the whole play to nearly-modern-day, sort of a contrafactual-history Great Britain where it became fascist in the 1930s. I suspect, though, I will find it pretty creepy - most of those dystopian things creep me out.

(I also want to see the earlier, and apparently more true-to-the-original, version that Olivier (I think it was Olivier) did)

But I guess Clarence's speech has some fame, as well:


purlewe said...

I also want to read the play. I love Shakespeare in general, but I recently saw a movie called "NOW" which depicts putting on the play in different places.. sort of a making of kind of movie. You get to see how they made the play and how it was perceived in different parts of the world. It loosely follows the storyline of the play and it made me hunger for some time alone to read it again.

Lynne said...

I always get a kick out of Shakespeare because of a joke about some student remarking "I don't know what's so great about Shakespeare. All he does is string a bunch of cliches together".

Hamlet is probably about the best for this. Probably more oft-quoted lines than any other.

Nicole said...

I'd recommend Waiting for Richard as well. Al Pacino really does a masterful job. I do like the play a lot.