Wednesday, May 4, 2011

April Reviews

I think reading Richard III in 10th grade was what made me realize how fun Shakespeare can be. As a class, we read the play aloud, taking various parts and stumbling over Elizabethan English. But somewhere along the way (probably in Act I), we all got it. Richard was read by a goofy jokester who enjoyed teasing us girls and we enjoyed teasing him back. So, he was the perfect candidate for the various exchanges of insults between Richard and Anne and Richard and Margaret--"never hung poison on a fouler toad," "hateful with'red hag", "bottled spider," etc. Add to that the drama and larger than life action and I understand completely why my teacher chose to have us read this play over some of the milder comedies.

Reading it again, after having read some more history as well as Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour (a pro-Richard novel), I spot some gaps. For instance, 3 Henry VI left off with Edward IV newly crowned, a new father to Prince Edward, and Henry VI recently murdered by Richard. Richard III has the hero villain wooing Anne over Henry's corpse while his brother Edward is ailing and there is talk of the younger son of the king growing taller than the older who speaks as if he's at least 8 years old. So, how long did Henry lie dead in state--8 years? Also, Anne resists Richard as her husband and father-in-law's killer yet she was never married. Also, I find it a little more incredible that she would accept him if he were the monster he appears here.

I've heard the argument that Richard was depicted as such a monster by Shakespeare and his sources to paint the Tudor takeover as a deliverance from the horrors of civil war (Yorks vs. Lancaster) and power-hunger gone mad. Clearly, he was not completely the ogre that he appears but the mystery of the princes in the tower isn't completely answered by the pro or anti Richard sides.

Nevertheless, Shakespeare's play is more than propaganda--it's myth, as Peter Saccio suggests in Shakespeare's English Kings. It's an exploration of evil, of conscienceless man. He begins as an actor and ends as a madman. And it's still thrilling to read and watch.

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