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Richard III

Rodney Lizcano as Richard III
Rodney Lizcano as Richard III
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
 
Given the number of plays (eight) in the canon devoted to the War of the Roses (Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI, parts 1, 2 & 3 and Richard III), we must ask why Shake-speare emphasized this particular period of English history. The answer is simple: Edward de Vere was paid £1,000 a year by the queen to create propaganda to justify Tudor sovereignty. In addition to most of the history plays serving this purpose, the earl wrote anonymous homilies that were delivered via pulpits across the land. It's really no different than what goes on today via Broadway and the evangelical churches: historical facts are rewritten as propaganda to serve the objectives of those pulling the strings.

Donald Sewall, the principal and pre-eminent force behind the creation of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, reminded me, over a series of annual lunches we shared some years back, during the New Play Summit, that Richard III got a bad rap from "Shakespeare." I agreed with him (Mr. Seawell was a member of the Richard III Society), and explained that de Vere synthesized a number of requirements in what is arguably the most powerful of the canon's histories (alongside Henry V): show Richard's illegitimate rise to power; extol the virtues of the House of Lancaster; and, on a personal note, polish a few rough spots in the history of the earls of Oxford.1 Mission accomplished, for the Tudors, for de Vere, and for Mr. Seawell's open-mindedness regarding Oxford.

Rodney Lizcano as Richard III
Rodney Lizcano as Richard III
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
In the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's current production of this classic, director Wendy Franz and Rodney Lizcano, as Richard III, find a marvelous balance between the tragic and comedic elements—Richard's complete ruthlessness and depravity versus the sadly comedic means by which he manipulates people, and gleefully shares with us in a running series of asides. Lizcano's ease at moving between dark, amoral duplicitousness and light, mocking cynicism alternatively draws gasps and laughs from the audience.

Anne Penner as Queen Margaret/
Anne Penner as Queen Margaret
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
 
 

As Richard, Duke of Gloucester, works his way through murdering his brother, his nephews, and other notables on his bloodthirsty path to being crowned Richard III, it is not his fellow noblemen that issue the greatest rebukes; rather, it is Queen Margaret (Anne Penner)—widow of King Henry VI, of the House of Lancaster, who was deposed by King Edward IV, of the House of York, Richard III's father—who is his most vocal and persistent adversary, both with her tongue-lashings and her curses.

Queen Margaret.
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 time will come when thou shalt wish for me
To help thee curse that poisonous bunchback'd toad.
Richard III, I, iii, 708-713

The 2nd quarto of “Richard III,” 1598.
The 2nd quarto of “Richard III,” 1598.
Note the hyphenated pen name.
 
While the recent (2014) discovery of Richard III's body indicates that he suffered from scoliosis (curvature of the spine), and would have walked with a normal gait, the depiction of the king as a hunchback with a withered arm is de Vere's purposeful invention, not only to demean the house of York and raise the House of Lancaster (the Tudor lineage, including Queen Elizabeth I, his monarch), but to cast aspersions onto his brother-in-law, Robert Cecil, who was indeed a hunckback, as well as a feared master of intrigue and spying. The resemblance between Shake-speare's Richard III and Robert Cecil became fodder for London's common libelers: "Richard [III] or Robin [Cecil], which was the worse?/ A crook't back, great in state is England's curse ..."2

Among her talents, Renner's at times otherworldly presence (she was the Soothsayer in last year's CSF production of Julius Caesar) is in perfect synch with Franz' use of magical elements, blocking, and lighting to draw attention to Margaret's command of "subtle energies." While not specifically scripted, Franz puts her interpretive stamp on this production through these insertions, which are deftly inserted without text, at key points in the drama; for example, sending a nightmare to Richard III the night before the big battle, or, when he has given up the ghost, welcoming him to the next world, in the last visual before the final blackout. This is an interesting choice with which to end the story, but not out of the question, given de Vere's musings via his stand-in, Jacques, in All's Well That Ends Well:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts ...
—II, vii, 139-142

The playwright, too, is at the crest of his powers in this story, opening with what has become one of his most famous monologues, to set the stage:

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester).
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, 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;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days. ...
Richard III, I, i, 1-31

Upon revealing his intent to us, Gloucester immediately begins to illustrate how he will pursue his dark course, by parrying with his brother George, Duke of Clarence (Jihad Milhern) and William, Lord Hastings (Sam Gregory), and then revealing their fate to us.

Lindsay Ryan as Lady Anne
Lindsay Ryan as Lady Anne
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
Next comes one of the most stunning scenes in the canon, in which Lady Anne (Lindsay Ryan) is accompanying the corpse of the recently deceased King Henry VI—who was slain in battle, as was his son, Prince Edward (Lady Anne's husband), both at the hand of Gloucester—when she is confronted on the road by Gloucester. The scene begins with Anne expressing her hate for Gloucester and ends with her agreeing to marry him. What wizard disguised as a playwright could get us to believe such a preposterous turn of events?

Lady Anne.
Thou wast provoked by thy bloody mind.
Which never dreamt on aught but butcheries:
Didst thou not kill this king?

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester). I grant ye.

Lady Anne.
Dost grant me, hedgehog? then, God grant me too
Thou mayst be damned for that wicked deed!
O, he was gentle, mild, and virtuous!

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester).
The fitter for the King of heaven, that hath him.

Lady Anne. He is in heaven, where thou shalt never come.

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester).
Let him thank me, that holp to send him thither;
For he was fitter for that place than earth.

Lady Anne. And thou unfit for any place but hell.

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester).
Yes, one place else, if you will hear me name it.

Lady Anne. Some dungeon.

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester). Your bed-chamber.

Lady Anne. I'll rest betide the chamber where thou liest!

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester).
So will it, madam till I lie with you.

Lady Anne. I hope so.

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester).
I know so. But, gentle Lady Anne,
To leave this keen encounter of our wits,
And fall somewhat into a slower method,
Is not the causer of the timeless deaths
Of these Plantagenets, Henry and Edward,
As blameful as the executioner?

Lady Anne. Thou art the cause, and most accursed effect.

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester).
Your beauty was the cause of that effect;
Your beauty: which did haunt me in my sleep
To undertake the death of all the world,
So I might live one hour in your sweet bosom.

Lady Anne.
If I thought that, I tell thee, homicide,
These nails should rend that beauty from my cheeks.
Richard III, I, ii, 99-126

Rodney Lizcano as Richard III and Lindsay Ryan as Lady Anne
Rodney Lizcano as Richard III
and Lindsay Ryan as Lady Anne
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
 
And this is just the warm up! We will leave the resolution for you to witness, but not without telling you that Renner and Lizcano's confrontation will leave you enraptured.

Yet, as Gloucester shares with us at the end of the scene, after performing the impossible, he is not satisfied:


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Richard III (Duke of Gloucester).
Was ever woman in this humour woo'd?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I'll have her; but I will not keep her long.
What! I, that kill'd her husband and his father,
To take her in her heart's extremest hate,
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of her hatred by;
Having God, her conscience, and these bars
against me, And I nothing to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!
Ha!
Hath she forgot already that brave prince,
Edward, her lord, whom I, some three months since,
Stabb'd in my angry mood at Tewksbury?
A sweeter and a lovelier gentleman,
Framed in the prodigality of nature,
Young, valiant, wise, and, no doubt, right royal,
The spacious world cannot again afford
And will she yet debase her eyes on me,
That cropp'd the golden prime of this sweet prince,
And made her widow to a woful bed?
On me, whose all not equals Edward's moiety?
On me, that halt and am unshapen thus?
Richard III, I, ii, 228-251

(Left to right) Luka Teodoru as Prince Edward and Sean Scrutchins as the Duke of Buckingham
(L to R) Luka Teodoru as Prince Edward
and Sean Scrutchins as the Duke of Buckingham
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
 
After Gloucester has his brother, Clarence, murdered, he uses the news to send an already ill and weak King Edward IV (Leraldo Anzaldua) to his deathbed, which leaves Gloucester as Protector to his nephews, whom he has sequestered in the Tower of London, to prevent the eldest from being crowned the next king. There, Gloucester has them murdered, after a well-staged propaganda campaign orchestrated by the Duke of Buckingham (Sean Scrutchins, who deftly turns Buckingham's obsequiousness to Richard into duplicity towards all), paving the way for Gloucester's coronation.

Betty Hart as Queen Elizabeth
Betty Hart as Queen Elizabeth
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
Then, Gloucester (now King Richard III) poisons Lady Anne, to be free to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York, Edward IV's next remaining heir. All of this ends with King Richard III confronting the mother of the two princes, Queen Elizabeth (Betty Hart), who, along with his own mother, the Dutchess of York (Leslie O'Carroll), and Queen Margaret, bury him in curses. Hart is majestic as she confronts the murderous king.

Queen Elizabeth.
God's wrong is most of all.
If thou hadst fear'd to break an oath by Him,
The unity the king thy brother made
Had not been broken, nor my brother slain:
If thou hadst fear'd to break an oath by Him,
The imperial metal, circling now thy brow,
Had graced the tender temples of my child,
And both the princes had been breathing here,
Which now, two tender playfellows to dust,
Thy broken faith hath made a prey for worms.
What canst thou swear by now?

King Richard III. The time to come.

Queen Elizabeth.
That thou hast wronged in the time o'erpast;
For I myself have many tears to wash
Hereafter time, for time past wrong'd by thee.
The children live, whose parents thou hast slaughter'd,
Ungovern'd youth, to wail it in their age;
The parents live, whose children thou hast butcher'd,
Old wither'd plants, to wail it with their age.
Swear not by time to come; for that thou hast
Misused ere used, by time misused o'erpast.
Richard III, IV, iv, 378-396

Brian Kusic as Henry, Earl of Richmond
Brian Kusic as Henry, Earl of Richmond
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
As Queen Elizabeth, Queen Margaret, and the Dutchess of York portend, Richard III's crimes eventually catch up to him on Bosworth Field, where, famously, he loses his horse and then his life, to Henry, Earl of Richmond, of the House of Lancaster, who becomes Henry VII. With that, the War of the Roses comes to an end, and the royal line leading to Queen Elizabeth I is established and justified.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's presentation of Richard III, by "William Shake-speare," runs through August 11th. For tickets: https://cupresents.org/.

Bob Bows



Footnotes:
1The 13th Earl of Oxford helped depose the Yorkist king Richard III, and is a character in the play. There is a stone bas-relief, thought to have hung in Castle Hedingham (the ancestral seat of the earls of Oxford), that depicts the victorious Henry Tudor riding triumphantly with the earl of Oxford at his side; however, de Vere seems to have embellished his forebearers' role in the Henry VI plays. Mark Anderson, "Shakespeare" by Another Name, Gotham Books, New York, 2005, p. 5.
2Ibid., p.305.



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