Sunday, September 4, 2011

Richard III

There are three major angles from which I need to consider this play, given my current research interests:

  1. Historically - This play completes the tetralogy begun with Henry VI parts 1-3. It is important for me and other Tudor scholars because it lays out the historical beginnings of Tudor rule through the defeat of Richard III by Henry Tudor (who will become Henry VII, marry Elizabeth of York, and give birth to Henry VIII) at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
  2. On Gendered Lines - Like most of the histories, there's not a huge female presence here. Most notably, there's Margaret of Anjou, who is grafted into this play anachronistically (at this point in history, she's already dead) mostly so she can shout really awesome curses at people. The best of these is not in this play, but in 3H6 (the "molehill speech" wherein Margaret captures the usurping York and mocks his pretensions for ruling by placing a paper crown on his head). The other notable woman in the play is Lady Anne, who marries Richard after he has killed her husband and father-in-law ("Was ever woman in this humor woo'd? / Was ever woman in this humor won?," Richard wonders.). While Richard seems to think that Anne is weak and unaware that he is marrying her to broker power, I'm not so sure she's that naive. The last interesting thing about women in this play is that they're either witches or wives (or in the case of Lady Elizabeth, wives who become witches upon the death of their husbands). That's a troubling dichotomy, but one that makes a bit of sense given the history plays' subject matter: nation-building power within a largely patriarchal society.
  3. In terms of childhood: The princes in the tower are Shakespeare's best-written young boys (we get adolescent princes and courtiers who have to reform, like Prince Hal, Orlando, Romeo, etc., but very few little boys that deal with similar pressures). It seems like most of what I read about them treats their death a priori (they're like Ophelia in that way...hmm), but I think that that isn't giving enough credit to the fact that they can participate in Richard's linguistic games, that they are aware of the political machinations going on around them. They are the only characters who are able to respond quickly to Richard's word games.

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