Review: Richard III, William Shakespeare

I looked up Richard III, and Wikipedia says that scholars consider it one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.  Well, you know what, Wikipedia?  Scholars apparently did not read The Daughter of Time at a young and impressionable age and acquire an emotional stake in the innocence of Richard III!  I have a framed portrait of Richard III in my house, and one of these days I am going to borrow a drill to do a guide-hole, and hang the damn thing up.  In my last apartment it hung right next to my bookshelf.

Let me just say, Parliament had already passed through a bill declaring all of Edward IV’s children illegitimate (that was how Richard became King in the first place), so there was just really no point in Richard’s killing them.  Hell, I’d have declared them illegitimate too, with their father dead and all the kill-you-to-get-ahead Woodville relatives around preying on their little minds.  Oh, and when Henry VII took power (HUH), Parliament passed through a Bill of Attainder about how wicked and evil Richard was, and it never even hinted that he had killed any little princes.  Which makes Josephine Tey – and Elizabeth Peters – and me – think that they were probably not dead yet at that point.

And you know what else?  Henry VIII was not a bad king, despite his shocking wife-beheading ways, and that little incident with St. Thomas More, and I just want to say, he really spent very little time with his (Tudor) father growing up, but was very close with his (Plantagenet) mum.  I ONLY MENTION IT.  I DO NOT POSIT ANY CAUSAL CONNECTION.

Is Richard III one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays?  Dude, I have no idea.  I was too busy stewing over the injustice of history.

No, wait, I’ve not done this right.  Let me give it another go.  The Duke of Gloucester – I’m calling him that as a means of separating him in my mind from Actual Richard III, who I AM SURE would never hurt a fly – the Duke of  Gloucester is an excellent character.  As evil as he is, it’s a bit seductive.  (I liked Satan as well in Paradise Lost.)  We’re the only ones in Gloucester’s confidence, and he’s tipping us an enormous wink with practically every line:

They do me wrong and I will not endure it:
Who are they that complain unto the king
That I, forsooth, am stern, and love them not?
By holy Paul, they love his grace but lightly
That fill his ears with such dissentious rumours.
Because I cannot flatter and speak fair,
Smile in men’s faces, smooth, deceive and cog,
Duck with French nods and apish courtesy,
I must be held a rancorous enemy.
Cannot a plain man live and think no harm,
But thus his simple truth must be abused
By silken, sly, insinuating Jacks?


I am, by the way, justly paid out for urging Shakespeare to fudge history to make it a better story.  Gloucester takes the throne by declaring his brother’s sons illegitimate.  And to make Gloucester really wicked, Shakespeare has him cast doubt on the legitimacy of Edward IV too; i.e., Gloucester implies that his own mother was unfaithful to his father.  “But touch this sparingly, as ‘twere far off,” he says, “because you know, my lord, my mother lives.”  Oh, he’s so evil!  This is a better story than sticking to a possibly legitimate gripe about Edward IV’s bigamy, and I cannot really complain about it.

I love it how Gloucester and his cohorts plan how to make him appear noble and religious when he is ready to get crowned, how his (temporary) BFF Buckingham describes him as the antithesis of the womanizing Edward IV (darn it, I keep writing Edward VI by mistake – he’s the one who died without knowing the love of a woman).  When offered the crown in a nicely staged ceremony before the people and the gullible Mayor of London, Gloucester nobly refuses – shades of Caesar, and a plot device that Shakespeare will, of course, use again when he writes Julius Caesar.

(In his cups (I’m assuming they have pubs in heaven), Plutarch is probably all like, “Shkspeare din’t think of that himself, y’know.  I was the originin – I was the orin – I was the one who wrote that story down first.  Evrybody thinks he’s so great but iss me that he got that story from.  I’m a great historian!”  And then he probably slaps his beer down really hard and sloshes it everywhere, and then Ralph Waldo Emerson is probably all, “Let me take you home; you’ve had enough” and says apologetically to the bartender, “Sorry about him, he really was a great historian,” and then Plutarch probably throws his glass at the bartender and hollers “I usedta work for an ORACLE!” and Emerson props him up and says, “I know you did, man, let’s get you back to your cloud, come on.”  And on the way home Plutarch laughs derisively and says, “He said Brutus was an honorable man like – like fifteen thousand bazillion – it got rully lame – I don’t feel so good,” and then is sick into someone’s heavenly geraniums and then he’s like “Hahahahaha, I ralphed – get it, get it, cause your name – I love you Ralphie,” and then he probably cries and says “Willm Shkspeare never visits me – nobody reads my stuff except stupid Latin students – why doesn’t anybody love me anymore?” and drunk-dials Herodotus to commiserate.)

Okay, having given myself some emotional distance by calling Shakespeare’s character Gloucester, and by thinking of him as a character instead of a historical figure of whom I am protective – I have to admit that Richard III is a damn good play.  I want  to tell you about every single amazing scene – like the one where Margaret (“Why should she live, to fill the world with words?”) makes fun of Edward IV’s queen, who has just lost her husband and sons; and the one where Richard screws around with Buckingham just because he can.  Oh, and the scene where Gloucester (now King) is telling his sister-in-law how nice he’s going to be to her, and she bitch-slaps him in iambic pentameter:

Be brief, lest that the process of thy kindness
Last longer telling than thy kindness’ date.

And then there’s the big battle, and despite a lot of brave fighting, Richard is slain.  It’s sad, and I couldn’t maintain this separation between the Gloucester character and the real Richard III.  I remember from The Daughter of Time what the City of York put in their town records after Richard III was killed, and I’m pretty sure I remember it word for word.  So while Shakespeare was sucking up to the descendents of Henry VII, I was thinking of that.  “This day was our good King Richard piteously slain and murdered; to the great heaviness of this city.”

Onward now to Comedy of Errors.  I really do not want to read Comedy of Errors.  I was in it in high school and it’s idiotic.  Preview: There are two sets of twins resulting in lots of HILARIOUS MISHAPS.  God, I can’t wait for Twelfth Night.

Have you read Richard III?  Or have you seen it performed?  Is there a good film version I should investigate?

The next reading project

I had this idea because of a weird dream I had.  This project is for after I finish reading the Harry Potter books – which I’m taking longer to do than I anticipated, because I’m enjoying it so much and I want to make it last.

My next reading project – which will run parallel to my rereading The Good Fairies of New York and Lonely Werewolf Girl before finally reading Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me – will be to read all of Shakespeare’s plays, in chronological order.  There’s at least twenty of Shakespeare’s plays I’ve not read, and you know, I really like William Shakespeare.  He’s one of those people that I like so much that it will change my opinion of – hm.  This sentence isn’t working out. What I mean is, when people dislike Shakespeare, they go down in my estimation (like Bernard Shaw), but when people really, really, really like Shakespeare, I feel fonder of them (like Samuel Johnson).  I have this same thing about the Brownings and Oscar Wilde.  If somebody says something unpleasant about them, it’s like they’ve insulted my family.  I feel very angry and I want to track down the offending parties and be like HEY YOU.  BACK OFF.  I even went through a phase of being angry at Alexander Pope, with whom – ordinarily – I think I would have gotten on beautifully.  But I was mad at him for making changes to Shakespeare’s verses.  I’m sorry to say that I called him “Alexander Poop” for two months my senior year of high school before finally deciding to forgive him.

Anyway, watch out for my views on Henry VI.  Coming relatively soonishly.