Richard III: Act I sc ii (Ponytail Shakespeare read-through)
Sub-title: ‘Do you have free wi-fi? Because I’m sensing a connection …’
At school, we have a department policy of sitting boy-girl where possible (until sixth form, at least), and in most classes there is a combination that seems to get on that bit too well. So, I’ve been researching chat-up lines I can embarrass those pupils with. Yes, I’m that kind of teacher …
These are the best clean ones I’ve found so far. If you can top this, let me know.
Anyway, back to the play! Shrug. If you’ve decided to behave badly, you may as well test your strength straight away, right? If we accept, after my last post, that the main thing on Richard‘s mind is the constant, inevitable rejection of women, it follows that his next step in the play (the true story is somewhat different) is to seduce someone …
(Can I also say it hurt my eyes to search for this image?
See the lengths I am willing to go to for you?)
This is such a powerful scene, not just on paper but – I think – in The Hollow Crown (where Anne Neville is wonderfully played by Phoebe Fox). I really wanted to avoid a post-per-scene, but how could I pass this by?
Anne is an under-rated character, overlooked by those who foolishly believe Shakespeare to be misogynist because it suits their own ideological bias. She is intelligent, and spunky. She can play Richard at his own game – at least temporarily – and it isn’t Shakespeare’s fault that she cannot succeed. She’s alone, friendless, operating in a patriarchal society which offers no real protection to a widow. Four hundred years later, she’d probably do better, even if she probably wouldn’t actually beat him.
Look at her equal facility with words:
RICHARD: Lady, you know no rules of charity,
Which renders good for bad, blessings for curses
ANNE: Villain, thou knowst nor law of God nor man. (I.ii.68-70)
This extended, rapid-fire exchange is charged. It’s not sexual chemistry, but sparks are certainly flying! If Anne lacks anything here, perhaps it is emotional control. Richard keeps the formal, polite ‘you’ whereas she can’t hold back the venomous, epithetic ‘thou’. To be honest, who can blame her, given what ‘The Hoff’ has to say at the top of the post about what happened to her husband and father-in-law?
Hate him as you might – notice I said ‘you’, not ‘we’ – Richard’s logical approach is almost unassailable. Let’s try and summarise it – modern lotharios take note of the technique:
- I didn’t kill your husband or father-in-law.
- Well, OK, I did, but surely they’re better off in heaven anyway, if they’re both as great as you say they are?
- This is all very well, but who’s really to blame – the person who committed the crime, but the one who comissioned it? That sort of makes YOU the murderer, by the way, because your beauty prompted me to go on a murderous stabbing spree
- And, well, thing is, you’re now free to marry a better man – one who loves you more than your last husband could, and could probably satisfy you more in bed, whilst we’re at it (contextually, it seems that Anne and Prince Edward didn’t consummate their marriage)
- Who? Well, doh! Me! That’s who …
I enjoy showing this scene ‘blind’, that is without the class having read the lines first. When we get to point 4:
ANNE: thou [art] unfit for any place but hell.
RICHARD: Yes, one place, if you will hear me name it.
ANNE: Some dungeon.
RICHARD: Your bedchamber. (I.ii.111-114)
you hear the reaction to Richard’s suggestion – I’m going to stereotype, but based on experience: there are gasps from everyone, but different ones from the girls (outraged) and boys (half-admiring). And the seven-syllable shared line gives us a short pause to fill with that gasp, with some reaction to his daring. But all the noise dies when Richard hands her his sword and – playing poker like a pro – dares her to up the stakes by killing him:
If thy revengeful heart cannot forgive,
Lo, here I lend thee this sharp-pointed sword,
Which if thou please to hide in this true breast.
And let the soul forth that adoreth thee,
I lay it naked to the deadly stroke,
And humbly beg the death upon my knee.
(He [kneels and] lays his breast open, she offers at [it] with his sword.) (I.ii.176-181)
Richard has already moved towards the more intimate ‘thou’ as he begins to sense Anne’s confusion at the thought that he might love her. She is, fundamentally a good woman. She can’t/won’t kill. He knows this. She folds her cards. Game over.
Perhaps the final straw is Richard’s audacious giving of the ring. I say audacious, but by now, perhaps he’s realised his victory and is simply pressing it home in a most ungentlemanly fashion.
‘To take is not to give.’ (I.ii.205)
attempting to negate the implications of the act, but none of us are fooled, either on or off stage.
This is where the Hollow Crown version starts to kick in, I think. Fox’s Anne struggles with tears of fury, frustration and the realisation that she has very little wriggle-room, unless she actually murders the man. This is signified by her switching to ‘you’:
‘and much it joys me too
To see you are become so penitent.’ (I.ii.222-223)
She doesn’t believe it – we don’t believe it, but it is the final white flag. There’s nothing she can do, and Anne wells up. She’s gone from snappy comebacks to abject defeat.
‘Was ever woman in this humour wooed?
Was ever woman in this humour won?’ (I.ii.230-231)
Spot on. In many ways, Richard’s first accomplishment is his most outrageous.
This is maybe the sternest test of our complicity, too, as the audience. When Richard says:
‘I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long.’ (I.ii.232)
this brash statement deepens our awe at Richard’s willingness to risk all for something he doesn’t even seem to want all that much – as well as chilling us with the realisation that Anne’s days are numbered. He is toying with her like one of Lear’s ‘wanton’ gods, pulling the wings off a helpless fly. And we are part of this, remember …
How can such a man be stopped? Can he?