To understand Richard, Duke of Gloucester, you must know him.Really know him …
And to know him, I think it’s essential we don’t look at his eponymous play in isolation.Think of it as a season finale. And like Margaret of Anjou, Richard’s character has been developing towards this climax – in my read-through, I’ve likened his journey to that of Anakin Skywalker from ‘freckled whelp’ to Sith Lord …
“Is black so base a hue?” Aaron, Titus Andronicus, Act IV scene ii …
AF Scott, Witch, Spirit, Devil, (White Lion Publishing: London, 1974)
Whilst Black History Month isn’t celebrated in the UK until October, this is a bit of an international blog: about half of you are visitors from the US, and another quarter or so from elsewhere outside the UK – thank you, by the way!
So now, whilst I’m reading Scott’s book, feels like the time to look at this …
Ponytail Shakespeare read-through – Richard III (Act I, scene i)
Larger than life. One of a kind. Brash on the outside, to mask an inner vulnerability. The ultimate showman, whose memory lives on long after his death. Freddie Mercury is all these things, too …
I’ve arrived at Richard III, the first play in my read-through that I know well, with a sense of awe, almost a fear of not doing him justice. Unusually, I’m as tentative as I might have been had I met him with a pathetic autograph book in my hand (or Mercury, whose death in 1991 touched me as few other celebrity deaths have: Prince and Sir Terry Pratchett are the only others that I register, emotionally). My relationship with Richard grows more obsessive and complex every time I teach him, and my recent book-buying seems unconciously centred round the historical Richard and the major players in his accession and downfall. I’ve also realised there is no way I can do this in the usual 1,000-ish-words-per-act format, so all I’m going to do is try to avoid 1,000 words-per-scene, if I can.
Ponytail Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV
KATHERINA: ‘And be it moon or sun or what you please,
And if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.
PETRUCCIO: I say it is the moon.
KATHERINA: I know it is the moon.
PETRUCCIO: Nay then, you lie; it is the blessed sun.
KATHERINA: Then God be blest, it is the blessed sun.’
I so often say to students (usually when we’re looking at poetry) that you should ‘bring your baggage’ to a work. It’s one of the things that makes re-reading an unexpected joy, as you arrive at a familiar work with fresh eyes. The ‘baggage’ can, of course, be life experiences, or other works that you’ve read: regular readers will already know that I have a habit of conflating Caliban, Richard III and Frankenstein’s monster, to talk through a sympathetic lens about those three characters and the nature vs. nurture argument.