WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE – RICHARD III – BBC - 1983
It is one of the best
known and most produced play by Shakespeare and certainly the best known and
most produced history. What’s surprising about this play is that it can stand
all by itself though knowing the three Henry the Sixth plays help understand
the stake of this one. True enough it only helps because this history is very
self sufficient, in a way.
We have to clear the
plate of a question that is today no longer debated. Shakespeare proposes here
the vision of Richard III promoted by the Tudors, that is to say those who
vanquished and destroyed him, in order to stabilize and justify their taking
over te throne of England.
Richard III was not the physical monster they described.
Richard III was no 'bunch-backed
toad', research suggests
Paper published in Lancet says
king's scoliosis probably caused him to be shorter but did not cause major
Severe scoliosis in the skeleton
found under a Leicester car park less than two years ago – and
DNA matches with a distant relative of the Plantagenet king – helped to confirm
"beyond reasonable doubt" the identity of the remains.
... Research funded by Leicester University and published in the Lancet medical journal on Friday suggests the king's
disfigurement was probably slight because a "well-balanced" sideways
curvature in the spine would have meant his head and neck were straight, not
tilted to one side.
Although the king's torso would have
been short relative to the length of his arms and legs, and his right shoulder
a little higher than his left, a good tailor and custom-made armour could have
minimised the "visual impact" of his condition, according to the
There was no evidence that Richard
would have walked with an obvious limp; his leg bones were symmetric and
well-formed. Neither would the disease, which probably developed when Richard
was an adolescent, have reduced his ability to exercise.
The researchers have already
established that Richard would have been about 5ft 8in (1.7m) tall without his
scoliosis, about average for a medieval man, although his condition meant he
would have appeared several inches shorter. Tudor propagandists, especially
Shakespeare, ensured Richard has been seen as hunchbacked for centuries...
This being said this
play is a real thriller. Richard has to eliminate everyone on his path to climb
(really climb) to the throne. I would say that sounds plain normal but he
declares himself to be evil and to enjoy killing, particularly innocent people.
And when he has finally finished the elimination of those who have a blood
claim to the throne, except Richmond who has
fled to Brittany,
he starts killing those who have helped him in his ascent, which is politically
absurd and plain suicidal. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, comes back with an
army and defeats Richard III at Bosworth in 1485 and thus becomes Henry VII
known as the first Tudor king, though he is a Lancaster, which means the House
of Lancaster in the end wins but they change the dynastic reference, probably
to ensure the past be the past, which might explain why Richard III after
proper examination was buried in a small church with no indication on his grave,
which explains why in modern times when the church was pull down to open some
space for a parking lot no archaeological search was started and Richard III
remained under the parking lot for a long time before new excavations to build
some new structure finally discovered him, or at least his remains.
The victor is always
right and history hates the past and disguises it to the colors of the present,
which means the color of the past changes from one present to the next. In this
case Shakespeare took part in the disguising campaign some 110 years after the
events. Richard III only lived 33 years and reigned two. He had no descent but
the House of York had of course and represented the Plantagenet line, though
the Lancaster are also connected to the Plantagenet since Henry the Seventh’s
great-great-great-grandfather was the Plantagenet king Edward III (1307-1327).
Once again we have to keep in mind that the British kings, and it is probably
true of many other noble families in the Middle Ages, were severely inbreeding
in medieval times. And when they were not inbreeding in England they
went on inbreeding with the French side of the family. They were all cousins
and at times not that far removed.
That means the claim
that could arise from the York
branch of the Plantagenet blood line could have been strong enough to be
considered as a real threat. When you want to kill your dog you just pretend he
is rabid. And that’s what they did with Richard III.
This production is
superb in many ways, once again by the physical acting of pain, sorrow and
death, particularly with body language, facial language and tonal language. A
triplet of queens is essential: Margaret the old widow of Henry the Sixth; Lady
Anne, widow to Edward Prince of Wales, son of Henry the Sixth, later married to
the Duke of Gloster who later became Richard the Third; and Elizabeth, queen to
Edward the Fourth and then his widow. Of these three queens Lady Anne is the
most discreet though fundamental because of her marrying Gloster, the future
Richard the Third and the killer of both her husband and her father in law, but
another triplet is composed with the Duchess of York, mother to King Edward the
Fourth, Clarence and Gloster, the latter to become Richard the Third. The
oldest of them, Margaret is a real warmonger against Richard the Third and this
production makes her triumphant at the very end, after the concluding words
from Henry the Seventh, sitting, laughing hysterically, at the top of a pile of
half denuded dead bodies, and holding the corpse of Richard the Third. The full
and final step of this purification cycle typical of Shakespeare: she takes, or
rather is granted, the victory she is provided with by history or fate.
There is at least one
happy person in that play, and it is Margaret, though true enough it is added
to Shakespeare’s play that ends with a full pardon
Now civil wounds are stopp’d, peace lives again:
she may long live here, God say Amen!” (Act V, Scene v)
But to show how strong
Shakespeare’s music can be, I will make a final remark on the famous ghost
scene. In his last night living on earth before the battle of Bosworth he has a
dream that brings up EIGHT apparitions of ghosts, eleven ghosts all together:
1- Prince Edward, son to
Henry the Sixth;
2- King Henry the Sixth;
4- Rivers, Grey and
6- the two young
princes, sons of Edward the Fourth;
7- Queen Anne (Princess
of Wales, then Duchess of Gloster, then Queen to Richard the Third. DShe dies
mysteriously before Bosworth, hence her apparition as a ghost);
EIGHT is the symbol of
the Second Coming, and here we have eleven second comings. The Second Coming is
the triggering event of the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation.
ELEVEN is the number of
apostles after the elimination of Judas, the eleven apostles who retire away
from the Crucifixion (except John) and who deny Jesus, like Peter, and who hide
away from the crucifixion and post crucifixion scene out of fear. These eleven
apostles announce the resurrection too, even if in a negative way, the way they
announce the end of Richard III but they also appear to Richmond and they
announce the resurrection of the English monarchy with Henry the Seventh, known
as Richmond in this play.
Finally NINE is
necessary to complete the prophecy, the prediction, by identifying the beast,
in this case Richard the Third. And sure enough the ghosts are going to curse
Richard III with a simple formula: “despair and die.” And in that ghost scene
this mantra is repeated NINE times.
1- Prince Edward, son to
Henry the Sixth: “despair, therefore,
2 & 3- King Henry
the Sixth: “despair and die” “despair and die”;
4- Clarence: “despair and die”;
5 & 6- Rivers, Grey
and Vaughan: “despair and die”
“despair and die”;
7- Hastings: “despair and die”;
8- the two young
princes, sons of Edward IV: “despair
9- Queen Anne: “despair and die”;
Ø- Buckingham: Ø.
We must understand that
in Elizabethan times, after the Reformation and in the ascending phase of
chapels and Puritanism, such biblical references (in this case the Passion of
Jesus and the Book of Revelation) were
unavoidable elements that everyone understood and appreciated. What’s more it
is very effective in the “propaganda” (rather self-justification) of the Tudors:
the killing of the crucifixion is prophesied, the Second Coming is announced
and the Beast is identified. We are in the midst of medieval numerical
symbolism. This makes me say NINE is the numerical symbol of this king, and as
I have already said in my review of Henry the Sixth, Part Three: 1 + 8 = 9; 4 +
5 = 9; 1 + 4 + 8 + 5 = 18 = 9 x 2. The beast is killed on the diabolical date
that is also the resurrection date of Bosworth, the final battle. After this
last battle the prophecy of the New Messianic Jerusalem becomes possible.
That powerful symbolism
runs through the whole play and had been announced at the end of the previous
history. Going to the Globe Theater was a treat for the people of London and they went
there regularly to enjoy the theater and to learn about their past history.
Here the grossest goriest taste of the audience is satisfied along with the numerical
symbolism that cannot be “cabalistic” since it is not Jewish, but is in a way
metaphysical and even alchemical, though definitely Biblical, in this medieval
and post medieval time, and the extra “knowledge” it provides on English
history. Shakespeare’s theater was pedagogical, entertaining and slightly though
at times enormously mysterious or poetic.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU