Sunday, February 17, 2019

Richard III: (Conversation, Final Act)

So Richard is dead. Is his world better off without him? Or did he serve a purpose, bring his cohort to some new realization, carve a new course? Let me know what you're thinking, how you're reacting . . . to this final act of the play, to the play as a whole, to the experience of existing so intensely within the reading process, to the task of responding in multiple forms and genres.

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I am feeling much less grouchy today after a real night's sleep. "Manana," Tom said about the author photos he was planning to take yesterday. I think that may have been a hint that I was not looking my best. Here's hoping that today will be more auspicious.

Yesterday I started reading Toni Morrison's Paradise but was immediately roadblocked by a gruesome mass murder in the opening chapter. I have never been able to read text or (especially) watch movies involving extreme violence; I get physically distressed, sometimes ill, and this has reduced, especially onscreen, the kinds of things I'm able to manage. I will never be able to watch Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones or most Tarantino movies; I can't read Mishima novels, and now, apparently, I can't read this Morrison novel. My reaction is very childish--it is, in fact, a direct link to my childhood, when I used to vomit after watching something scary. In real life, though, I manage blood better than Tom does. He's the fainter; I'm the coper. So I don't have a good explanation for my reaction to fictional violence. But, sadly, Toni Morrison's novel is back on the shelf.


David (n of 49) said...

In the end Richard remains a sociopathic cypher: we’re given this admittedly masterful portrait of a murderously clever manipulator, but with no real sense of his interior life. Maybe that’s the inherent in the condition of sociopathy. But that lack made it impossible for me to have any sympathy for him. Again, he’s just a portrait of a kind of pure unadulterated evil. (Although so is Iago and I loathed him viscerally much more than I did Richard. I’m really unsure why.)

Anyway, the fact Richard is so one dimensional also made it easy to see the play partly as a propaganda piece pandering to Elizabeth I. Richard dies at Bosworth, evil is defeated, and the happy isle of England is saved and united under a rightful monarchy, under whose joyous legacy all now live. Oh please. No wonder so many have thought Richard was traduced, victim of character-assassination because England’s greatest playwright needed a villain useable to curry favour with the existing royals.

On a less grandiose note, it was impossible to avoid comparing Richard the night before Bosworth Field with Henry the night before Agincourt in Henry V: overconfidence and bombast by Richard punished on the morrow by defeat and death, worry and underconfidence by Henry rewarded next day by triumph against great odds. The contrast a kind of convenient contemporary morality tale. And by extension a window on social mores and beliefs of the time.

Lastly, two thanks: first, to everyone else for their comments on the play, which were perspectives I’d never have thought of, especially some of the ones emphasizing the presentation of women and their roles. Second and perhaps most important, a large thank you to Dawn, for chairing, despite your own full schedule, the reading and offering your own comments and so many provocative questions, none of which would have occurred to me on my own.

Ruth said...

I enjoyed responding to this play in multiple ways and genre every week. Being *in* the play as eavesdropper, extra scene writer, advice giver, dialogue provider, analyst, and additional character creator gave me a sense of somehow personally contributing to the story, as well as, a heightened understanding. Reading as we did in small doses meant I really focused and could find surprises both in this drama and within myself. I admired how subtle Shakespeare could be, tucking tiny clues to character, even humanity in the despicable, though not Richard himself.

Act V Richard remains evil and unredeemable much as the current bacteria infecting the political scene today. He blames everyone and everything except himself and even in those nightmare moment of self-doubt, he rationalizes his own blamelessness and victim status. I kept seeing parallels to our daily news. Richard is blood-lust mad. Having the parade of ghosts appear to both Richmond and Richard though with different messages is genius. I visualized those scenes, the facial reactions, the settings, the realizations.

The world is better off now that Richard is dead; however, his reign of terror did serve to unite forces toward that end as perhaps no other means could have.

Thank you Dawn, David , and Carlene for this experience.

Carlene M Gadapee said...

Richard dies, as any common foot-soldier might. True, he dies at the hands of Richmond, but Shakespeare has not included a grand scene of struggle. It is merely in the stage directions: they fight, and Richard dies. He is unhorsed well before this final meeting; symbolically, this is appropriate. He is reduced by his own folly and obsession with power.

There are several things that strike me about Act V: the commonalities between Henry V (the eve of battle, taking the measure of the troops unaware), Richmond’s oration has elements that remind me of the St. Crispin’s Day speech in HV, the ghosts…o, the ghosts! Richmond takes the spectral messages as a heartening dream (“my soul is very jocund,” 5.3), and well he might. However, Richard’s response to the ghostly visitations –all the souls of those whom he had murdered—is telling. I am reminded of the scene with Caesar’s ghost in 4.2, Julius Caesar; Brutus is uneasy, and it weighs on him, even to where he doubts his own chances of success, and wishes “things done, undone” and he would like to speak further with the ghost. No such remorse or self-doubt from Richard. He is not a man who suffers much indecision, for sure.

Right after the last ghost leaves is where 5.3 gets really weird; Richard is monologuing a debate: “Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am.” He seems torn between what is generally thought to be right and noble behavior and what he has done. Up to this point, and immediately after as well, he is a deeply flawed and unsympathetic character. This one monologue, though, gives the audience a brief glimpse into the madness of the man. He is caught in the grip of something terrifying within himself, and for just a moment, he sees himself as the monster he has become. He says, “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, / And every tongue brings in a several tale, / And every tale condemns me for a villain.” A little further along in this monologue he muses, “I shall despair. There is no creature loves me; / And if I die, no soul will pity me: / Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself / Find in myself no pity to myself?” (5.3). An unloved, malformed, younger son—while there are no excuses for his foul behavior, one might say (at least in 2019) that there may be root causes for his descent into madness and his amoral, unfeeling behavior. He is a narcissist, with a wounded animal’s vicious temperament. With no checks on his behavior except his own desires, it is little wonder the reader cannot connect with this character. He is too mean to pity. Richard’s own words tell us all we need to know about him: “Conscience is but a word that cowards use” (5.3).

Richard’s pre-battle oration is crass and crude, as unlike Richmond’s as possible. Richmond is right about Richard’s followers: he says, “those whom we fight against/ would rather have us win than him they follow” (5.3). Stanley deserts, and Richard has only Ratcliff and Catesby who remain with him. The names are intentional: a rat and a caitiff are all that are with him at the end.

The last scene of the play moves all too quickly; it feels like the audience needs a short summation of history, and with God’s blessing, all will be well. The Houses of York and Lancaster will be joined by marriage, and off we go “with smiling plenty, and fair prosperous days!” (5.5).

O, would it were so.

PS: I have enjoyed our forays into Shakespeare so much. Many thanks, my friends.