Blog Note: Today is NOT Richard the Third’s Birthday, that’s Oct 3 1452.
Today I’m thinking about Richard the Third of England.
We just saw the terrific Moveable Shakespeare production of Richard III at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City Maryland.
Director Ian Gallanar chose to pick the characters up from the 15th century and time warp them to something resembling War War One. Clever, especially considering the Patapsco Female Institute was used as a war hospital during the Great War. In his director’s notes he says:
“The production really uses the visual palate and the historic technology of the World War One era as a way to clarify the relationships of the characters….[The audience] might also recognize the futility and wastefulness of a war that, much like the English “Wars of the Roses,” seemed more about resolving who would inherit power rather than who ought to inherit power.” [Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Richard III: Program Notes]
So on a cold October night we got to see one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays in and around the shell of a burned out 19th Century building that some people claim is haunted. The occasional gas-masked actors quietly playing cards in a dimly lit corner or typing away orders on an antique typewriter upped the creep factor. As did the lighting effects, the period music and wonderful costumes.
This version of Richard really worked. I really liked the “Moveable” aspect too. It added to the length of the play (instead of quick scene changes the audience literally did a scene change by moving to a new part of the building or grounds, and that took a while.) My only problem was that there was a scene or two where I couldn’t see the action because I had the bad luck of standing behind some one tall.) Still, I liked that we kept moving through the building, and “discovering” new rooms. It really put the audience DEAD center into the action of the play (and moving about kept us warm.)
Richard III runs for one more weekend at Chesapeake Shakespeare. So if you are local to Maryland jump on their website and grab some tickets before they sell out. http://chesapeakeshakespeare.com/
Of course they didn’t have instant fact checkers in Shakespeare’s day, and history, as they say is written by the winners. So it comes as no surprise that the Richard the Third we met last night was a real piece of work. Shakespeare was writing for an Elizabethan audience. Elizabeth, a Tudor, was the granddaughter of the man who finally brought about Richard’s undoing on Bosworth Field in Leicestershire, Henry VII. It was in his interest to make Richard as loathsome as possible.
Henry VII’s claim to the thrown was weak at best. So he took…
“every opportunity of enhancing his own reputation at the expense of his predecessor. Richard’s actions and behaviour were the subject of attention and scrutiny and were presented, in the weeks and years after his death, as those of a wicked and unscrupulous tyrant.” [The Richard III Society]
While he was alive Richard was well thought of.
- He was loyal to his brother Edward.
- He was effective in his administration of the North.
- He defended the country against the Scots.
- He handled the premature death of Edward with out plunging the country into crisis.
Shakespeare wasn’t the first writer to take up the thread of anti- Richard-ism. (Yes, I just made that up.)
By the time the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare penned what was to become one of his most popular and frequently performed plays, The Tragedy of King Richard III, the works of the anonymous Croyland Chronicler, John Rous, Bernard André, Polydore Vergil, Sir Thomas More, Edward Hall, Richard Grafton and Raphael Holinshed had been written. [Ibid]
So, as Chesapeake Shakespeare Managing Director and Richard III Dramaturge says in her note… The Bard’s “fictitious villainous Richard has triumphed over the historic Richard for centuries now.” [CSC Program]
In a timely twist of history archeologists digging up a parking lot in Leicester have found the remains of the Greyfriars Church that might be those of Richard, the last King of England to die on the battlefield. They have found a skeleton in the choir area (Richard was buried in the choir of Friars Minor at Leicester), that had a skull injury caused by a bladed implement, an arrowhead was found between its vertebrae and upper back, and it had spinal abnormalities.
“the individual would have had severe scoliosis – which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder.” [University of Leicester Press Release : The Leicester Greyfriars Dig]
Not sure how many of you watch HBO’s Boardwalk Empire… but I couldn’t stop thinking how much Michael Shannon (who plays messed up Treasury agent turned iron salesman Nelson Van Alden) looks like our boy Richard. I think they ought to do a new film version of Richard cubed with Shannon in the lead. He certainly has the intensity to play the role.
October 28th, 2012 at 7:54 pm
FYI… This just in from Chesapeake Shakespeare…
No show tonight [probably because of Hurricane Sandy] – but don’t fret – you have ONE more chance to see Richard III on 11/4. http://tinyurl.com/9o5purl @chesapeakeshake