So, this was my first time reading a Shakespearean history, and it was really interesting. I probably ought to have picked up one with a story I’m at least familiar with, like Julius Caesar, but no… that would have been far too logical.
Richard is, as Calvin would put it (Watterson’s cartoon, not the philosopher) a “grade-A nimrod.” I was told in school that Iago is the iconic evil Shakespearean villain, but I think Richard might have him beat. Iago is conniving and crafty, but Richard is downright evil. Iago might plan complicated schemes to take people down, but Richard just murders everyone in his way. And if there was any doubt, he says in Act 5, “Conscience is but a word that cowards use, / Devised at first to keep the strong in awe. / Our strong arms be our conscience; swords, our law.”
That quote also made me laugh, because he used the word “conscience” himself in a moment of doubt a few scenes earlier, when all the people he’s killed visit him in dreams and tell him to die – “My conscience hath a thousand several [separate] tongues, / And every tongue brings in a several tale, / And every tale condemns me for a villain.” It’s great when bad people insult themselves. That way you don’t have to do it for them!
Other great moments:
- In Act 4, when the Queen says to Richard, “If something thou wouldst swear to be believed, / Swear then by something that thou hast not wronged.” Yeahhh he can’t come up with anything satisfactory.
- When Richard says, “We must be brief, when traitors brave the field.” This is ironic because, of course, Richard is only king because he’s killed all the heirs to the throne in front of him. But that reminds me of a great quote from The Count of Monte Cristo: “Treason is all a matter of dates.”
- Richard trying to woo the wife of one of his victims: “This hand – which for thy love did kill thy love – / Shall, for thy love, kill a far truer love.” [Translation: “I killed your husband for love of you, but if you tell me to, I’ll kill myself – and by doing so, will kill a truer love than what you and your husband had.”] If that pickup line doesn’t guarantee you a date, I don’t know what will.
- This beautiful piece of verse from a citizen:
“When clouds are seen, wise men put on their cloaks;
When great leaves fall, then winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?
Untimely storms make men expect a dearth.
All may be well, but if God sort [ordain] it so
‘Tis more than we deserve, or I expect.”
So, yes, I enjoyed it, and it was a good experience. The one thing that seemed a little disjointed about it was the suddenness of the battle. Throughout the whole story, Richard is killing people to get the throne. And you get to Act 5 and think, what now? Oh, what’s now is that there’s suddenly a whole army gathered out of nowhere to fight against him! (I wasn’t thinking there were enough people of position left to fight…) But I’ll have to end on the positive side.
In other things, the opening lines gave John Steinbeck the title for his novel The Winter of Our Discontent (Richard: “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York…”). That’s kinda cool.
Wow, this was a fun blog post – I got to quote Shakespeare, Calvin & Hobbes, and The Count of Monte Cristo and give a passing mention to Steinbeck. Let it never be said that I am not well-rounded.