“Richard III,” From The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

My Copy: 9780199267170

Oh heavens, now we get to the finale of the contention between the houses of York and Lancaster in a very “once and for all” kind of way. The War of the Roses has met it’s end with King Richard III–and how!

There are so many moments I didn’t know were from Richard III, and so many quotes that are used (“Now is the winter or our discontent” comes to mind). I can see why it took a while for this play to come out (though Shakespeare “hinted at a sequel” with the ending of Richard: Duke of York, or Henry VI, Part III.)

But the play is leaps and bounds beyond the other royalty plays (so far) in scope and use of language. Though edited over the years, it’s still a very long play, but I didn’t notice the length so much because I was so invested in the characters, and couldn’t wait for Richard III to get his comeuppance.

Well, Richard III begins as Richard (duke of) Gloucester, and his brother Edward is on the throne. Everybody seems reasonably content, considering the years of civil war and all, but Edward is ill and letting superstition rule him. Richard lets his younger brother Clarence be made a scapegoat for the king’s fears and he’s taken to the Tower for imprisonment…for a while.

Richard wastes no time in getting the ball rolling, once Clarence is truly out of the way. When Edward finally dies, and Richard is made the protector over the young prince’s throne…well, let’s just say the murder, deceit, and mayhem really get flying.

There are far too many characters here to do a synopsis justice–you’d just have to read it. I will say that the women have a much larger part in this particular play. It’s full of noblewomen:

Queen Margaret (who was Henry VI’s French wife and is basically there to curse Richard’s existence and “prove a prophetess”)

Queen Elizabeth (Edward’s widow, upset at all going on around her)

Duchess of York (Richard’s mother and wife to the old Richard, Duke of York. She has watched all her family die thanks to pursuit of the throne and is now watching Richard take care of the rest.)

Lady Anne is the widow of Prince Edward, Henry VI’s son who was killed by Richard (and wooed over Edward’s coffin by Richard, by the way–yikes). Yes, there are more…

These women bedevil Richard in some of the best back-and-forth dialogue I’ve seen yet in Shakespeare. It’s fast-paced, clipped and short responses, as if their words were weapons. No wonder the play is so long if you have all this dialogue, but it’s riveting dialogue. Makes me REALLY want to see the play.

The murders and deception, and increasing paranoia, prove a boon for Henry, the Earl of Richmond (later Henry VII) and part of the Lancaster line. He’s in France gathering troops and men to put down Richard and end the civil war. And as Richard gets worse, men defect from him in droves, even the most ambitious around him who have been lucky to be alive so far.

And now, for some notable quotables (some of which I’m sure you know, and others I just thought were great):

RICHARD GLOUCESTER: Why, I in this weak piping time of peace

Have no delight to pass away the time,

Unless to spy my shadow in the sun

And descant on mine own deformity,

And therefore since I cannot prove a lover

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

–Act 1, Scene 1

QUEEN MARGARET (To Queen Elizabeth): Edward thy son, that now is Prince of Wales,

For Edward, my son, that was Prince of Wales,

Die in his youth by like untimely violence.

Thyself, a queen, for me that was a queen,

Outlive thy glory like my wretched self.

Long mayst thou live–to wail thy children’s death,

And see another, as I see thee now,

Decked in thy rights, as thou art ‘stalled in mine.

Long die thy happy days before thy death,

And after many lengthened hours of grief

Die, neither mother, wife, nor England’s queen.–

Rivers and Dorset, you were standers-by,

And so wast thou, Lord Hastings, when my son

Was stabbed with bloody daggers. God I pray him,

That none of you may live his natural age,

But by some unlooked accident cut off.

–Act 1, Scene 3

PRINCE EDWARD: An if I live until I be a man,

I’ll win our ancient right in France again,

Or die a soldier, as I lived a king.

RICHARD GLOUCESTER (aside): Short summers lightly have a forward spring.

–Act 3, Scene 1

KING RICHARD (aside): I must be married to my brother’s daughter,

Or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass.

Murder her brothers, and then marry her?

Uncertain my way of gain, but I am in

So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin.

Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.

–Act 4, Scene 2

This is one helluva play–and I would love to see it. I can’t wait to see Benedict Cumberbatch pick the character up in The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses series…but I am waiting til the end of the year (and will have to get the DVDs so I can watch in quiet whenever I want).

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