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August 24, 2011

As You Like It Richard III

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Now is the winter of our discontent… On the morning of August 22, in 1485, a defining moment in English history took place with the death of King Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth Field.


Of course, this has little to do with central-Maryland or local, state or national politics – or does it? The crushing tedium of the current state of affairs of our nation’s political discourse, the seemingly endless foreign wars and the intractable national and global economic malaise is enough to cause my bud of calm to blossom into hysteria. I almost wrote a column on the history of nylons.


As our nation currently attempts to extricate itself from an economic, social and political tar pit and wallows around like a bellowing mastodon, the Shakespearian melodrama and theatricality of Obama I is reminiscent of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.


Or The Tragedy of Richard the Third: with the Landing of Earle Richmond, and the Battle of Bosworth Field, by William Shakespeare.


The death of Richard III – “the last English king to die at the head of an army… established the Tudor dynasty and the modern state,” according to an article in the Guardian by Martin Wainwright.


The skirmishes over the historic significance of the battle in Leicestershire County, in the center of England, which effectively ended the 30-year, English civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster, the Wars of the Roses, and the end of the Middle Ages, has raged ever since.


However, not in doubt is the fact that the battle ended the House of Plantagenet line of 15 kings that ruled England from 1154, when it took over from the House of Normandy, until 1485.


After the death of Richard III, King Henry VII seized the throne and became the first English monarch of the House of Tudor, which lasted until 1603.


Mr. Shakespeare’s “Richard III opens in 1483 with the title character delivering one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies,” according to a study guide prepared by Michael J. Cummings.


“The first thirteen lines establish the cheerful, optimistic mood in the kingdom now that Richard’s brother, Edward IV, has reclaimed the throne and the War of the Roses, which began in 1455, appears to have ended. Richard sums up the situation in the first two lines of the soliloquy:


“Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York…”


Instead of me flailing about in an attempt to quickly explain the Battle of Bosworth Field, the Daily Mail does it much better than I could:


“The battle marked the final confrontation between the Yorkist king Richard III and his challenger Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and leader of the House of Lancaster.


“The seeds of Richard's downfall were sown when he seized the throne from his 12-year-old nephew Edward V in 1483. Support for the monarch was further diminished when Edward and his younger brother disappeared and Richard was involved in the death of his wife.


“Henry laid claim to the throne from across the Channel. Following an unsuccessful attempt to invade England from his base in France, Henry arrived on the coast of Wales on August 1, 1485. Gathering support as he marched inland, Richard hurriedly mustered troops and intercepted Henry's army south of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire.”


Is that a great plot or what? It is no wonder that Mr. Shakespeare used it for a play.


“Richard III,” first published in 1623, by Mr. Shakespeare, April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616, is the last play of a study in history of the Wars of Roses, that arguably includes Henry VI – parts 1, 2 and 3; Richard II, and Henry V.


However, of all of Shakespeare’s work, Richard III remains my favorite – followed by, on any given day – “As You Like It.”


Mr. Shakespeare’s version of the history of Richard III is better understood – and enjoyed – as a character study than a history of one of the more tumultuous periods in English history.


Mr. Cummings sums up the character of Richard III quite succinctly, “It’s Good to be Bad.”


“In his soliloquies, asides, and short discourses, Richard gleefully announces his evil intentions and reinforces the paradox that guides his behavior – it’s good to be bad.


“His frequent revelations of the crimes he plans and the delight he takes in committing them resemble leitmotivs in an opera (recurring musical passages associated with a theme, a character, or a character trait).


“His running commentary generally intrigues audiences and sometimes even amuses them after the manner of crafty villains that people horror films. It all begins in the first scene of Act I, when Richard proudly discloses his nefarious plans:


“I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,

By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams…”


Of course, just as famous as the opening line, is the scene when Richard III declares “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”


Any resemblance to “An economic policy, an economic policy, my kingdom for an economic policy,” is purely coincidental.


Meanwhile, if you would like a great distraction from the never-ending malaise of the economy, gotcha-politics and reality TV, consider helping support a local community theatre group, “The Shakespeare Factory.”


This Friday, August 26, “The Shakespeare Factory Players” will be performing As You Like It, in historic downtown Mount Airy. For more information contact or 410-218-1479


The production is sure to be another hit in a series of well-attended and well-received Shakespeare productions by the “Factory.”


. . . . .I’m just saying…


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