murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “drama”

Snow at Tewkesbury, and a pile of bodies for Richard III….

Um - the battle of tewkesbury

Believe it or not, the above is supposedly the Battle of Tewkesbury. At least, it is according to the BBC website. Tewkesbury was in May. Silly author. The picture is of Towton, which took place in the middle of a snowstorm. The article itself is referring to Henry VI, Part 3 – first transmitted in the UK: 16 January 1983

Nothing daunted, I read on, and came to The Tragedy of Richard III – First transmitted in the UK: 23 January 1983. Oh dear. I now have to say Silly Beeb! Here we have a pyramid of bodies, topped by a cackling Margaret of Anjou!

Um - pile of bodies in BBC Richard III

Delightful, yes? Is there such a pile in the Bard’s original? I quote from the article:-

. . .The production is unusual amongst filmed Richards insofar as no one is killed on camera except Richard himself. This was very much a conscious choice on the part of Howell; “you see nobody killed; just people going away, being taken away – so much like today; they’re just removed. There’s a knock on the door and people are almost willing to go. There’s no way out of it. . .

. . .Somewhat controversially, the episode ended with Margaret sitting atop a pyramid of corpses (played by all of the major actors who had appeared throughout the tetralogy) cradling Richard’s dead body and laughing manically, an image Edward Burns refers to as “a blasphemous pietà.” Howell herself referred to it as a “reverse pietà,” and defended it by arguing that the tetralogy is bigger than Richard III, so to end by simply showing Richard’s death and Richmond’s coronation is to diminish the roles that have gone before; the vast amount of death that has preceded the end of Richard III cannot be ignored. R. Chris Hassel Jr. remarks of this scene that “our last taste is not the restoration of order and good governance, but of chaos and arbitrary violence.” Hugh M. Richmond says the scene gives the production a “cynical conclusion,” as “it leaves our impressions of the new King Henry VII’s reign strongly coloured by Margaret’s malevolent glee at the destruction of her enemies that Henry has accomplished for her.”. . .

Good grief. Did you get all that? No, nor me. Nor do I want to. Serious stuff though, right? Er, no. It sounds like a load of silly and affected directorial posturing, and not worth bothering with. Someone should have kicked the Beeb’s pants for broadcasting it. Bah!

 

 

Advertisements

Second Verdict

This is Stratford Johns, who featured heavily in Z-Cars and Softly, Softly. In spring 1976, with his co-star Frank Windsor, their characters appeared in Second Verdict, investigating six mysteries, of which the “Princes” were the second.

It should be possible to locate a recording of this programme.

Playwrights and persistent historical myths

Today in 1564, Christopher Marlowe (right) was baptised in Canterbury.

One of the plays for which he is most famous is

 

 

 

Edward II (left), traditionally dated a year before his own 1593 death. In it, he fuels the myth of Edward meeting his end by a red-hot poker. This is cited by Starkey in his (Channel Four series) Monarchy, who called Edward’s rear his “fundament”, showing again why he should not roam from his Tudor” area of expertise.

 

 

Marlowe’s legacy of influence in this is obviously less than Shakespeare’s with regard to Richard III, but the parallels are

obvious. In quoting earlier “historians”, Shakespeare transferred the kyphosis of another contemporary figure to Richard, which some naive people still believe, whilst Richard’s disinterment demonstrated him to suffer from scoliosis instead. Indeed, the Starkey acolyte Dan Jones seems untroubled by the facts in either case.

 

 

A year of anniversaries

shakespeare

2016 has been the 1000th anniversary of Edund Ironside’s accession and death, also of the death of his father Ethelred Unraed and the double accession of Cnut of Denmark. It has also been the 950th anniverary of the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, being the end of the House of Wessex after its interruption.
Four centuries ago, St. George’s Day to be exact, marks the death of Shakespeare and possibly his 1564 birth. Opinion is still divided as to whether, in Richard III’s case among others, he merely embroidered what passed for history during his lifetime or invented many of the significant events he wrote about. At least we can precisely date his death better than we can his birth and we can, ironically, rely on the flow of his plays relating accurately to the culture of his own time, such as Cordelia’s execution, which could not have happened in Richard’s own century.

In March, Helen Castor marked the anniversary on Channel Four by investigating the fate of the Bard’s own remains in this documentary. It transpires that, having been buried in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church with his family and a forbidding epitaph(1), GPR investigations show that his skull is probably missing, just like Morton’s at Canterbury Cathedral. Richard, of course, was intact except for his feet. It seems that not everyone over the years heeded the curse:

(1) Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be Middle English the.svg man Middle English that.svg spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he Middle English that.svg moves my bones

A forthcoming event – in Texas

A full cast reading of “Richard, Son of York”, a new play, will be performed at Texas Lutheran University on Tuesday 19 April at 19:30 (and only that day):
poster2

The Propaganda of Charles II

charlesiiGuest author Richard Unwin explains the context behind the discovery of those convenient bones:

Charles II came to the throne in 1660 after the period of Commonwealth when England, and particularly its entertainments, had been suppressed by Puritan authority. The security of the new reign was precarious and there were many in the country opposed to a return of the monarchy. The king needed good PR and he began by restoring those entertainments the English had enjoyed before the Civil War, which had been suppressed by the Puritans. The Restored theatres were immediately used to promote Court propaganda and would do so for most of the reign. Theatre had been banned under Cromwell and anyone performing as a player would be thrown into prison. Similar penalties were applied to those who might be in the audience at a performance.
The first playhouse to be constructed in the new reign was The Theatre Royal, at Drury Lane, which opened in 1663. This theatre, though unaffected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, burned down in 1672 as the result of an internal combustion. Because of the demand for entertainment, a new theatre was financed and built on the site of the old one. Thought by some to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the second theatre opened to the public on March 26th 1674; the alleged bones of the Princes in the Tower were discovered just four months later, in July.
Upon the restoration of Charles II, old plays were, at first, resurrected for performance at the new venue. Many of these were rewritten and used as pure propaganda to promote the court of the restored monarch. Shakespeare’s language was out-of-date and soon his plays were being rewritten to suit the tastes of the modern audience. Charles was a devotee of the theatre and we find one of his most famous courtesans, Nell Gwynne as an actress at Drury Lane.
The playhouse at Drury lane was not the only one in Restoration London. There was another: Dorset Garden, also known as the Duke’s Theatre. The duke in question was the duke of York, Charles’ brother and destined to become James II. It was home to the Duke’s Company of players and renowned for its technical innovations, moving scenery and lavish productions. Later, in 1782, the Duke’s Company would merge with the King’s Company and move to Drury Lane, but in 1674 it was vibrant and in open competition for audiences with the Theatre Royal.
Villainy was not long becoming, in the popular public mind, synonymous with Shakespeare’s Richard III due mainly to the supposed murder of his nephews, popularly known as The Princes in the Tower. Sometime in 1661 there was a performance of Shakespeare’s play, the details of which are now lost. The prologue survives and it shows us King Richard presented as a dictator, (metaphorically Oliver Cromwell) set against one Henry Richmond who defeats him to become a benign monarch (King Charles II). It seems that this was propaganda used to promote the new reign. In the year 1667 the Duke’s Company performed a similar play, written by John Caryll. Its title was “The English Princess: or the Death of Richard the Third.” The author was a diplomatist and later became secretary to Mary of Modena, the second wife of James II. This particular play was printed in 1667, 1673 and pertinently, in 1674. Clearly the story of Richard III and the murder of the two Princes in the Tower had much currency throughout the period of the “discovery” of the Westminster bones and was current in the year they were found.
Throughout the reign of Charles II we find the villainous character of Richard III in a variety of plays, none of them Shakespeare’s and with a deliberate political bias. Of course, the character could also be used against the monarchy. In 1680, John Crowne adapted Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth, Part Two converting it into an anti-catholic rant. It was sub-titled: the Misery of Civil War, performed at the Duke’s Theatre (Dorset Garden) and printed in the same year. In this version of Shakespeare’s play the malign character of the duke of Gloucester (Richard III) is enhanced, his crookback is emphasised and his brothers’ philandering in the play becomes a comment on the current Court. John Crowne, although said to be a favourite of Charles II, was known to have a moral repugnance for his Court. This was politically sensitive as the Exclusion Crisis, an attempt by parliament to prevent the accession of a Catholic monarch, was in full cry in this year.
Almost as if he was deliberately flouting the concerns of his people, his mistress, Louise de Kerouaille was a Catholic and a French spy to boot. She had replaced Barbara Villiers, (Lady Castlemaine) as Charles’ principal mistress. He ran her more or less currently with the actress Nell Gwynne. Bad luck had also brought about the Great Plague of 1665, which only came to an end due to the Great Fire of 1666 when much of the old City of London was consumed in the flames. Charles had also provoked war with the Dutch. The first war had been something of a success, but the second war had gone badly. In the year following the Great Fire, a Dutch fleet had sailed up the Medway and destroyed the British fleet supposed to be safe at anchor at Chatham docks. Ignominiously for the English navy, the Dutch boarded and captured the fleet flagship, the Royal Charles. This was the very vessel that had brought Charles to England from exile. They towed it back to the Netherlands as a trophy where the ship’s coat-of-arms can be seen on display to this day at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was England’s greatest naval defeat. The Dutch destroyed fifteen ships while the English scuttled others to block the river. The biggest ships, the Royal Oak, the Loyal London, a new ship, and the Royal James were burned. Afterwards, this misfortune, on top of the Catholic question and the scandals of his personal life meant King Charles and his government feared a backlash from the people of England who were becoming increasingly critical of his rule.
By the year 1674 then, we can see that Charles and his government had become highly unpopular and desperately needed to turn the mood of the people towards that which he had enjoyed at the beginning of his reign. We must remember that the Court establishment feared a resurgence of republicanism. At the same time there was the real threat, that Charles’ brother James would succeed him, provoking a Catholic revival and religious conflict. (This did indeed occur and James II’s persecution of Protestants led to his eventual removal and exile – the Glorious Revolution of 1688).
Charles’ strategy at the beginning of his reign had been to use the printed word and public performance in the restored theatres as propaganda to promote his monarchy. Perhaps what had worked in the heady days of the early 1660’s could work in 1674 too? The “chance” discovery of royal bones in the Tower of London, accompanied by a series of plays where the villain was understood metaphorically to be the dictatorial Oliver Cromwell and the possibilities for promoting the monarchy would be obvious to Charles II. Unfortunately what worked in 1660 seems to have failed in 1674. Charles II managed to cling on to his throne until his death in 1685. His brother would be the one to lose it.

A country-house murder mystery with a Ricardian theme….

The Murders of Richard III

For those Ricardians who like country-house murder mysteries, here’s one with a Ricardian theme. Mixed reviews, but I don’t think it’s anti-Richard. It was originally written in 1974, so apparently shows its age a little. But then, don’t we all? <g>

The Amazon link wouldn’t work properly, so here’s a TinyURl: http://tinyurl.com/hw4u2fh

 

 

More events of interest concerning Richard III….

Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York (Emma Sian Cooper) and Professor John Skelton (Taresh Solanki). Picture: Nadeem Chugtai

Make a note of the following links:-

http://www.hinckleytimes.net/news/local-news/chance-quiz-richard-iii-academics-9847864

and

http://www.kenilworthweeklynews.co.uk/what-s-on/local-listings/play-aims-to-challenge-views-on-richard-iii-1-6899672

A Defense of Olivier’s Richard the Third

olivier2Laurence Olivier once took a bullet for Richard.

Well, not a bullet, exactly, but an actual arrow shot into his unprotected calf from a professional archer during the making of his 1954 film “Richard the Third.”  Sir Laurence would go on to take many more arrows in his career – from being pilloried for “The Betsy” to many Ricardians who refuse to see any merit in his Shakespearean film adaptation.  I believe it is a great film and forms a bookend to the trio of classic movies that Olivier directed – the others being “Hamlet” and “Henry V.”  These three have secured his place as one of the most inventive film directors of the 20th Century.

Olivier had a great stage success with this role in 1944 at the Old Vic.  In this, he was following so many actors who are drawn, like catnip, to the engaging, witty, duplicitous, sexy and obviously fictional character of Richard III.  Their past and present names are Legion:  David Garrick, John Barrymore, Anthony Sher, Ian McKellan, Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, Mark Rylance and now Benedict Cumberbatch – all have wanted to sink their sharp little teeth into this multifaceted part.

Olivier’s Richard the Third begins with a disclaimer on an illuminated scroll:  “The story of England, like that of other lands, is an interwoven pattern of History and Legend.  The History of the World, like letters without poetry, like flowers without perfume and thought without imagination, would be a dry matter indeed without its legends, and many of those, though scorned by proof a hundred times, seem worth preserving for their own sake.”  (Italics are mine.)  In other words, as the newspaper publisher in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” observes:  “When legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

One aspect of the charm of the film is Olivier’s Richard immediate establishment of a rapport with the audience- making us amused accomplices to his devious schemes.  To deny that Richard is attractive is to deny Olivier’s prodigious theatrical gifts and manly beauty which shine through the makeup.  His sensual wooing of the Lady Anne (Claire Bloom) and her almost instant capitulation to him (over her husband’s casket) manages to be sacrilegious, profane and yet deeply felt.  Despite the heavy facial makeup (Olivier always built up his nose after his acting teacher, Elsie Fogerty, pointed to the bridge of his nose and said:  “there’s something weak there,” which resulted in years of false noses and disguises) this Richard is a dynamic, sparkling, sardonic fellow undermining his own view that “since I cannot prove a lover…I am determined to prove a villain.”  Of course, all of Olivier’s amazing bag of tricks are on display:  athleticism and catlike grace, hectoring, staccato speech inflections,eye rolling and gesticulating arms and hands used for emphasis and irony.  A feast for discriminating audiences with its audaciousness that makes so much “modern” film acting seem anemic!

For Ricardians, this movie is at its most historic and sympathetic during the Bosworth sequence.  Suddenly, we see the wonderfully artificial, sumptuous sets and costumes, based on illustrations from a Book of Hours, with its blistering VistaVision colors dominated by murrey and blue, dissolve to reveal a realistic Bosworth.  Here Olivier and his masterful collaborators (including composer Sir William Walton) recreate the beauty, excitement and terror of medieval warfare – a distant mirror of whipping standards, flurries of arrows and brutal melees.  It is in these scenes that we finally realize the tragic Richard – mounted on White Surrey watching the conniving Stanley cross over to “Tudor’s” side.  Surely, the shocked and hurt expression on the King’s face would melt the heart of the most anti-Shakespeare Ricardian.

So, just as Olivier stoically continued to shoot the film with an arrow intact in his leg, I suggest we continue to watch this movie into the future and not to deny it’s greatness, or, I’m afraid, the Bard’s. For better or worse, The Tragedy of Richard the Third is here to stay.

 

 

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: