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The REAL Elizabeth of York….?

Princess Elizabeth of York

Well, folks, here’s something to boggle you. The story of the real Elizabeth of York. Real? What you get is a lucky dip of some fact and a LOT of pure invention. If it made clear that it was fiction and pure White Princess, all well and good, but it doesn’t. It purports to tell you the truth about Elizabeth. Anyway, if you want to laugh or cry (you can do either) then this is just the thing for you.

 

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The Bearnshaw Books by N.S. Rose – A New Ricardian Author

For those of you who enjoy reading Ricardian fiction, there is a new Ricardian author to savour. N.S. Rose (Natalie) has based her first novel, ‘Bearnshaw – Legend of the Whyte Doe’ on a Lancashire folk tale: Legend of Bearnshaw Tower/The Milk White Doe’. Born in the Peak District and raised in the Pennines, Natalie now farms beef and sheep in Yorkshire with her husband and brother-in-law. The countryside of her upbringing and subsequent move near to the unique and beautiful city of York inspired the ‘Bearnshaw’ fictional series.

Ms Rose weaves fact and fiction skilfully as she takes the reader on an exploration of the Bearnshaw family and their fortunes during the turbulent period of history now known as the Wars of the Roses and it is certainly a charming and original take on those times.

The leading protagonist of this first book is Sibyl Bearnshaw, a young woman whose mother died and whose father indulged her, allowing her more freedom than the average woman of this age. However, as she matures, she must marry and her prospective husband is not to her liking. She also has a younger brother to look out for and whenshe meets the new, young Yorkist king, Edward, she forms a plan…

I won’t spoil the story by revealing any more, but I found it a great story and very moving. Richard is not involved in the story but he plays a greater role in the second part (see below). To buy a Kindle download or a print copy, click on the picture below.

Cover of Bearnshaw: Legend of the Whyte Doe

Natalie’s follow-up novel, ‘Bearnshaw II: The Triumph of the Red Dragon’ begins several years later, when Sibyl’s son, Edmund, aged nine, is rapidly growing into a man. He never knew his mother, Sibyl, but he knows his father, King Edward, who arranges for him to be accepted into the household of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, where he immediately makes an enemy. We follow his life and career as he becomes a man and his character matures and learns. He is a sympathetic and attractive protagonist (although, unlike his mother, Sibyl, he is not based on a real person). Richard himself is shown as a just and kindly Lord and, later, King. I will just warn you that the author’s portrayal of the Battle of Bosworth and its aftermath is one of the most poignant I have read, and I’ve read a few!

The second book is available in print if you click on the picture below, or on Kindle here: Kindle

Cover of Bearnshaw: Triumph of the Red Dragon

Not Richard, but Robert will certainly do….!

We all like a good TV series, especially if it has a mediaeval setting, but does anyone remember the French series from the early 70s, concerning Maurice Druon’s books, The Accursed Kings/Les Rois Maudits? The books deal with the French monarchy in the 14th century, and are (they say) another inspiration for Game of Thrones.

This Wikipedia page is very informative: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Accursed_Kings

When originally broadcast here in the UK there were sub-titles, but it didn’t detract at all. And when Robert of Artois was on screen, who cared what he was saying! The female population was too busy just looking.

The opening scene shows a gathering of all the characters, with brief remarks about them all. There is a man in red towards the back, and the camera dwells upon him, moving slowly up from feet to head. This is Robert (as played by the French actor Jean Piat, who is still good-looking today). Robert is quite something to behold, ladies. Take my word for it. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x22ojll_ep-01-rois-maudits-1972-le-roi-de-fer-part-1_shortfilms

The series was made again in 2005, but they messed with the costumes and thus ruined the whole thing before a word was uttered.

Anyway, I wholeheartedly recommend the books and the 1972 production.

Unlikely pairings of Richard’s friends and enemies….

character pairings

http://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2016/03/20/review-richard-iii-peoples-light-theatre-company-malvern-pa/

At present, the theatrical world is obsessed with the Bard’s “Richard III”, and to me it seems there cannot possibly be anything new to say about this multitude of productions. But this review caught my eye for a very Ricardian reason. What might that be? The curious doubling up of ‘one actor = two characters’. No, not because I don’t like this sort of cross-gender thing, or the messing around with the period, but because the character-pairings themselves are (to me) thought provoking.

Here’s the paragraph that contains the information:-

“An eight-person supporting ensemble of company regulars and newcomers portrays multiple characters in Shakespeare’s complex narrative, with some cross-gender casting–Alda Cortese as both Margaret and Edward; Mary Elizabeth Scallen as Elizabeth and Tyrell; Peter DeLaurier as Hastings and the Duchess of York; Margaret Ivey as Lady Anne and young Edward—that aids in distinguishing between the personages (to lend further assistance, the program provides a genealogical chart and a list of factions in the War of the Roses and the Houses of Lancaster and York).”

Right, now let us imagine that the real 15th-century persons were in cahoots….

Margaret of Anjou and Edward IV?

Tyrell and Elizabeth Woodville?

Hastings and the Duchess of York?

Perhaps it’s just the fiction author in me that finds these truly fascinating. Could I write plots based on these unlikely soulmates? Yes! But it would be pure fiction, of course….

 

KING’S GAMES: A MEMOIR OF RICHARD III

A Verse Play in Two Acts with Commentaries

By Nance Crawford

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”

(Hamlet)

To be honest, I am not much taken with modern Ricardian fiction. I think that in the last five centuries too much fiction and too little fact has  been written about king Richard III. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I volunteered to review Nance Crawford’s book ‘King’s Games; a memoir of Richard III’. It is (to misquote a modern footballing cliché) a game of two parts. The first part is a play about king Richard written in verse; the second, comprises the authors commentaries on late medieval England and her account of how the play was conceived, written and ultimately produced for the stage.

 

I have always thought that plays are better performed than read and since I have not seen Kings Games performed I am at a disadvantage in forming a valid opinion of its merit. The absence of actors and a director to ‘suite the words to the action and the action to the words’ (Hamlet again!) is not just inconvenient; it is a substantial hindrance to a full appreciation of the author’s art as I have only my own imperfect imagination and understanding to rely on. Nonetheless, whilst I cannot vouchsafe an opinion about how well this play transfers from the page to the stage, I can say with some conviction that I enjoyed reading it.

 

King’s Games is a mixture of fact and fiction. The author has tried to ensure the historical accuracy; however, inevitably, she has had to fill the gaps in our knowledge with her imagination. Though only eight of the twenty-one scenes are based on verified historical facts all the scenes conform to the general Ricardian narrative of Richard’s life and times, partly taken from Paul Kendall’s 1955 biography. Naturally the dialogue is imaginary. Considering how influential Shakespeare’s melodrama has been in embedding the black legend of Richard in the public psyche it is not surprising that a modern Ricardian playwright would wish to portray him in a different light; though mercifully, not the pure white legend that some would have us believe but in shades of grey. This Richard is a decent man, but fallible.

 

Apart from the use of verse, this play bears no relationship to Shakespeare’s work; the characters are less melodramatic the action is more restrained. Neither does the author try to compete with Shakespearean verse. Her own distinctive mixture of colloquial Anglo-American English and Standard English is refreshingly modern and contributed greatly to my own appreciation of her efforts. The character of Cecily Neville provides two example of this; in the first, Cecily is comforting her dying son Edward:

 

“ Well tears are for Heaven, not this place,

No, not for partings short as this, I think,

And Heaven’s waiting for you, that we know —

Your Pa and Edmund, even Georgie,

With Isobel and both their unborn babes —

The Lord be willing to forgive our debts”

 

In the second example, Cecily is angry with Richard:

 

Cecily. But it’s not cruel to scar my name?

To slander at the Cross the womb that bore

And nurtured you, to live to this sad pass? (Turning to Richard)

Yes, slandered sir! Held up to ridicule!

With such a loathsome story as would make

A harlot blush!

Anne. He’d never do you harm!

Cecily. The serpents tooth has struck the very breast

That sheltered him, the womb that gave him life,

And God alone knows what price he’ll pay”

Anne. Please, no, you can’t blame Dickon.

Cecily.                                                      Can I not?”          

 

The first act opens in June 1487. Francis 1st viscount Lovell is a fugitive from the battle of Stoke where Henry Tudor crushed England’s the last hope for a Plantagenet king. Hot from the battle he takes refuge in his family seat at Minster Lovell. There, exhausted and encrusted with the mud and blood of battle he sits alone in a secret room to ponder his desperate future and the destruction of the House of York. It is through Lovell’s lonely and sometimes anguished reminiscences that — in the form of flashbacks — we witness Richard’s pathetic descent from the most powerful subject in the kingdom, to a lonely guilt-ridden king.

 

The brutal truth is that this Richard is not cut out to be a successful medieval king. He is brave, loyal and efficient but he lacks the judgment, arrogance, guile and ruthlessness necessary to survive for long in the vicious realpolitik of late medieval England. He is naïve even gullible in the trust he places in untrustworthy men. He is not selfish enough to do what he wants to do rather than what his advisors say he should do. Ultimately, he is too given to introspection.  On hearing  of Buckingham’s rebellion he confides to his friend Francis Lovell:

 

“ I contemplate my brother Edward’s flaws

And see myself a darker image there

In my soul’s mirror, for, except for you,

My friend, I’m proved a rotten jurist when

It comes to judging men. I have now learned.”

 

It is doubtful that he ever wanted to be a king.

 

“ Crowns, to me, were bitter, paper things

Cut out to top my brother Edmund’s brow,

To match that of my father’s sad display,

When both their heads had crowned the gates at York.

Ned could not know my cares, he was now king,

More tall and gold than any plated spire.

I asked him why he wanted to be king .

He said ‘it is the pleasure of a king

To find his pleasure at his own plaisir’

His instincts made him royal — but never mine”

 

Richard is also inhibited from freedom of action by his personal and unforgiving creed of loyalty. He could not  seize a  crown merely to take his pleasure at his pleasure. For him kingship is a solemn duty, a burden to be borne. He is unable to reconcile the conflict between his loyalty to those he loved and his broader regal responsibility to rule justly in the common interest. Inevitably,since he is a man of conscience, he is consumed with guilt about his inability to protect his wife, his son, his mother and his brothers’ children.

 

On the night before Bosworth, Anne visits him in a dream. Although she cannot offer him redemption for all his sins, her ghostly presence enables him.  to unburden his guilt and his grief for their lost son who died “all alone while his parents played at Crowns” and his lost love Anne, whom he abandoned in her hour of greatest need as she lay dying.  Anne’s love for Richard is unconditional and her forgiveness fortifies him; he is able to face his fate, whatever that may be.

 

In the morning his courage and resolve are unimpaired. He knows he cannot trust Stanley or Northumberland but he is confident of dispatching Henry Tudor if he can just get to within a sword’s length of him. He is also aware that whatever happens England has changed forever and if he survives he must change also. As he puts on his helm encircled with the English Crown he whispers silently to Anne’s spirit “Well Anna they will all know the king.” Indeed they will. Everybody knows how the last Plantagenet king met his end.

 

The second part of King’s Games is altogether different in kind and in form. Richard is no longer centre stage; the author and the play now occupy that space. The summary of the Wars of the Roses is neither scholarly nor measured. It is tolerably accurate without providing any new historical material or insight into those times: yet I found it gripping. What made it so, is the author’s colourful, informal writing style and her feisty opinions. Her history is frank and informative, her style is anything but pompous and she avoids the use of pseudo intellectual ‘babble’ (“Playwrights have no use for numbered footnotes”). Together, these qualities create a warm relationship between the author and the reader that is almost personal; it’s as though we are discussing history together, over coffee. It is the very antithesis of so many dry, intellectual and academic histories that I have read.

 

I also thought the author’s story of her play from its conception to the first night’s performance was enthralling. The gestation was a long one since originally she had intended to write a stage version of Josephine Tey’s ‘The Daughter of Time’. That proved to be impossible as the rights were not readily available and anyhow, she concluded, a play built around a policeman confined to his hospital bed lacked dramatic impact. It was the fortuitous discovery of a mystery surrounding the eventual fate of Francis Lovell that provided the mechanism to bring King’s games to the stage; he could become ‘Alan Grant’ for the purpose of guiding us through the action.

 

Ultimately King’s Games is a lively and entertaining example of Ricardian literature and a breath of fresh air.

A Slightly Different Ricardian Novel

I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET :TANTE LE DESIREE:

Richard III fiction is ‘big business’ these days, after some years of stagnation in the 1990’s and first decade of this century. Many of the new novels, in order to keep their subject matter fresh, have added fantasy elements or alternative history, or have been written from the viewpoints of invented or minor characters.
The newest Ricardian novel to appear is ‘I, Richard Plantagenet’: Tante le Desiree by J.P. Reedman. This novel, part 1 of two ( the second, due out in March deals with Richard’s accession to the throne and all that comes with it) covers Richard’s years as Duke of Gloucester, from the Battle of Barnet in 1471 through to the end of the Scottish Campaigns in 1482. Several things make this offering slightly different from the more standard novels on Richard’s life.
One is that the story is told in first person—from Richard’s point of view. Very few authors have attempted to use this first person voice—Rhoda Edwards wrote a chapter or two from Richard’s POV in her excellent novel The Broken Sword, and one other alternative novel uses it as well. However, I, Richard Plantagenet is the first novel to use Richard himself as first person narrator in a complete, detailed account of his entire adult life.
A second difference is that the book uses humour. Now, it is not in any way, shape or form a comedy book, and the battles don’t pull any punches, but the medieval world was more ribald and bawdy than many believe—just look at Geoffrey Chaucer’s works! (Interestingly, Geoffrey is related to Richard by marriage.) Many of the Ricardian novels out there are so sad and mournful (and yes, of course it is a tragic tale and many of these are wonderful books that truly stir the emotions)…but didn’t the poor guy have any fun at any time in his short life? Richard had several illegitimate children, so he must have experienced young love or lust (presumably pleasurable for him!) and no doubt, he had amusing or even raucous times with the other young men who were his friends, such as Francis Lovell and Robert Percy. And doubtless he spent what were surely enjoyable times with his wife at Middleham and Barnard castles, as well as Christmas at the Lendal in York, and attending the York Corpus Christ celebrations (he and Anne were members of the Guild) where elaborate religious plays took place in huge carts that rolled about the city. These events have been fictionalised in I, Richard Plantagenet to show that there was more to his existence than high drama and war; a lighter view of Richard’s life, you might say. (And who could resist poking a bit of fun at Anthony Woodville’s poetry?)
The dialogue used also is of a more modern style than is usual in Ricardian novels, and even (gasp!) contains occasional usage of a well-known swear word…which may seem very modern to those used to reading ‘medieval speak’ in novels but was actually in use and gaining vogue in the 15th century… This hopefully gives a slightly more natural and less formal feel; although they were nobles, these were also young men who were soldiers. Soldiers swear. They just do.
Most important perhaps, is the fact that events in Richard’s life that are lesser known or often glossed over in fiction have been included and brought to some prominence. Richard and the Bastard of Fauconberg, a little known trip to Norwich in 1471, the reburial of the Duke of York, Richard’s visit with Louis the Universal Spider at Amiens, his attendance at Prince Richard’s wedding to Anne Mowbray (along with Buckingham), and the Scottish wars all are covered, several of these in depth. Memories of the death and then the subsequent exhumation and reburial of the Duke of York are a recurring theme throughout…and foreshadow the future events in the next book (and the momentous finding of Richard within our own century.)RICHARDCOVER1net

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-Plantagenet-Book-Tante-Desiree-ebook/dp/B0187RJR7E

 

Anne E Johnson on Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Barbara Gaskell Denvil introduces the world to her medieval historical fiction

Always happy to have a writer of historical fiction as my guest. This week we have the talented and prolific Barbara Gaskell Denvil, who talks with such enthusiasm about writing her medieval English novels that you can’t help but want to read them!

*   *   *

INTRIGUING TALES OF ORDINARY PEOPLE

By Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Echoes in the night, running footsteps on the cobbles, the flicker of a candle flame at a window, distorted behind thick green-tinged glass. Outside in London’s alleyways the darkness is intense as the moon is hidden behind the rooftops with their soaring chimneys. But suddenly there’s the flare of a torch and its sizzle of fire. The Watch is coming – following – calling!  But the light is then extinguished, in the wind. Panting, losing breath, whispers. The lanes are narrow and the central gutters are thick with rubbish. The footsteps continue,  though now fainter in the distance. He is getting away.

Dreams. Visions. Inspiration. Hauntings.

I write historical fiction, and my books are set in late medieval England around the latter half of the 15th century. There’s a reason for this, for I have dreamed of such things all my life and the episode above is a typical night’s journey into the past. Even while living a highly romantic life for some years on a yacht sailing the sunny Mediterranean, I slipped into those medieval paths of my dreams.

When I started, many, many years ago, to seriously research the period that I already visited once asleep, I found an absorbing fascination in such details. This has never abated. I love to study the principal characters of the era, such as Richard III, Edward IV, Henry VII and all their amazing lords, ladies, courtiers and followers. But it is the ordinary people who inspire me most of all, along with their intriguing lives, limitations, desperate struggles and beliefs .

I have always been an author of sorts, an editor, critic, journalist, short story writer, screenwriter, and most of all a reader. And so it came naturally for me to write about the experiences which were already nightly dramas. I have now written several historical novels based around this late medieval period, and although my plots are centred around genuine historical characters and events, it is my own multi-layered storylines inhabited by beggars and soldiers, prostitutes and butchers, thieves and orphaned children, which interest me the most. My books are long – sorry – but with a huge cast of characters and depth of plot, a short book would be inadequate. After all, it takes a long book to relate all the interweaving mystery, adventure, crime and romance that my books involve. I am fussy about historical accuracy, but it is bringing my individual characters to life which I particularly love, since they all quickly become my great friends – even the villains – and I continue caring for them long after the book is finished.

Two of my historical novels have been on sale for some time in Australia where I now live – but I have recently made them available worldwide and now have great pleasure in announcing that SATIN CINNABAR, SUMERFORD’S AUTUMN and BLESSOP’S WIFE are all available worldwide on Amazon.

BLESSOP’S WIFE (published as The King’s Shadow in Australia) is a tale of crime, mystery and espionage set against the turbulent times when Edward IV died, and events led to Richard III accepting the throne. SATIN CINNABAR actually starts on the battlefield of Bosworth as Henry Tudor claims the crown of England from Richard III. SUMERFORD’S AUTUMN takes place during the first years of the dawning Tudor dynasty when the pretender known as Perkin Warbeck appears in England, claiming to be the rightful king. These books do not lead on one from the other, and each has its individual story and characters. But the dark and troublesome background of late medieval England persists – on the page just as it does in my head.

I continue to write of course, every day at my computer with the glorious Australian scenery and wildlife outside my window for inspiration. Rather a contrast to dark medieval alleys, but the peace and beauty are great for concentrating the mind. All I hear is wind in the trees and birdsong – then the click, click of my keyboard. So there are many more books to come —–

Blurb for BLESSOP’S WIFE

1483 and Edward IV wears England’s crown, but no king rules unchallenged. Often it is those closest to him who are the unexpected danger. When the king dies suddenly, rumour replaces fact – and Andrew Cobham is already working behind the scenes.

Tyballis was forced into marriage and when she escapes, she meets Andrew and an uneasy alliance forms. Their friendship will take them in unusual directions as Tyballis becomes embroiled in Andrew’s work and the danger which surrounds him. A motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children eventually joins the game, helping to uncover the underlying treason, as the country is brought to the brink of war.

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Learn more about Barbara Gaskell Denvil on her blog. Follow her on Facebook.

Purchase Sumerford’s Autumn and Blessop’s Wife.

Part I of a review of Terry Breverton’s RICHARD III: THE KING IN THE CAR PARK….

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Part I of a review by Myrna Smith, Ricardian Reading Editor

The second paragraph of the preface to this book brings up politics, citing Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher, whose death “was generally regretted by those in the south of England, but not in many other parts of the country…..There will never be a factual biography of Mrs. Hilda Margaret Thatcher [Never? Even in 500 years?] because our opinions and experience alter both writers and their audiences.”  But what has this to do with Richard III, his life and times? Is there some mystery about Mrs. Thatcher?

In the third paragraph, racism is brought up, in the cases of Patrice Lumumba and the concentration camps during the Boer Wars, and Bishop Stubbs “Stubbs glamorized the barbarian Angles, Saxons and Jutes in their genocide of the Christian Britons…” Wait a bit. Isn’t this, if not racism, an extreme form of ethnocentrism? How dare he imply that Christianity is better than the worship of Thor and Odin? Isn’t that bigotry? And why is Breverton concerned about the Boers, who were Germanic and (naturally) white, and bigots into the bargain? He also takes a swipe at the progenitor of the current Royal family, a “minor princeling from Hanover, a country the size of the Isle of Wight.” Hmm…sizeism! If size confers moral superiority, has he looked at the relative sizes of England and Wales?

Mr. Breverton, incidentally, sometimes uses “Britain” and “British” to refer to what is now Great Britain, sometimes to mean England and the English, and sometimes to apply to Wales and the Welsh only. No worries; one can usually tell by the context.

In paragraph four, the author brings up militarism, and Mr. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. Who? Oh, he means Tony Blair. Note to aspiring political pundits: You get Brownie points for using politician’s full names, especially if they are multiple (George Herbert Walker Bush), alliterative (Hubert Horatio Humphrey), or at all odd-sounding (Margaret Hilda Thatcher). I mean, isn’t there something screamingly funny about being named Hilda, even if you never use that name? Not to mention that it is Germanic.

In para number five, he attacks historical novelists. “A major problem is that historical novelists often stray from fact [doesn’t all fiction?] to form a hypothesis [a hypothesis is a scientific term, and can be tested by experimentation. A novel has a plot – usually – not a hypothesis.] which will in turn sell more books.” …which is a Bad Thing. Didn’t he write this book to sell? And didn’t he sell a copy of it to the Richard III Society Library? He disapproves of much non-fiction writing as well. “When a non-fiction writer resorts to derogatory adjectives…describing one king, say Henry VII while his protagonist Richard III is a heroic warrior….one has to beware.  The more adjectives there are…the more it usually betrays its author’s biases.”  I’ll tell you what betrays Breverton’s biases. “..facts are disguised and stage-managed for the benefits of the corporation instead of the state.” Ah yes. ‘Everything for the state.’ Wonder who said that? Perhaps he meant to say “people,” but slips of the tongue often betray one’s true viewpoint.

In the next paragraph, he gets personal. “Even with a track record of writing over forth well-received non-fiction books…it is increasingly difficult for this author to be published.”  He admits this is not all attributable to conspiracy. There are fewer people who enjoy reading nowadays.  Another self-revealing remark and an example of the argumentum ad oppressum: I don’t get published because I’m being discriminated against.  Maybe it’s just because he is not that polished a writer. Given a little time and about 1 ½ pages of MS., I think I can back that up.

Next he goes after the Church: “We seem to be returning to medieval times, with tourists (pilgrims) being attracted to pay to see holy relics, thus giving the Church and its environment an additional income stream.” (Money is the root of all evil, you know.) in the next sentence, with apparently no realization that he is writing of another Church, he goes on: “Roman Catholicism in Richard’s day allowed one to go to Heaven if one confessed to one’s sins and endowed the Church with money and/or estates.”  Though not a Catholic, I believe this misrepresents Catholic doctrine. For one thing, it omits any mention of penance.

Next (I’ve lost count of the paragraphs) he excoriates Thomas Penn, the author of The Winter King, about Henry VII. The way Breverton goes after Penn, Michael Hicks, et al. one would think they were wild-eyed Ricardians. They are not, but they do not overmuch admire Henry VII,”…there is a case to be made for Henry VII being the wisest and greatest king of England.” Yet he assures us he can be even-handed and dispassionate.

All this and we have only arrived at the beginning of the Introduction! Only 176 pages to go. That’s the good news.

Need I go on? I’m prepared to take up my lance and do battle for the cause. Just for the cause of puncturing the Breverton ego, if nothing else.

A guest post from (Professor) Karen Griebling

From time to time I have alluded rather obliquely to the fact that I see strong similarities between late 15th century English politics and early 21st century American politics and that is among the reasons I think that Richard III’s story needs to be told, and told NOW especially. I had been sitting on those revelations all this time because I felt that art needed to be given a chance to make its point, that the libretto and the music would bring those things to light; but I suspect I am putting too much faith in that. People will be struggling with the plot, the music, and the language on the first hearing so perhaps now is the time to make that statement.

To most people nowadays the Wars of the Roses seem to have been a Hatfield versus McCoy family feud of remote antiquity. Little do they realize that international diplomacy had a great deal to do with it, that Louis XI “the Spider” of France, Charles ‘the Rash” of Burgundy, Francis or Brittany, Maximillian of Austria, the Pope, the Doge of Milan, the Hundred Years War, gun powder and the printing press (technology), Spain and Portugal, Scotland and Ireland, the emergence of the middle class, gender roles and rights, religious ideology, the middle east, and international economics and trade agreements were key players in those events. Change is a constant; but the more things change, the more they remain the same in some ways. Having immersed myself in the politics of the 15th century for some time now, I am more aware of the similarities than ever, and the cyclic tendency of things.

Meanwhile, among the strong similarities between American politics and those of the late 15th century in Britain as I see it, are the House of Lancaster being somewhat equivalent to the Republicans, rewarding insiders and throwing money into costly and futile foreign wars (The Hundred Years War) while bankrupting the state and allowing its subjects to starve, doing anything in their power no matter how ridiculous/devious to malign and unseat the reigning house, and the House of York being similar to the Democrats who were allied with the Duchy of Burgundy and generally more progressive, more liberal, more populist, and tended to shake up the status quo by introducing commoners to court/inside the beltway.

The Medieval concept of Fortune’s Wheel is certainly apropos. It’s a wheel that twists on it axis as it turns, though, I think. We think of Mesopotamia as the Cradle of Civilization, but that civilization erupted through violence and competition for limited resources among peoples with conflicting and exclusive ideologies. East and Southeast Asia were also in the ascendant early on, and culture and civilization spread West to Europe gradually, via Turkey, Greece and Rome to Europe. The late 15th c. then saw the discovery of the Americas by Europeans (Richard III had died in battle just 7 years earlier, in fact.) The west appears to be in decline now and the East appears to be ascending, and the strife in the Cradle of Civilization, always at a dull roar, it seems, is increasing once again.

I DO think that this accounts for the popularity of shows like “Game of Thrones” which is loosely based on the Wars of the Roses, and “The White Queen”. And somehow I feel as though the discovery of the mortal remains of Richard III coincided with this time 530 years after his death for a greater purpose. As Joe Leaphorn character in the Hillerman mysteries says, (and I paraphrase) ‘I don’t believe in coincidences’. Or rather, I do, but I believe they have meanings and a significance that we may or may not grasp immediately.

Some of you may recall that I taught a course on musical rhetoric and politics a couple of years ago. The focus of that course had been of interest to me ever since I was a DMA student at University of Texas and wrote a paper on ‘protest music’–no, not the folk-pop music of the ’60s and ’70s, but protest music in 20th century classical art music by composers such as Hindemith, Dallapiccola, Britten, Berg, Schoenberg, and others. The course I taught in 2013 though, went back to the beginnings of European classical music–examining the nature and purpose of Gregorian chant as a tool of the church for subjugating, unifying, and pacifying the masses (!), through the development of word painting in the Renaissance, and structural abstractions as codes during periods of intense censorship in the late 18th century and in Soviet Russia in the 20th century, the use of quotation in masses by Josquin and in early Postmodern composers like George Rochberg, etc., the use of music dramas first to flatter the patron and teach moral and ethical lessons, not unlike early TV sit-coms, and the later use of them to lampoon aristocrats (the SNL of the 18th and 19th centuries!), and the emergence of music by women and composers of color during the mid twentieth century equal rights era, etc..

That, all of it, comes to bear in the opera, Richard III: A Crown of Roses, A Crown of Thorns. This isn’t just a romantic piece about a long-dead king, or pretty arias and exciting battle scene music, it isn’t just about rehabilitating his reputation through art (though that is certainly its mission), but it is about critically examining and understanding the world we live in and drawing attention to the patterns of repetition from history that we sometimes fail to recognize so that we can learn from them.KG1 KG2 KG3

Coming to Know Richard III: The Fictional Character vs. The Actual Man

 

“Life is like a prism. What you see depends on how you turn the glass.”
~Jonathan Kellerman

In the late 80s, I made the acquaintance of a classically trained British actor. Born in Guernsey, he served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and was imprisoned in a German prisoner-of-war camp for three years, from 1942 to 1945. Until I learned that he and his fellow prisoners were forced to perform Shakespeare before the guards, and that the guards had demanded he take the female roles, I did not understand his groundedness, his wicked sense of humor, his unspoken but clear compassion for a friend who had been abused in certain ways during her youth, and his unfailing attitude of, “I’ve seen bad, and this isn’t it.”

Until we know someone’s past, we can’t understand him. We also can’t know what he cares about or what motivates him.

While developing Richard as a character for multiple novels, and wanting to make him different in each novel, I realized that both historians and writers of fiction already see him and his motivations as if through a glass prism or a spectroscope. Some might argue that Shakespeare is to blame for the archetypal Machiavellian villain many think of when they think of Richard, but the human need to shoebox and categorize things and people, and the majority’s willingness to accept a traditional category without personally researching its historical validity likely have more to do with what the average person thinks about Richard…if the average person ever thinks about Richard.

Will the Real Richard III Please Step Forward?

In Richard’s case, we know some events of his life, but we do not know which events were meaningful enough to him to have helped shape who he was.

The major historical events are known and can be traced. Only occasionally can Richard’s reactions be traced, and we are entirely ignorant as to his motivations even when we think we know his motivations. But a plethora of writers – both of history and of fiction – have looked at the events Richard lived through or participated in, and they’ve gone on to decide what was important to him, and why. And so it is that most who have bothered to write about Richard have assigned subjective motivations to him.

It’s doubtful this will ever change because the temptation is too strong in most people for them to resist overlaying their personal feelings and reactions in response to the historical events that affected Richard or his contemporaries. A problem occurs when one writer accuses another writer’s reasoning as “wrong” when there can be no proven “right” answers to the mysteries in Richard’s life. Some people seem to forget the mysteries are many. Things like “What happened to the princes in the Tower?” and, “Did Edward IV marry Lady Eleanor Talbot before he married Elizabeth Woodville?” and, “What did Anne Neville die of? What did Edward of Middleham die of?” will always remain mysteries. Some people seem to forget that, too.

It can be fun to debate the points and possibilities, but many of us don’t know how to have fun debating. Many of us don’t even know how to debate. As the old Goon Show line goes, “I’m not saying she’s insane, but she leaves her premises immediately.”[i]

YOUR Richard is Too Hot, Cold, Romantic, Incestuous, Weak, Murderous, Tender, Loving, Psychotic, Paternal, Devoted, Comical, Tedious, Arrogant, Sneaky, and I Love/Hate Him, So Nyah!

When a writer of fiction uses Richard as a character, the writer makes certain subjective decisions about the character which are dictated by the story the writer wishes to tell. The Richard a writer creates is his or her own interpretation of the man, and the events and people in the real Richard’s life influence that interpretation as the story demands. A romantic novel featuring Anne Neville and Richard would focus on different events and character actions and reactions than an historical novel featuring Richard training as a squire to become a knight under the Earl of Warwick’s men.

No fictional Richard-construction is “better” or “worse” than any other. As Oscar Wilde said, “Books are either well written or badly written. That is all.” If you don’t like a particular flavor of tea, you can be nice and leave the pot for others to enjoy. You might even wander off to create your own flavor of Richard-tea. In any case, your flavor of Richard-tea is over there safely shelved on your bookshelf or still in your head. No one has messed with him, and you’re free to drink him up as you like.

MY Historical Rendition of Richard is The Definitive Version, Full Stop, Forevah! I’ll Snarl at Anyone Who Says Otherwise, So Nyah!

When a professional or amateur historian writes about history, he or she usually takes a position regarding their subject, and they back up their stance by interpreting historical events. (When you find an historian who’s neutral, send them roses, thank them profusely, and buy everything they’ve written. New. Yes, from that expensive university or independent press.) In the case of someone like Winston Churchill, there’s a plethora of contemporary source material, and the subject’s reactions and motivations are on record, so the historian has only to extrapolate Churchill’s reactions and motivations. But then, Churchill knew he was making history. Richard III didn’t. He was likely only trying to survive and take care of what mattered to him…like thousands of other people, noble and commoner, around him. (See what I did there? Create motivations for R3’s actions and other people’s actions, too? See how easy it is?)

In the case of Richard III, contemporary source material is so sparse, it’s not possible for anyone to reliably extrapolate Richard’s reactions and motivations, so contradictory interpretations are inevitable and multiple from the 15th century long into the future.

Every historian writing about Richard forms and expresses his or her opinions and theories without being able to provide definitive proofs to convince their audience because definitive proofs do not exist in Richard’s case.There is evidence. There is probability. Good writers weigh both, but ultimately nothing but conjecture is possible where his reactions and motivations are concerned because the king’s skeleton was not found clutching a thick tome in its bony fingers that contained its owner’s private thoughts in neat middle English, and no archive has yet yielded same.

So whenever a professional or amateur analyst of Richard III, his life and his times, expounds on Richard’s personal motivations and goes on to offer definitive answers to any of the myriad mysteries regarding him, they’re actually expounding on what their own imagination has come up with. So unless an historical writer or blogger confines themselves to the known facts and doesn’t venture into the realm of, “Richard did X because he felt Y,” it’s all conjecture…unless someone has a direct line to the Unseen Realm and to Richard, or to the elusive Akashic Records. And if they do, I wish they’d bottle and sell it so the rest of us can play, too.

All we can do as The Audience is apply or not apply critical thinking to what we read and hear regarding Richard. If all we do is absorb the opinions and theories of others, then we have no studied, deliberate theories or opinions of our own. And that’s sad, and perhaps lazy of us. But then I wonder…how many of us have been taught critical-thinking skills?

Shakespeare Knew How to Have Fun with His Duke of Gloucester

Like it or not, Richard III as a character in fiction is forever fair game. He’s also a wonderful character to play with. You can let your imagination run riot to create a romance, a comedy, or a tragedy with him, and no one can tell you that you’re wrong to do so. (Actually, they will tell you, but you’re free to pity the Mrs. Grundys of the world for missing out on all the fun while you go back to playing with him and irritating them.)

In Richard’s real life, events continued shaping who he was throughout his life. It’s the same with us as well, but in fiction a writer will assign a character only one (1) meaningful life event. That one event helps the reader to understand the character, know what he cares about, and know what motivates him. The meaningful event is also the foundation for:

  1.  What the character wants
  2.  What choices the character makes when he’s stressed
  3.  The story’s theme

When the writer chooses the meaningful event carefully and uses it to their best advantage, they’re able to manipulate their audience’s emotions and reactions. This is great fun, hopefully for the audience as much as for the writer — if the writer does it right.

Shakespeare’s audience couldn’t claim they weren’t warned as to his Richard’s Meaningful Event, since the Bard has the Duke of Gloucester lay it all out in the soliloquy opening “Richard III.” What’s amazing is that this particular Meaningful Event was created full-cloth in Tudor times, by Tudor writers, and traditional historians have taken it as religious historical dogma ever since. It took Philippa Langley, John Ashdown-Hill, a whole lot of money from a whole lot of international Richard supporters, and Richard’s voice speaking from beyond the grave through his bones to offer the definitive proof that hey, he wasn’t at all as the Tudor writers (*cough* Thomas More, the Croyland Chronicle, etc. etc. etc.) and Old Willie presented him. And if the Tudors and Willie were wrong about Richard’s physical attributes, the next question to ask is: What else did they get wrong about him?

Lie to Me Once, Shame on You. Lie to Me Twice, and I’ll Never Believe Another Thing You Tell Me

When a witness on the stand in a court trial lies about one thing, their entire testimony is thrown out. They also instantly become a defendant, and they can be put on trial for perjury. So it is with Tudor propaganda. Once you catch a Tudor chronicler in one lie, their entire chronicle – down to the smallest detail – is suspect.

But hey, back to Shakespeare and the fun he had creating his Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

What Meaningful Event Does Shakespeare Assign His Version of Richard?

Shakespeare’s character is physically deformed and unfinished, lame and unfashionable. Even the dogs bark at him when he stops near them. (Or, as Gollum more succinctly put it in the screenplay of The Two Towers, to himself about himself, “You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.”)

Shakespeare uses Richard’s physical deformity as the foundation for:

WHAT Richard WANTS: To be a subtle, false, and treacherous villain because he can’t be a lover.

WHAT CHOICES HE MAKES WHEN HE’S STRESSED: When play opens, Richard has already laid plots to make his brothers hate each other. The play goes on to reveal his other, rather nasty choices. Was he under stress before the play began, or after? You can argue either way.

THE PLAY’S THEME: Various themes apply, so take your pick as they relate to Richard’s meaningful event. (There are other possible themes beyond these.)

  • Mortal Justice vs. Divine Justice
  • Free Will vs. Fate – “Divine Providence” to Renaissance audiences
  • Time – Richard seems to have the ability to speed up time. This is seen to work for him, but in the end it works against him.
  • Manipulation – He manipulates the audience as well as the other characters.
  • Power – Getting it. Holding onto it. Shakespeare’s Richard is portrayed, not as the medieval warlord he was, but as a Renaissance “Machievel” – someone who will do anything to get in power and stay in power.
  • Physical Deformity Reflects Moral Deformity — doesn’t much apply today, but aligns with the 16th-century belief system

You Too Can Have Fun with Richard

Wanna start creating your own Richard? It’s not hard, so why not have a go? If you don’t want to create your own, you could pull out your favorite novel that features him and see what the writer used to underlay Richard’s story goal, the choices he made during stressful times, and the story’s theme.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to select a meaningful event from Richard’s real life. The event should have happened before your story begins. It should also create ongoing suspense within your reader. You want them to ask and keep asking, “What’s Richard going to do next, and why?”

Story suspense depends on conflict and suffering, so the event you select must be traumatic – a betrayal, an insult, a loss, an injury, something that deeply wounded Richard. There are so many possibilities to choose from in his life, I’m not going to list examples. Part of the fun is making a list of possibilities for yourself and deciding which one to use.

The outcome of the event that wounded Richard should have created two or three specific things within him. Here are the three specific outcomes you’re looking for, compliments of Elizabeth Lyon’s A Writer’s Guide to Fiction.

  1. The wound should leave the character with a need so intense, he or she will be driven to fulfill it. These needs are universal, such as belonging, love, family, self-worth, or faith.
  2. The wound should leave the character with a weakness, a character flaw that seems out of the control or beyond the full awareness of the character.
  3. The wound may also gift the character with a heroic strength that increases his determination to fill the need and reach the plot goal.[ii]

If what you’ve chosen doesn’t create at least two things from this list, select another traumatic, meaningful event from Richard’s life.

The next time you run into the historical Richard or a fictional version (or both wrapped into one work), see if you can identify the meaningful event the writer is using to drive their version of the man. If you can’t identify their premise…I’m not saying they’re insane. Only that their work may be badly written.

__________

[i] Premise, also premiss. Logic. A proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion. If you’d like to search “The Goon Show” radio scripts for the line, some are here: http://www.thegoonshow.net/scripts_alpha.asp … Good luck with that if you’re not a fan of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, et. al. and their brand of humor. And if your first response was, “What’s a goon show?”, fuggedaboudit.

[ii] Lyon, Elizabeth. A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, Perigree, New York, 2004, p. 87.

 

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