We're still on track for our reading of Henry VI, part 3, on Wednesday, August 30, at 6:30 pm. Call for readers in two weeks.
One of the producers of a conflated version for RSC called the Henry VI plays “a mess of angry and undifferentiated barons, thrashing about in a diffuse narrative.” I suspect we've all felt that to some degree during these readings, so I am pleased to report that Henry VI, part 3 is by far the easiest of the HVIs to follow, in large part because so many of the claimants and principals have been killed off by now, and the number of sides has been reduced to a kind of fuzzy-logical two, the red and white roses with various internecine battles within each camp.
As I mentioned in the earlier letter, with this play (Shakespeare's second, the latter part of The Contention) you see the emergence of his first two great characters, Richard (later Gloucester , then Richard III) and Queen Margaret. But – knowing now as we do that part 1 was written as a prequel – we can look back at Joan of Arc and Talbot as Shakespeare's first two great minor characters. Joan has few actual lines, but is clearly among the most memorable characters in the whole first tetralogy.
There is a lot of the old Morality Plays in this tetralogy – the saintly king and Vice incarnate (Richard). A comfort level for the audience. Masefield called HVI a “gentle, bewildered soul,” another critic points out that his ascension to the throne as an infant worked against him because “authority is not easily recovered after a long minority among powerful and ambitious nobles.”
Richard's marvelous speech in 3, ii (“Shakespeare's first great soliloquy.” Auden/ the first “voice of a fully developed subjectivity in Shakespeare.” Adelman) opens Olivier's “Richard III.” He clearly did not want to give up that speech by Richard, even if was from another play! The premise of that speech, that Richard has embraced evil because he is too ugly to be loved, has frequently been questioned, usually along the lines of Coleridge's comment on Iago, “The motive-hunting of motiveless Malignity.” Freud, however, accepted Richard's reasons, and rephrases it as “Nature has done me a grievous wrong in denying me that beauty of form which wins human love. Life owes me reparation for this, and I will see that I get it. I have a right to
be an exception, to overstep those bounds by which others let
themselves be circumscribed. I may do wrong myself, since wrong has
been done to me."
The theatrical history of the HVI plays are full of splicing and conflating. Following the original runs in the 1590s, the next time the three plays were presented in their original (First Folio based) form was Stratford, 1906!
The 1980s saw a massive production in Bath of all the plays of both tetralogies presented in regnal order – Richard II through Richard III with all the Henrys in between. Very successful, and later toured the world. (Rita and I have rented the Milliners Cottage in Bath in early November, the last leg of our vacation.)
67 roles in this play, so casting will be a challenge and we'll be doubling and tripling all night! BUT, the Arden edition contains a scene-by-scene line count (in their attempt the show the kind of complex planning necessary to cast this play!) so my load is lightened this time around.
The new TNT series,”Will,” deals with Will's earliest years in London. A wild and rather lurid ride – sex, drugs, and punk rock – but I'm finding it entertaining. It's playing fast and loose with the scholarship, of course, but there are enough relevant historical touches to provoke interest – Marlowe, Bacon, Raleigh, (giving us three of the four leading candidates of the non-Stradfordians), Burbage, Kemp, Robert Southwell, Topcliff, John Dee and Edward Kelley. Unfortunately the show is rather light on ideas and insights, Will is kind of a likable country kid in the big city with little about him to suggest what he would come to accomplish, so the show unintentionally makes the non-Stradfordians primary argument– how could this bumpkin have possibly written these plays and poems?
Dexter Gordon doing You've Changed:
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