Greetings gentle Bardophiles!
Our reading of Henry VI, Part 3 will commence on Wednesday, August 30, at 6:30, less than two weeks away.
Please let me know if you plan to attend! (It now appears that Linda will be back from her total eclipse trip in time to join us.)
If we are to factor into our judgment of Shakespeare films the relative strength of the original material, then I think that disc 2 of the BBC's War of The Roses, corresponding to Henry VI, Part 3, is one of the best of them all. The BBC was granted wide access to many historical sites, castles, cathedrals, fields, etc., and the cumulative visual effect is stunning. This disc introduces Benedict Cumberbatch as a youthful Richard (Gloucester), and he is superb in the role – vicious, vulnerable, and fascinating. The portrayals of the battle scenes are vivid, unglamorized (if a tad too bloody), and powerful. The scene with the father who killed his son and son who killed his father sounds contrived on the page, but the production brings it to life. The director back-loads all of Richard's powerful soliloquies from throughout the play into the end of the disc, providing a riveting finale and setting the stage for Cumberbatch's RIII. As was the case in Disc 1 (Parts 1&2), the director plays fast and loose with the text, not only making many major excisions in this disc but also inventing an entirely new scene: Clifford, mortally wounded, pleads to be put out of his misery; Richard declines because he wants Clifford to suffer; and King Henry finds himself unable to do it, turns away from Clifford and loses his lunch. I found it to be such a strong scene that I had to check to see if I missed it in the text.
The odd theme of an important pre-arranged marriage being sabotaged is used twice the the HVI plays, and both have signficant negative consequences – in Part 1, Gloucester arranges a marriage between Henry and a relative of King Charles of France, which would help settle the French/ English wars. But Suffolk has fallen in love with Margaret, the daughter of an insignificant (although extravagantly titled) aristocrat, and convinces the King to choose her as his queen. In Part 3, King Edward (Richard's oldest brother) has sent Warwick to France to arrange a marriage with Lady Bona (another relative of King Charles), but in the meantime Edward falls in love with Lady Grey and makes her his queen, enraging Warwick and prompting him to change allegiances and join with Margaret, and insulting King Charles who backs Margaret and Warwick's rebellion against the Yorks.
The original title of this play (in the First Folio) was "Henry VI, Part 3 with the death of The Duke of York." With the unusual (singular?) emphasis on this one element of the play, it might be rewarding to explore that death with some attention. It occurs in I, iv, the closing scene of Act One. The previous scene enacts the killing of York's young son Rutland at the hands of Clifford. York's final scene opens with him unaware of this, but knowing that the Queen and Clifford are closing in on him. He talks of the courage of his sons, Richard and Edward, in the preceding battles, but resigns himself to defeat in the face of superior force:
I have seen a swan
With bootless labour swim against the tide
And spend her strength with over-matching waves.
[A short alarum within]
Ah, hark! the fatal followers do pursue;
And I am faint and cannot fly their fury:
And were I strong, I would not shun their fury:
The sands are number'd that make up my life;
Here must I stay, and here my life must end.
Sounds like his swan's song. But no, it's like one of Beethoven's false endings, it starts up again, the Queen and Clifford show up and torture York for another 155 lines
Queen Margaret: Hold, valiant Clifford! for a thousand causes
I would prolong awhile the traitor's life . . .
[It is in this following speech that she reveals that Clifford has killed York's son, Rutland, and offers him the handkerchief stained with Rutland's blood to wipe away his tears.]
Queen Margaret. Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland,
Come, make him stand upon this molehill here,
That raught at mountains with outstretched arms,
Yet parted but the shadow with his hand.
What! was it you that would be England's king?
Was't you that revell'd in our parliament,
And made a preachment of your high descent?
Where are your mess of sons to back you now?
The wanton Edward, and the lusty George?
And where's that valiant crook-back prodigy,
Dicky your boy, that with his grumbling voice
Was wont to cheer his dad in mutinies
Or, with the rest, where is your darling Rutland?
Look, York: I stain'd this napkin with the blood
That valiant Clifford, with his rapier's point,
Made issue from the bosom of the boy;
And if thine eyes can water for his death,
I give thee this to dry thy cheeks withal.
Alas poor York! but that I hate thee deadly,
I should lament thy miserable state.
I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York.
York final lines (after he takes some more abuse), and the scene's conclusion:
York: Open Thy gate of mercy, gracious God!
My soul flies through these wounds to seek out Thee.
Queen Margaret: Off with his head, and set it on York gates;
So York may overlook the town of York.
Apropos of current events, Winston Churchill on John Foster Dulles: "He's a bull who carries his own china shop around with him."
Please let me know if you plan to read with us on August 30th.
Songs for the eclipse:
The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More
Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone
Total Eclipse of the Heart (which Bonnie Tyler will sing during the eclipse)
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