Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Man In His Mirrors : Schizoid Projections of Richard III (Guest Post)

Our guest post comes from Robert Fripp, author of  Dark Sovereign: the tragedy of King Richard the Third that William Shakespeare should have written. "Dark Sovereign," the first play in four centuries written, fluently, in Shakespeare's English, counterattacks Shakespeare's interpretation. Robert was the series producer of CBC-TV's investigative series "The Fifth Estate" for a decade before becoming an author, an independent television producer, and a copywriter for companies working in fields of technology. 

King Richard III presents the modern world with two distinct and different images. They sit at opposite ends of a spectrum displaying every aspect of human personality, from good to wicked, with shades of grey between. More than five hundred years after Richard’s death, the image that most people know is the misshapen psychopath dreamed up by Shakespeare. The Bard launched this villainous creation in “The Tragedy of Richard III” in 1591, when it was useful propaganda for the House of Tudor. For over a century Tudor monarchs had wished to distance themselves from the House of Plantagenet that came before. They especially wished to severe connections from the last Plantagenet ruler, King Richard III.

In the 1940s the actor Laurence Olivier added a severe, Quasimodo-style disfigurement to the theatrical character of an already damaged king. A decade later, in 1955, Olivier transferred his crippled persona from stage to screen and the ghoulish character took on a permanence that has endured for more than sixty years. Kevin Spacey’s recent impersonation is but the latest cartoon of this unflattering creature to creep or limp across world stages.

Where did this disfigurement originate? Shakespeare borrowed it to great effect: Early in Scene 1 he has the king describe himself as: “Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time / Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, / And that so lamely and unfashionable / That dogs bark at me as I halt by them…”

But Shakespeare was not the first to invent or to invest in a damaged Richard III. Sir Thomas More had described the king in unflattering terms eighty-five years earlier. Sir Thomas, a man of deeply conservative religious views, was applying to Richard's person the biblical metaphor that physical deformity might be a heaven-sent affliction imposed to punish sins of character. This notion goes back at least to Boethius (d. 525) in the Christian era. In the Bible it crops up in Leviticus 21.17-24, and thence carries forward to Psalm 51.5 (A.V.). The Tudor chronicler Raphael Hollinshed borrowed his “Richard” image from More.

That is how many scraps of ill-met scholarship found their well-chewed way into Shakespeare. In Paul Murray Kendall’s authoritative biography, “Richard the Third” (1975), the author describes Shakespeare’s play, “The Tragedy of Richard III” thus: “What a tribute this is to art; what a misfortune this is for history.”

So, how about that second distinct image of King Richard III? Richard was a Northerner. He spent several of his boyhood years as a squire, learning his military skills at Middleham Castle in the North Riding of Yorkshire. It was there that he met his future wife, Lady Anne Neville. At one point in “Dark Sovereign” he reminds her: “’Twas in your father’s house I learn’d to war. / Remember wi’ yourself, how I bethought was to play David / in Golias’ armour; and whilst did you, a little golden girl, / sit out and pick pied daisies.”

Together they shared the risks of childhood: “In younger, foolish-witty years, we ventur’d out / on the River Youre to stand on the ice, hearing it so crack / whose strength had soon yielded to hurl us down. / How thin the ice; how deep, how swift the torrent runs below. / Shall he be resolute, that is so unresolv’d?”

For almost a decade Richard served as the military commander for his brother, King Edward IV, along the Scottish border: “I that am young in years am old in hours of service. / I am to Edward shield and general captain / in the office of a wall against the Scot.”

When Richard’s father and his younger brother were killed in the battle of Wakefield, it was Richard who led a family delegation to York to remove their heads and butchered bodies from spikes around the city walls, and to give them decent burial.

And when King Edward IV died, it was to York, not London, that Richard went as his first port of call in his time of crisis.

For much of his short life, Richard demonstrated the fidelity advertised by his motto, “Loyalty Binds Me.”

Nor was that loyalty restricted to his family and Yorkist allies in the Wars of the Roses. As Governor of the North of England, Richard had taken measures to support, and to represent, the poor. When he became king, he translated that concern into his first, and only, Act of Parliament. At that time, the French expression for dusty-feet, piedpuloreux, translated into a Scottish and English noun describing itinerant peddlars as “piepowders.” Richard’s Act I overhauled the “Courts of Piepowder” which arbitrated market trading disputes. “To every of the same fayres is of right perteynyng a court of Pepowders to mynystre to theim due justice” (1483, Act I Richard III, c. 6, para. 1). None of this fuels the weird image created by Shakespeare’s fevered imagination for Tudor preejudice.

Never forget: We are talking English history here. Controversial events that took place centuries ago are still sitting front of mind. Ancient regional interests project the same grudges, now; accents, county borders and points of view still anchor differences. Richard lll’s North, running from the City of York to the Scottish border, has little sympathy for the creature dreamed up in the effete and distant South by Shakespeare.

In September 2011, a woman who had read my play, “Dark Sovereign,” wrote to me from Portugal Cove, Newfoundland:

“My father, who was born in [the northern town of] Leicester, raised me to be a Ricardian,” she wrote me. “Dad’s grandmother was from Yorkshire, and Dad never got over being given a 'clout' at the age of seven when he came home from school and told her all about Richard Crouchback.”

The writer then reminded me that twenty years ago I had advertised a limited printing of “Dark Sovereign” in a British magazine. Her father happened to see it, and, because he was coming to Toronto to visit his daughter, he bought that magazine with him. Landing in Toronto he asked his daughter to drive to my door where he bought himself a copy of “Dark Sovereign.”

In common with that Richard III supporter, a great many people in the North of England believe that Richard was a benign ruler and a fine, upstanding man. When you open your mouth in a pub anywhere near the City of York, be careful what you say.

Robert Fripp is the author of “Dark Sovereign: the tragedy of King Richard the Third that William Shakespeare should have written.” Fripp wrote “Dark Sovereign” with clockwork precision in English as it was available to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Read two full scenes at and 19 pages on Robert Fripp's URL.


catkins said...

There is a wonderful novel, written in 1951, by Josephine Tey, called "The Daughter of Time," that also champions the cause of Richard III. It starts with the premise that a good detective can recognize a "criminal" face. When Tey's trusty detective is laid up in the hospital, his sidekick brings him portraits and asks him to identify which of them are criminals. He identifies Richard III as a good person, through and through. When told of his identity, he refuses to believe he could have been guilty of the crimes that had been ascribed to him, and launches an investigation to prove his innocence.
Tey's book is a delightful read, and it sounds like "Dark Sovereign" should be quite as enjoyable.

Wayne Myers said...

Any discussion of the historical Richard III must eventually get around to the young princes, Richard's nephews--the circumstances of their internment in the Tower, the last recorded sighting of the brothers, and their fate. Any comments?

Diane Wilshere said...

Nicely written, but Edmund, Earl of Rutland, who was executed after the battle of Wakefield was Richard's older brother not younger. Richard was the youngest child and was 8 at the time of his father' and brother's deaths. Edmund is portrayed as a child in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3 which is dramatically interesting but historically inaccurate

Duane Morin said...

[Responding on behalf of Mr. Fripp,who is having technical difficulties:]

Responding to catkins' comment:

Thank you for your reference to Josephine Tey's novel. The fastest way I can respond to you accurately is to copy and paste the first several paragraphs from my Introduction in the book version of "Dark Sovereign". So here goes...

"In 1983 I was the series producer of CBC Television’s investigative weekly program, The Fifth Estate, a Canadian current affairs series roughly comparable to BBC’s "Panorama" or CBS’s "Sixty Minutes."

Investigative television requires a high degree of factual accuracy in program research. Then come the ways in which that research is presented. When teaching students a reasoning approach to current affairs presentation it is critical to drill into them that, by its nature, television distils its subject material in two related ways—first, through editing and shortening; second, by selecting for action and sensation. Hence the too-frequent term in television newsrooms, ‘If it bleeds, it leads’.

A worn paperback was circulating in our production unit in 1983. It met the well-reasoned criteria outlined above. Written under the pen name Josephine Tey, "The Daughter of Time" tells a tale that acquits King Richard III of murdering his young nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Ms. Tey set her scene by putting her principal character, a police detective, in a hospital bed with nothing to do but solve the case. He does this, acquitting King Richard and restoring his name and reputation. The author’s motive for writing her book would have been clearer had she used the full adage for her title: ‘Truth is the daughter of time’ (from Francis Bacon after Aulus Gellius). Published in 1951, "The Daughter of Time" has been an influential primer, attracting newcomers to Ricardian studies for six decades. Ms. Tey’s verdict may be accurate, but her choice of sources can be challenged and her chain of evidence seems naïve.

In 1983, before reading her book, I knew only the generally unchallenged view of most Britons about King Richard III: that he murdered his nephews, the little princes, in the Tower of London, then ruled for just two years. In short, he was a ‘bad’ king, guilty as rumoured.

1983: King Richard’s year
News coverage was extensive in 1983, marking the five hundredth anniversary of Richard’s accession to the throne. Canadian newspapers printed features from the British press; and the Richard III Society went so far as to stage a mock coronation in Toronto’s St. James Cathedral. Charles Ross, professor emeritus of history at the University of Bristol (whose book does not exonerate Richard) stated that Richard III was one of just two people to have been the subject of at least one major work in every generation through the past five centuries. To a current affairs producer this was intriguing. How to discover the facts and set the record a little straighter after so much time?"

That's about it. As you can see, it was to some degree Josephine Tey who got me going.

Thank you for your comment, Carl.

Robert Fripp

Wayne Myers said...

In a historical context, I don't consider most of Richard's "crimes" crimes at all, or even shocking in the framework of the savagery of the Wars of the Roses: Prince Edward's death at Tewksbury, King Henry VI's assassination, and the executions of Clarence, Rivers, Grey, Vaughn, Hastings and Buckingham. They were players in the Lancastrian-Yorkist power game and all knew what failure meant. I personally doubt that Anne was poisoned. But the issue of the young princes is a very different matter. It is said that Richard loved them very much. But why, then, were they declared illegitimate? Who was the driving force behind this determination? What was Richard's part in this? Why were the princes interned in the Tower? I know Henry VII would have had a very strong motivation to have the princes killed, but it seems they were last scene well before the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Wayne Myers said...

Ha! "Scene." Sorry. Too early in the morning.

Robert Fripp said...

Responding to Wayne Myers...
Wayne writes, "Any discussion of the historical Richard III must eventually get around to the young princes, Richard's nephews--the circumstances of their internment in the Tower, the last recorded sighting of the brothers, and their fate. Any comments?"

This was clear from the start of my project, so "Dark Sovereign" deals with that first: "Eventually" was not soon enough. Two murderers kill the princes within a minute of the opening curtain. Or do they? The murderers run off, to be replaced by Rumour, who explains that she, being Rumour, is not sure what happened:

RUMOUR (to the princes):
Edward the fifth, child-king sans crown,
that never more shall crown beget;
and Richard, duke of York: Requiescatis in pace,
—if ye truly be dead! Were these or agents
for o’erween’d ambition rid ye this?
or night-born phantasms do serve the time?
th’occasions of my tongues? If these were ghosts,
their work was woven of the many’s mind,
and you shall live long years beyond tonight.
Be you in this world, or in another, brothers, sleep! 10
It is not given me to understand
whether this work were done, or no.

As Rumour says, "It is not given me to understand whether this work were done, or no." The same goes for the author. This is for the audience to decide. At the end of the scene, as she leaves, Rumour warns the bodies in the bed:

Princes, if ye live,
and that this was th’imagin’d tale of fools, hide close:
Keep far from Harry Tudor’s iron heels.
Otherwise, if ye be dead by Richard’s hand, 70
gently I bid you adieu.

Robert Fripp said...

Diane Wilshere said...

Diane Wilshere reminds me that Edmund, Earl of Rutland, was Richard's older brother. True. Thank you for spotting that. I think I had a moment of confusion: Edmund was the youngest of the older brothers. Fortunately I got it right in the text of "Dark Sovereign":

GLOUCESTER: "At Wakefield was my father slain; and more than so,
my elder brother Edmund, earl of Rutland,
—scarce had a’ seen yet seventeen years.
At York, their heads adornéd were with paper crowns
and bodied with a stake.
Small birds peck’d out the apples of their eyes 90
as they were carcasses of rotted ravens,
till at length the stink came up, obedient to the airs,
for worlds of men to smell out their dishonour.
ANNE: In likewise fell my sire at Barnet,
and my prince at Tewkesbury.
GLOUCESTER: These were not prick’d upon poles,
to be in death dishonour’d. Though Edward sits in throne again,
meseemeth, lo, this many years, a kind of madness reigns 100
throughout the breadth of all this England.