Richard Iii

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1991
directed by Robert Robinson

Upon the death of King Edward IV, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, believed himself the most qualified to rule. He devised a brutal stratagem to ascend the English throne. Brilliantly, he executed his plan. Callously, he executed family, friends, and subjects. By 1483 the sceptre, at last, was his. But in 1485, Richard confronted the Earl of Richmond at the bloody battle of Bosworth Field. Richmond, a distant cousin from another branch of the family, killed Richard and assumed the throne. Richmond was crowned King Henry VII and married Princess Elizabeth, Richard's niece and daughter of the late King Edward IV. Together, Henry and Elizabeth founded the Tudor dynasty of English monarchs. In the early 1590's, William Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, his first blockbuster hit. Chroniclers Edward Hall, Raphael Holinshed, and Sir Thomas More, Shakespeare's presumed sources, deliberately distorted their accounts of Richard so as to augment public empathy and support for the reigning Tudor monarchs. Shakespeare, blending fact, fiction, and rumor, molded his Richard III into an exciting political figure. In the first scene of the play, Richard announces in a soliloquy his plan to be king. With his elder brother, King Edward IV, dying, Richard hires two murderers to kill the rightful heir, their brother George, Duke of Clarence. When the king dies, Richard becomes "Lord Protector" of the new heirs, the king's young sons. Anxious to "protect" his own interests, Uncle Richard imprisons them in the tower. Aided by the Duke of Buckingham, a powerful political ally, Richard executes the family of the late king's wife, Queen Elizabeth, who naturally would prefer to see her son on the throne. To further discredit his brother, Richard circulates rumors that the previous king and his sons are illegitimate. To increase public support for his own claim to the crown, Richard enacts shows of humility, devotion, kindness, and other virtues which recommend him to the citizenry, and especially to the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London. Finally, having staged the offer himself, Richard accepts the "golden yoke of sovereignty." Unjustifiably convinced that his position is threatened, he "terminates" the princes in the tower, poisons his wife, Lady Anne, and arranges to marry Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the former king, Edward IV. Even Buckingham, without whom he would not have secured the crown, is executed, so paranoid has Richard become. Eventually, Richard's real enemies combine forces to overthrow him. Thus, despite a torrent of plots, a web of intrigue, and a long and infamous trail of blood, his reign is over after only two years.

Date Time
Saturday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Richard III features the spectacular homecoming of Prince Edward who is later murdered in the tower, a boys' choir for Richard's coronation scene, a climactic clash of swords on Bosworth field, and a surprise spectacle or two near the end.

Upon the death of King Edward IV, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, believed himself the most qualified to rule. He devised a brutal stratagem to ascend the English throne. Brilliantly, he executed his plan. Callously, he executed family, friends, and subjects. By 1483 the sceptre, at last, was his. But in 1485, Richard confronted the Earl of Richmond at the bloody battle of Bosworth Field. Richmond, a distant cousin from another branch of the family, killed Richard and assumed the throne. Richmond was crowned King Henry VII and married Princess Elizabeth, Richard's niece and daughter of the late King Edward IV. Together, Henry and Elizabeth founded the Tudor dynasty of English monarchs. In the early 1590's, William Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, his first blockbuster hit. Chroniclers Edward Hall, Raphael Holinshed, and Sir Thomas More, Shakespeare's presumed sources, deliberately distorted their accounts of Richard so as to augment public empathy and support for the reigning Tudor monarchs. Shakespeare, blending fact, fiction, and rumor, molded his Richard III into an exciting political figure. In the first scene of the play, Richard announces in a soliloquy his plan to be king. With his elder brother, King Edward IV, dying, Richard hires two murderers to kill the rightful heir, their brother George, Duke of Clarence. When the king dies, Richard becomes "Lord Protector" of the new heirs, the king's young sons. Anxious to "protect" his own interests, Uncle Richard imprisons them in the tower. Aided by the Duke of Buckingham, a powerful political ally, Richard executes the family of the late king's wife, Queen Elizabeth, who naturally would prefer to see her son on the throne. To further discredit his brother, Richard circulates rumors that the previous king and his sons are illegitimate. To increase public support for his own claim to the crown, Richard enacts shows of humility, devotion, kindness, and other virtues which recommend him to the citizenry, and especially to the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London. Finally, having staged the offer himself, Richard accepts the "golden yoke of sovereignty." Unjustifiably convinced that his position is threatened, he "terminates" the princes in the tower, poisons his wife, Lady Anne, and arranges to marry Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the former king, Edward IV. Even Buckingham, without whom he would not have secured the crown, is executed, so paranoid has Richard become. Eventually, Richard's real enemies combine forces to overthrow him. Thus, despite a torrent of plots, a web of intrigue, and a long and infamous trail of blood, his reign is over after only two years.

Richard's reputation, through reasons of politics and envy, has been distorted through the ages. Most historians agree that Richard was cultured and intelligent, with a proven ability to govern. They concur that his deformity has been greatly exaggerated, and describe him as attractive but frail. The incidents in Shakespeare's play are based on historical fact; however, there is considerable debate as to whether Richard was indeed responsible for the murder of the princes in the tower, or the death of Lady Anne. Shakespeare's audience knew the story of Richard III. The Wars of the Roses (1453-1497) between the Yorkists, whose badge was the white rose, and the Lancasters, traditionally identified by the red rose, resulted in some the most brutal battles in English history. This split in the royal family occurred in the fourteenth century with the sons of King Edward III, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Edmund Langley, Duke of York. Marriages and intermarriages arranged among their descendants erupted in war as relatives killed and imprisoned one another in dispute over the crown. The civil war in Richard III was initiated by Richard's father, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, against King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster. King Henry VI, married to Margaret of Anjou, entrusted his administration to inept personal friends. Richard of York sought to alleviate the ensuing problems. Moreover, he could lay stronger claim to the crown than the reigning king. A series of battles followed. Richard was, in fact, placed in power in 1454 and 1455-1456, due to Henry VI's bouts of insanity. Queen Margaret, determined that her son succeed his father, vehemently opposed the Duke. He was killed by her army at Wakefield in 1460. The dispute was then taken up by Duke Richard's son, Edward IV, assisted by Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III. Edward IV's victory at Tewkesbury at last secured the crown for the House of York. The marriage of the Earl of Richmond and Princess Elizabeth, announced at the end of Richard III, brings peace and unity once again to the Houses of Lancaster and York.

THEATRICAL RICHARD: HERO, VILLAIN, AND IRONIC COMEDIAN Like the historical Richard, Shakespeare's Richard is also legendary. It has been a coveted role for actors through the centuries. The theatrical Richard plainly states that he is "misshapen" and "determined to prove a villain." Conventional interpretations of the role were satirized in the comic film The Goodbye Girl, in which an actor, played by Richard Dreyfuss, portrays an outlandishly deformed Richard. In most productions, the moral and physical deformity of Richard is played at the expense, or exclusion, of the quick wit and charm with which Shakespeare endows him. Laurence Olivier is the exception to the rule. Olivier, who also starred in The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond, was one of the finest English actors of the twentieth century. He created one of the most renowned Richards of all time, a performance preserved in the film Richard III. He described Shakespeare's character as "the hero, the villain, and the ironic comedian." It was this complexity of the character that most appealed to him. The CSF production renders a similar depiction of Richard as a character who is both tenacious and contemptible in his determination to rule. It emphasizes the political intrigue of Richard's exploits, and allows the drama's human and poetic qualities to develop naturally. The production opens with a dream-like prologue to set the stage. Voice-over narration is compiled from historical source material. Characters and dramatic action are selected from Henry VI, part 3, one of a trilogy of Shakespeare's history plays which dramatizes events immediately preceding Richard's story. The set design is non-specific in time and place, but the costumes and set pieces convey the medieval world. Two "magic" walls, designed by William Forrester, are constructed on the circular festival stage. Mysteriously they glide into various positions, following the curvature of the floor. In this way "new" settings are quickly defined so that the production's fast pace and mounting suspense flow without interruption. Anne Thaxter Watson's costumes of simple lines and "bold blocks of color" are designed to help the audience identify the political and familial factions on stage. Barb Matson, Dramaturg, Richard III
Robert Robinson, Director, Richard III