Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Richard III - Home

Richard. And yet I know not how to get the crown,
For many lives stand between me and home:
And I,—like one lost in a thorny wood,
That rends the thorns and is rent with the thorns,
Seeking a way and straying from the way;
Not knowing how to find the open air,
But toiling desperately to find it out,—
Torment myself to catch the English crown:
And from that torment I will free myself,
Or hew my way out with a bloody axe.
Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile...

(Henry VI part 3, 3.2.1661-1671)

Although this speech is from Henry VI part 3 rather than Richard III, I wanted to highlight it as it reveals so much of Richard's character. In this portion, Richard starts off with a proposition that we, as the audience, find appalling - he wants to usurp the throne away from his own brothers. Yet, being Richard the silver-tongued orator, he soon refers to his desires in such a way that we cannot help but sympathize with him: he's lost, he yearns for the crown as his "home" - a powerful, emotional word. The passage where he speaks of being lost in a thorny wood creates such a strong image of claustrophobia and desperation, showing us that he is barely in control - a far cry from the confident manner that Richard puts on before his brothers and the court. Of course, finally, being Richard, he turns his thoughts in a way that horrifies and fascinates us - I will...hew my way out with a bloody axe. He's drawn us in by sharing the desperation of his heart - now he pushes us away. It's an extraordinary speech!

To read the whole soliloquy, click here and scroll down to line 1615. Emma posted a video of John Barrymore delivering  portions of this speech, and for a performance in contrast to that, check out this video of Ron Cook as Richard in the BBC Shakespeare Henry VI part 3. The lines I quote here start at 3.05, but watch the whole speech!

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