Me, You, Anne, Thou, and Richard: Who’s the Answer Man???

When Act One, Scene Two of Richard the Third begins with Lady Anne’s entrance, we know who she is.  Just lines before, in Richard’s last soliloquy of the opening scene, he tells us of his intention to “marry Warwick’s youngest daughter” (I.i.153), but he us that he is already at a disadvantage as he “killed her husband and her father” (I.i.154).

of course, (according to Shakespeare) Prince Edward was killed by all three York brothers (V.v); King Henry (her father-n-law) WAS killed by Richard (; as for her biological father Warwick, we’re not sure who killed him… he’s last seen with Edward IV, but we don’t see who gave him the mortal injury

The body that she’s escorting is not her biological father’s nor her husband’s; it’s King Henry’s corpse.  She curses the murderer, though at this point she does not name him.  It is only after Richard enters and stops the procession that she points out his “heinous deeds… (and) butcheries” (I.ii.53 and 54), after calling him “fiend,” “devil,” “minister of hell,” and (again) “foul devil” (I.ii.34, 45, 46, 50).  Throughout this opening section of the dialogue, however, he trades her compliments for insults, countering her characterizations of him with “Sweet saint,” “Lady,” and “angel” (I.ii.49, 68, and 74).

What begins here, and continues throughout the scene, is a series of answers… but unlike the calls-and-responses we’ve seen in earlier plays (think The Comedy of Errors), this is less than series of statement/answer, statement/answer, and much more of each line answering the preceding one.  Check out this sequence beginning at line 68:

R: "know no rules"
A: "know'st no law... beast"
R: "know none... no beast"
or from the next speech beginning with line 73:
A: "wonderful, when devils"
R: "wonderful, when angels... vouchsafe, divine perfection of a woman... by circumstance to acquit myself"
A: "vouchsafe, diffused infection of a man... by circumstance t'accuse thy cursed self"
R: "fair than tongue... leisure to excuse myself"
A: "fouler than heart... current but to hang thyself"
R: "by such despair, I should accuse myself"
A: "by despairing shalt thou stand accused"

In these examples, we’re not seeing the kind of “answering” we’re used to, rhyming to show how one character answers or tops the argument of the other character.  Here, there is a give and take, not unlike the wooing scene of The Taming of the Shrew.

though the participants here are not having nearly the good time as Petruchio and Kate are… well, maybe Richard is…

This give and take goes right up to Richard’s big speech, beginning on line 151.  It’s as if only at this point does he wants to bring this to an end, so he unleashes a 32-line speech.  Interestingly, that long speech kicks off with a relatively short sentence, the two-line “I would (Anne’s eyes) were (basilisks to strike him dead), that I might die at once, // For now they kill me with a living death” (I.ii.151-152).  But before she can answer this line, he’s off and running, starting the next sentence with “Those eyes of thine” (I.ii.153)–still answering her line 150–but now not giving her another inter-sentence opportunity to speak until line 166; his next sentence is FOURTEEN lines long, ending with a declaration that her “beauty hath… made (his eyes) blind with weeping” (I.ii.166).

again, sadly, those fourteen lines do not comprise a sonnet

Before she can respond, though, he reminds her of his lack of persuasive words–his “tongue could never learn sweet smoothing word” (I.ii.168)–then states that her beauty has prompted his heart, which has prompted his tongue.  She frowns and looks at him “scornfully” (I.ii.170 stage direction), such that he responds, “Teach not thy lip such scorn” (I.ii.171); but he has begun to wear her down… while she can make a visible response, she cannot yet speak, and he maintains control of the dialogue.

He then presses his argument (and his point, pun TOTALLY intended) as he gives her his sword to stab him, as he admits to killing those she has loved, but because of his smoothing or “flattering” (OED) declaration of her beauty’s provocative power over him, she is now not even able to muster a physical response.  Only after this does he not only provide the opportunity for her to speak, but prompts her: “Take up the sword again, or take up me” (I.ii.183).

In her next words, we see the result… that he has worn her down (if not defeated her completely): “Arise dissembler” (I.ii.184).  He is now merely a liar, not a fiend or devil.  She will not be his executioner, so he takes the offer one step further; he takes up the sword and says he will kill himself if she gives the word.

She responds, almost seemingly in frustration, “I have already” and Richard immediately, without pause and in an antilabe completion of her poetic line, “That was in thy rage” (I.ii.187).  He continues to prompt her:

Speak it again, and, even with the word,
That hand, which, for thy love, did kill thy love,
Shall, for thy love, kill a far truer love;
To both their deaths thou shalt be accessary.

— I.ii.188-191

Then, in one of the few true changings of subject in this scene, she can only muster a response of “I would I knew thy heart” (I.ii.192).  She is defeated.  Her response is a non-answer to what he has said before.  Her line is short, without enough life to fill a full iambic pentameter.  And we are now into the iambic trimeter sequence I noted a few days ago.

And like a great interviewee or a pick-up artist in a bar, Richard matches her change in style, diving too into iambic trimeter.  He’s closing the deal, and only when he has succeeded, sliding the ring onto her finger, can he toss away her rhetorical non-style, and return to longer speeches in iambic pentameter:

Look, how this ring encompasseth finger.
Even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart;
Wear both of them, for both of them are thine.
And if thy poor devoted suppliant may
But beg one favor at thy gracious hand,
Thou dost confirm his happiness for ever.

— I.ii.203-208

Six lines.  Three sentences.  More than enough opportunities for Anne to respond or answer.  But she can’t, she’s defeated.  When she does respond, it’s three mono-syllabic words, a question, a request for him to continue his rhetorical flourishes: “What is it?” (I.ii.209).  And what makes her response even worse, even weaker?  It’s not even in verse.  It’s prose.

She’s a beaten woman.  His next speech, in which he requests to take over her mission escorting Henry’s body to burial, ends with a short line, only two iambic feet.  It takes that three-beat pause for her to muster enough life to respond in blank verse.  She attempts to leave in those three lines, but Richard has one more request, to bid him farewell.

And in a metrical moment to show just how much she has been pulled into Richard’s web, she completes his line in an antilabe, and notes that he has “t(aught her) how to flatter” (I.ii.223).

It’s a lesson taught by example.

[but, wait… there’s more!]

There is something else at work here as well, as anyone who’s read the comment threads from this month’s entries will tell you.  BSP reader Kevin noted back when this scene was first discussed (purely from a plot point of view) that much of the give and take, submission and rhetorical victory, can be seen in the pronoun usage of the two characters.

As Kevin has noted, and I’ve now researched (thanks!), during Shakespeare’s time, “you” was overtaking “thou” as the predominate second-person pronoun.  And while there was still some Biblical superiority sometimes attached to “thou,” this older pronoun was now seen more as a linguistic slight, if not a full-out insult.  A noble might use “thou” in an exchange with a commoner (as in Richard’s “Unmannered dog, stand thou, when I command!” to the pallbearers at the beginning of the scene [I.ii.39]), but to use it to an equal would carry with it a certain derogatory tone.  You, on the other hand, carried with a more neutral, if not more positive, connotation.

Their dialogue begins with Anne using the insulting pronoun version–“For though hast made the happy earth thy hell” (I.ii.51).  In the remainder of that first speech to Richard, she then uses “thou” an additional three times (though once is in reference to “Earth”) and “thy” four times (all of Richard).  Richard, on the other hand, in his next speech begins, “Lady, you…” (I.ii.68).  But it does no good: Anne’s response still uses “thou” (I.ii.70).

In further response, Richard’s next pronoun response occurs in line 81, in a rhetorically tricky usage (“Fairer than tongue can name thee”… but it could be read more abstractly as “Fairer than tongue can name ‘thee'”…).  There is no change in Anne, however, as her next pronouns are thee, thou, thy, thyself, thyself, and thee, ending with “But dead they are, and, devilish slave, by thee” (I.ii.83-90).

Next, Richard attempts the more neutral version in “I did not kill your husband” (I.ii.92).  As easily as she refutes this statement, she unleashes another string of the more insulting pronoun forms: thy, thou, thy, thou, thy, thou, thy, thou, thou, thou, thou, thou, thou, thou, thee, thy, thy (I.ii.93-126), all interspersed with Richard’s “ye/you/your”s (I.ii.101, 110, 111, 113, 121, 122, 124, and 128).

Up until this point, she has not called for Richard’s death (even when she called for earth to “eat Richard quick” (I.ii.65), quick there means “alive”).  However, in line 131, she calls for his death: “Black night o’ershade thy day, and death thy life,” again using the derogatory pronoun form.  Here, however, Richard responds in kind: “Curse not thyself, fair creature–thou art both” his day and life (I.ii.132).  The more positive pronouns hadn’t worked so far; you can almost sense him changing tactics.

For the next eighty lines, he trades thou-for-thou with Anne, wearing her down: through his long speech, through his giving her his sword, through his offer to kill himself, through the iambic trimeter section, all the way to her prosaic three-syllable response.  All the while, Anne has, too, used the negative pronouns, but in lessening frequency.

there’s an interesting moment in line 196, where Anne actually uses “your sword”… but within two lines, she back to “thou”… it’s as if she’s wavering, but she will not collapse all in a single movement

In response to her “What is it?” (I.ii.209), he says, “That it may please you…”  And in this nine-line speech, he no longer uses any negative pronouns, using “you” an additional two times (I.ii.216 and 217).

Following his short line and pause, and her re-emergence into blank verse, she too follows his pronoun lead:

With all my heart; and much it joys me too,
To see you are become so penitent.
Tressel and Berkeley, go along with me.

— I.ii.219-221

YOU.  OK, that could be just another wavering, like line 196, but following his second-person-pronoun-less short line, “Bid me farewell” (I.ii.222), she not only completes his poetic line in an antilabe, but she uses three “you”s in her two-and-a–line response:

'Tis more than you deserve;
But since you teach me how to flatter you,
Imagine I have said farewell already.

— I.ii.222-224

If she seemed defeated just by the antilabe and the “flatter(ing)” remark, her use of pronoun seals the deal and waves the white flag of linguistic and cognitive surrender.

Anne is now his, his plaything, and (maybe because the ease with which he has “won” [I.ii.228] her), he “will not keep her long” (I.ii.229).

Richard is the answer man.