Numbers: Midpoint

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Richard the Third.

There are 3601 lines in this very long play, which puts the midpoint at line 1801, which is at the end of Act Three, Scene Two, the scene at Lord Hastings’ home (just before the execution of Rivers, Grey and Vaughan).

At first, it seems like an odd place to have “the midpoint” (especially if this spot is supposed to be so important).  It’s between two scenes in which Richard does not appear. Within the last twenty lines, Hastings has been gloating over his change in fortunes:

I tell thee, man, 'tis better with me now
Than when I met thee last where now we meet.
Then was I going prisoner to the Tower
By the suggestion of the queen's allies.
But now, I tell thee--keep it to thyself--
This day those enemies are put to death,
And I in better state than e'er I was.

— III.ii.98-104

Where he had been down, now he is up; of course, he doesn’t realize that this “better state” will be short-lived, as we see in this exchange with Buckingham as the scene ends:

'Tis like enough, for I stay dinner there.

And supper too, although thou know'st it not.

— III.ii.120-121

Hastings has the council at the Tower that will encompass “dinner,” a large early- to mid-day meal.  Buckingham tells us in the aside that, though Hastings doesn’t know it himself, he’ll be staying for the light evening meal “supper,” as well.  His last  supper.

As the scene ends, we as an audience see the change in Hastings’ fate.  As Act Three, Scene Three begins, we see the shared fate of Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan.  All four will be dead by the end of the day:  the crown is still before Richard and anyone in the way will end up dead.

Now these deaths also tie in with Margaret’s Dozen, the series of curses she laid out back in Act One, Scene Three.  And why is this important?  Remember, here, we’re talking about an uncut script, so this link to Margaret is also a link to the other three plays of the tetralogy.

So what?

Twenty lines into Act Three, Scene Three, we get a seemingly tossed-off reference regarding the prison in which the Grey/Rivers/Vaughan execution is taking place:

O Pomfret, Pomfret! O thou bloody prison,
Fatal and ominous to noble peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls
Richard the Second here was hacked to death

— III.iii.9-12

Richard the Second.  It was during his reign that the War of the Roses began (or if you’re only counting the open hostilities starting in 1455, then it’s his reign in which the seeds for the war were planted).  From his reign to the end of Richard the Third’s reign will encompass a great tale (some would say THE great tale) of English history.

One that Shakespeare will tell.

Of course, Shakespeare wouldn’t write that second tetralogy (Richard the Second, The First Part of Henry the Fourth, The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, Henry the Fifth) for another half decade or so.  But did he know at this point in his career that he would need to tell the rest of the story?  Did he delay the composition of that tetralogy because he didn’t want to become pigeonholed as just a “historical” playwright (and were the more tragic elements of this play proof to that already?)?  Did he recognize that he wasn’t well-enough equipped as a playwright to tackle the story of a great king?  Sure, he could give us kings weak (Henry VI), flawed (Edward IV), and villainous (Richard III)… but was he ready to give us a HERO, the conqueror of Agincourt and France?