When we left off at the end of Act One, Scene One of Richard the Third, we knew of Richard’s plot against George Duke of Clarence, Queen Elizabeth’s family taking over royal positions, Edward’s Mistress Shore, Hastings’ imprisonment and release, and the king’s sudden illness. We had also just learned of Richard’s plan to marry Lady Anne, widowed (by Richard and his brothers) to Prince Edward, daughter of Warwick.
When Scene Two begins, we see Anne for the first time as she escorts King Henry’s body to burial. As she has the pallbearers pause to rest, she has a marvelous speech to the body in which she curses the murderer, though she never calls him by name. She then goes on to REALLY curse (not just lay blame to, but actually symbolically cast a spell on) any child or wife he might have:
If ever he have child, abortive bit it...
If ever he have wife, let her be made
More miserable by the death of him
Than I am made by my young lord and (Henry)
oooooh, foreshadowing… and that curse to a wife? SPOILER alert!
It’s a meaty speech, though not with the rhetorical flourishes that Richard has displayed, but that’s not the point. In fact, had the rhetoric been as brilliant as Richard’s, then Richard would have a peer, and he must not, he can not if he’s to be the consummate villain in this piece. Of course, that fact that her rhetoric is good enough to even merit comparison makes her somewhat a match for Richard.
As the funeral procession begins again, who should arrive but Richard to stop it, and thus begins one of the great sparring scenes in all the Canon.
You thought the wooing scene in Taming was good? Or the Suffolk/Margaret meeting in 1HenryVI? well, meet their match… and in a match-making scene to boot…
And if she was reluctant to call out the murderer by name in her speech to corpse, Richard’s arrival cleanses her palate of reluctance:
Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell!
Thou hadst but power over his mortal body,
His soul thou canst not have; therefore be gone.
Not only does she attribute the killing of Henry’s “mortal body” to Richard, but she attributes Richard’s own powers to the devil as a “minister of hell.” She then goes on to call on both God and earth to “revenge” (I.ii.63 and 63) Henry’s death.
Throughout the scene, get call-and-responses:
O wonderful, when devils tell the truth!
More wonderful, when angels are so angry.
and we find one of them taking rhetorical advantage, then losing it to the other’s greater argument:
Fairer than tongue can name thee, let me have
Some patient leisure to excuse myself.
Fouler than heart can think thee, thou canst make
No excuse current, but to hang thyself.
As we’ve discussed before, rhyme can be used to signify a rhetorical “answer,” a kind of refutation of an argument. As we see in this scene however, the rhyme doesn’t have to be at the end of a line, or even a strict “sounding” rhyme… but we’ll talk more about this later in the month.
Richard first attempts to deny his culpability in the deaths of her father-in-law and husband. But when she provides a witness (in Margaret) to Edward’s killing, Richard has to admit his role, and tries to spin the death as a good thing, as Edward was too good for the world, now that he’s with “the King of Heaven” (I.ii.105) [NOTE: it’s actually Henry, as Kevin pointed out in the comment thread below… good catch! (1/6)]. When she says that if Edward was fit for Heaven, Richard is fit for hell, Richard takes a page out his wanton brother’s playbook and states he’s better suited for another place: Anne’s “bedchamber” (I.ii.111).
eeeewwwwww, he just buried the needle on the slime-o-meter…
He claims that her beauty spurred him on to homicide, and she spits on him. When she states that she wishes her eyes (which he had praised for their beauty) were “basilisks to strike (him) dead” (I.ii.150), Richard takes this opportunity to seize control of the conversation and present his argument for how her eyes “kill (him) with a living death” (I.ii.152), one in which he is powerless, one in which he is willing to bare his breast and hand her a sword to “beg the death upon (his) knee” (I.ii.178). When she cannot kill him, he says that he will do it himself if only she will ask, but again she cannot. She begins to falter (no longer calling him “devil” but merely “dissembler” [I.ii.184]), finally telling him to put up his sword, and accepting his ring, which he puts on her finger and compares it to how his heart is now in her breast. When Richard asks her to allow HIM to escort Henry’s body to burial, she is moved by his “peniten(ce)” (I.ii.220), and she admits that Richard has taught her to flatter him, and leaves him alone with the corpse.
When alone, Richard marvels at his own abilities, and he is thrilled by their results:
Was ever woman in this humor wooed?
Was ever woman in this humor won?
I do mistake my person all this while!
— I.ii.231-231, 252
Richard is the master manipulator.
Is he manipulating us in thinking that he’s surprised at his own powers, when he’s actually not surprised at all?
In Act Two, Scene Three, we find ourselves in the palace, watching Queen Mother Elizabeth and her brother (Rivers) and sons (Dorset and Grey) fretting over the deteriorating condition of the king. Elizabeth fears for her and young Prince Edward should her husband die; she fears Richard who has been named Lord Protector.
When Buckingham and Derby arrive from the king, any cohesiveness of purpose (fear for the king’s health) disintegrates into petty familial squabbles, to which Buckingham can only relate the king’s desire to reconcile all the combatants. This simply isn’t going to happen as Richard then enters the scene and the sniping escalates into open hostilities.
Watching all of this from the side is Queen Margaret, who tosses in the occasional commentary on the proceedings. She is a bitter old woman (she has a right to be, but wow…). After watching the petty squabbles roll on, she can take no more and she reveals herself, then she begins to snipe on all the parties assembled (as they are evidence of what she has lost). Her appearance does nothing but bring all the others together in their hatred of the old Queen. It’s quite amazing, she finds:
What were you snarling all before I came,
Ready to catch each other by the throat,
And turn you all your hatred now on me?
- Edward will die “not by war, (but) by surfeit” (I.iii.197)
- Prince Edward will “die in his youth, by … untimely violence” (I.iii.201)
- Queen Elizabeth will “outlive (her) glory, like (Margaret’s) wretched self… live to wail (her) children’s death” (I.iii.203-204)
- Elizabeth will also live to “see another, as (Margaret sees Elizabeth) now, // Decked in (her) rights as (Elizabeth) art stalled in (Margaret’s)” (I.iii.205-206)
- Neither Rivers,
- nor Dorset,
- nor Hastings “may live to his natural age, // But by some unlooked for accident cut off” (I.iii.213-214)
- “The worm of conscience still begnaw (the) soul” of Richard (I.iii.222)
- Richard’s “friends (he will) suspect for traitors while thou liv’st, // And take deep traitors for (his) dearest friends” (I.iii.232-233)
- Richard will suffer “tormenting dream(s)” (I.iii.226)
- Elizabeth will “wish for (Margaret) // To help (her) curse” Richard (I.iii.246)
- Buckingham will “say poor Margaret was a prophetess” (I.iii.301)
That’s a dozen, but it’s that last one that’s the capper… these are NOT just curses: these are prophesies.
and we know how prophesies work in Shakespeare: THEY DO
Upon her exit, the Yorkists all talk behind her back, making snide remarks. Except for Richard, who takes responsibilities for his “part thereof that (he) has done to her” (I.iii.308). Shakespeare loves him that irony, I tellya. Word then come from the king that all should come to him, and they all leave, save for Richard, who is left again to soliloquize. He revels at his own “wrong”-doing (I.iii.324), taking great joy in the manipulation of so “many simple gulls” (I.iii.328). And again, as yesterday, when he would interrupt his own soliloquy to introduce George or Hastings, he now interrupts his admission of “seem(ing) a saint, when most (he) plays the devil” (I.iii.238), to introduce us to two murderers.
Richard hands them the execution orders for George Duke of Clarence, and sends them off to off the bro. He warns them as the scene ends, though, “not (to) hear him plead, // For Clarence is well-spoken” (I.iii.348).
but not as well-spoken as Tricky Dick…