As I continue to re-read Richard the Third, I’m finding some interesting things… and a couple of things that I’m not sure what to think about…
Over the course of the play, Richard makes about ten references to holy figures, and in all but two, those references are saints.
|I.i.138||Now, by Saint John, that news is bad indeed!||Hastings|
|I.ii.41||Or, by Saint Paul, I’ll strike thee to my foot||Lady Anne’s train|
|I.iii.45||By holy Paul, they love his grace but lightly||Woodevilles and the court|
|I.iii.306||I cannot blame her. By God’s holy Mother,||Woodevilles and the court|
|III.iv.76||Off with his head! Now by Saint Paul I swear||Hastings|
|IV.iv.366||Now, by my George, my garter, and my crown||Queen Elizabeth|
|IV.iv.377||Why, then, by God —||Queen Elizabeth|
|V.iii.209||Zounds [by God’s wounds], who is there?||Ratcliffe|
|V.iii.217||By the apostle Paul, shadows tonight||Ratcliffe|
|V.iii.302||This, and Saint George to boot! What think’st thou, Norfolk?||Norfolk|
|V.iii.350||Our ancient word of courage, fair Saint George,||Norfolk|
What to make of this? Not sure. According to tradition, all three saints ended up beheaded. Richard has a history of heads: bringing in the head of Somerset at the beginning of The Third Part of Henry the Sixth, and we all know what happens to Hastings in this play. Paul was a Jew, an outsider, until he converted; this outsider position is something Richard feels as he has “no delight to pass away the time” (I.i.25). John the Baptist preached of apocalypse, and thus the punishment of sinful rulers; does Richard see himself the scourge of weak (Henry VI) and lustful (Edward) rulers? He certainly disdains both, but such a verbal villain would surely have given us some soliloquy outlining this goal (even if it was a fraud, like some of Iago’s rationalizations). After he is crowned, though, his references are more about God and the patron saint of England… what does this change mean?
I’m not sure… but there’s something there… I can feel it.
On many occasions in the play, the verse drops from iambic pentameter to iambic trimeter… three poetic feet, only six syllables per line. Sometimes, it’s easily explained, as when it arrives at the end of a scene or a long speech; there, it can be seen to create an opening for what’s to follow, an opportunity to kick-start the transition to that next thing. But in other cases, it just seems to … happen. A quick example:
The wooing scene with Lady Anne (below, I.ii.186-203)… most of it occurs in blank verse,
Then bid me kill myself, and I will do it.
I have already.
Tush, that was in thy rage:
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.
Here, we have the iambic pentameter, with even an antilabe (shared line) thrown in for good measure (no pun intended), showing Richard completing, topping, answering her line. But then we have a sudden shift to iambic trimeter…
I would I knew thy heart.
'Tis figured in my tongue.
I fear me both are false.
Then never man was true.
Well, well, put up your sword.
Say, then, my peace is made.
That shall you know hereafter.
But shall I live in hope?
All men, I hope, live so.
Vouchsafe to wear this ring.
To take is not to give.
All six syllable lines. Not antilabes. They’re not shared lines. But are we supposed to have long pauses? Is it supposed to be like this:
[pause] I would I knew thy heart.
'Tis figured in my tongue. [pause]
[pause] I fear me both are false.
Then never man was true. [pause]
Well, well, put up your sword. [pause]
Say, then, my peace is made. [pause]
[pause] That shall you know hereafter.
But shall I live in hope? [pause]
[pause] All men, I hope, live so.
[pause] Vouchsafe to wear this ring.
[pause] To take is not to give.
It’s a possibility, but it feels so jerky. Or are they’re no pauses, and this is really an acceleration of pace? Not sure. But I’m pretty sure this shift in meter is a clue to the actors and the director? A clue of what? And then what to make of how it goes back to iambic pentameter once the ring is given:
Look how this ring encompasseth finger...
We’re back to the iambic pentameter. There’s a reason in there somewhere… I just don’t know what it is.
just more for me to ponder…