Saturday, September 12, 2009
Kiss Me Deadly
Every woman adores a fascist
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
Sylvia Plath wrote those lines in her poem, "Daddy." A short time later, she stuck her head in an oven. In life as in literature, female masochists often come to a bad end. Of course, there are a lot of brutish men in film and fiction--a certain amount of sado-masochism is a staple in romance. But re-reading Richard's seduction of Lady Anne in Act 1 led me to muse about this phenomenon a bit more, and to wonder, once again, what Will was trying to do with this scene.
Obviously we're supposed to see it in relation to Richard's professed disdain for women, which he's just articulated to his brother George (The Duke of Clarence, therefore "Clarence" in the play). Prior to his encounter with Anne, Richard assures his clueless brother that he'll do everything possible to get him out of prison. He then attempts to lay the blame for Clarence's misfortune at the feet of Elizabeth, his brother Edward's Queen:
Why, this it is when men are ruled by women.
'Tis not the King that sends you to the Tower;
My Lady Gray, his wife--Clarence, 'tis she
That tempts him to this harsh extremity.
Masterfully manipulating stereotypes, Richard casts Elizabeth ("Lady Gray" was her former married name--she was a widow when Edward married her) as a social upstart and a "mighty gossip," linking her with Edward's mistress, Jane Shore--both women, he claims, are lowborn schemers who rule the King through sex and slander. As Clarence is carted off to the Tower, Richard reveals more of his plans to the audience:
He cannot live, I hope, and must not die
Till George be packed with post-haste up to heaven.
I'll in to urge his hatred more to Clarence,
With lies well-steeled with weighty arguments.
And if I fail not in my deep intent,
Clarence hath not another day to live--
Which done, God take King Edward to his mercy
And leave the world for me to bustle in.
For then I'll marry Warwick's youngest daughter.
What, though I killed her husband and her father?
The readiest way to make the wench amends
Is to become her husband and her father...
Edward, it seems, is in poor health owing to his "evil diet," by which we should understand an excess of food and drink, but also sex--extravagant living in the most general sense. It's important that he not die before Clarence, however, because Clarence will be much harder to kill if he's king. As for "Warwick's youngest daughter," the Lady Anne Neville, Richard needs her "not all so much for love, /As for another secret close intent." Not because he loves her, but for another private reason.
What could this reason be? He doesn't need her for dynastic reasons--he's fifth in line for the throne, (after Clarence, and Edward's two children) married or not. Because the historical Richard married Lady Anne Neville, however, Will was stuck with her. The historical facts are as follows: Richard married Anne, had a son by her, who lived to be eleven. Anne herself died of consumption (tuberculosis) after twelve years of marriage. The rumors that Richard had poisoned her began after her death, but they were never proven. Nevertheless, Will had to make Anne part of the story, and somehow use her to accentuate Richard's villainy. What better and more dramatic way to do this than to have Richard seduce her over the body of one of his murder victims?
But which victim? In the previous Henry VI play, he killed both Anne's husband and her father-in-law. In this play, Anne laments over the body of Henry VI, the murdered king. Most performances, however, (including both Olivier's and McKellen's film versions), make the corpse that of Anne's dead husband, Edward (Henry's son, the former Prince of Wales). Why the switch? The answer seems obvious--it's more dramatic, and more horrifying, to have Richard seduce Anne with her husband lying dead between them.
So if that's the case, why didn't Will write it that way?
Because an Elizabethan audience wouldn't have seen it the way we do. The king's body was thought to represent the nation itself; regicide, or king-killing, was therefore a crime against the nation, not just against an individual. To have Richard woo Anne over the body of the king he'd just killed would be far more subversive, criminal, and villainous than seducing her over her husband's corpse. In our modern, middle-class, democratic world, the conjugal relationship takes precedence--it makes sense that contemporary directors would stage the scene around Edward's body, not his father's.
So, Anne. Brainless or shameless? Hard to tell. She seems fairly articulate, but then she's got Will writing her lines. She starts out in high rage, cursing Richard:
O cursed be the hand that made these holes,
Cursed the blood that let this blood from hence,
Cursed the heart that had the heart to do it.
She goes on to curse Richard's future wife (a bad move, considering what happens later) and progeny. Even after Richard enters, she manages to hold on to her anger for a time, calling him a "devil," and a "minister of hell." He replies by addressing her as "sweet saint," and begging her to calm herself "for charity," which in Will's day meant something like "Christian love," not simply feeding the poor. At this point the supernatural intervenes: dead Henry's wounds begin to "bleed afresh" in the presence of his murderer. Will borrowed this idea from a 12th century French romance, Chretien de Troyes' Yvain, in which the hero/killer also woos his victim's widow. (See, I knew the doctorate in Medieval Studies would come in handy. It's a good thing I wasted--oops, I mean spent, six years of my young life in grad school reading that stuff, so I could share this with you today).
Anyway, Anne continues to curse him, but Richard manages to turn the exchange into something like flirtation:
ANNE : Villain, thou know'st no law of God nor man.
No beast so fierce but shows some touch of pity.
RICHARD: But I know none, and therefore am no beast.
ANNE: O wonderful, when devils tell the truth!
RICHARD: More wonderful, when angels are so angry.
Vouchsafe, divine perfection of a woman,
Of these supposed crimes to give me leave
By circumstance but to acquit myself.
ANNE: Vouchsafe, diffused infection of a man,
Of these known evils but to give me leave
By circumstance but t'accuse thy cursed self.
RICHARD: Fairer than tongue can name thee, le me have
Some patient leisure to excuse myself.
ANNE: Fouler than heart can think thee, thou canst make
No excuse current but to hang thyself.
Note the use of opposites, as in Richard's opening monologue: devils/angels, divine perfection/diffused infection, fairer/fouler, etc. They continue along these lines, Richard attempting to "excuse" while Anne continues to "accuse" him. Throughout the exchange we see the juxtaposition of "heart"--the inner truth--and "tongue" the external representation of that truth. Richard uses his tongue to advantage here, insisting (at first) that he didn't kill Anne's husband, but admitting that he killed the king. The turning point in this macabre exercise in speed-dating is when he tells Anne that both murders were really her fault, because she's so damned beautiful, he couldn't help himself. Now if Anne hadn't been such a vain little twit, she would have called him on this BS immediately. But she is vain, and probably more than a little afraid of him, so she says that if that were true, she'd scratch her face up and wreck its prettiness. Bluff number one.
A few lines later Richard offers her his sword, demanding that she kill him if she wants to so badly. Bluff number two. Here he finally admits to killing Edward, too, claiming that it was her "heavenly face" that made him do it. Of course she doesn't kill him. Instead, she shifts gears completely, uttering this wistful and romancy sentence:
Would that I knew thy heart.
Game over. Richard senses this, and moves in for the kill, claiming that his heart "is figured in [his] tongue." Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. He offers her a ring, and she accepts it. I should point out that critics have made a lot of the imagery of gender reversal in this scene--Anne points the sword at Richard, he observes that his ring "encompasses" her finger, and so on. Some of you might point out that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." I would retort, very cleverly, that sometimes it isn't. Stalemate.
Next time we see Anne is in Act 4. She's married to Richard and wondering when he'll decide to kill her, too.
It's easy to see this first scene as proof of Anne's weakness, or Richard's rhetorical prowess--he gloats at the end that he must be better-looking than he thought, to win a woman whose husband he murdered--a man twice as good, and much more handsome, than he is. All that is certainly true, but there's also a sense in which this scene is just a bunch of classic pulp-romance cliches in Elizabethan garb.
Let's imagine the harlequin romance version:
"Edward," Anne sobbed, kneeling before his body. "What kind of monster could do this to you? What kind of beast? You were so young, and so..."
She whirled around, startled. "Who's there?"
A tall, somewhat hunched figure emerged from the gloom. "Richard. Richard of Gloucester."
"You!" she gasped, surging to her feet. "You...bastard! You killed my Edward! In cold blood! How dare you come here!"
Richard moved forward, and she inadvertently took a step back. He was much larger than she remembered, his shoulders broader, even with the slight hunch that forced him to lean to the left. His dark hair looked wild, as if he hadn't slept, and his scarred face was shadowed with pain. "It was war, Anne. I had no choice."
She lifted her head, meeting his eyes. They were green, she noticed with surprise. A beautiful dark green, like a forest at dusk. "There's always a choice," she whispered. "You made yours." Her hand swept over the corpse of her husband, but she held Richard's gaze. She couldn't seem to look away.
"I did it to save my life," he said. "But when Edward fell to the ground, I wasn't sorry."
Anne sucked in a breath. She tried to speak, but the words lodged in her throat.
Richard moved closer, but this time, she held her ground.
"Why..."" she began.
"Because," he said roughly, pulling her into an iron embrace. "Because of this." His lips came down on hers savagely, taking what he wanted. She trembled in his arms, but after the first few seconds, her resistance melted in a surge of searing heat. This is how a king kisses, she thought....
And the rest, as they say, is history. Next time: less romance, more villainous mayhem.