Richard's Himself Again: A Stage History of Richard III

Richard's Himself Again: A Stage History of Richard III

Richard's Himself Again: A Stage History of Richard III

Richard's Himself Again: A Stage History of Richard III

Synopsis

No play has enjoyed a richer and more varied performance history than Shakespeare's Richard III. Among the actors who have left memorable marks on the role of Richard of Gloucester are David Garrick, Edmund Kean, William Charles Macready, Edwin Booth, John Barrymore, Laurence Olivier, and Antony Sher. This dynamic stage history covers all major English and American interpretations of this capitivating drama from the late 1690s to the present day, exploring the significance of changing theatrical fashions and practices. Colley deftly utilizes volumes of source materials to bring performances of the past to life.

Excerpt

In Shakespeare's play, the usurper Richard of Gloucester arranges the death of his two young nephews, and later asks his henchman Tyrrel if he had seen them buried: "The chaplain of the Tower hath buried them, / But where (to say the truth) I do not know" (IV.iii.29-30). The skeletons of two children--quite likely Richard's victims--were discovered in the Tower nearly two hundred years later (see Ross 96-98). Despite the historical detective work, a more elusive problem of theatrical habeas corpus persists. Shakespeare's play--as it was performed--is forever lost. While we might dig up certain remains, we can never find a flesh-and-blood theatrical performance. Indeed, the detective work done by theater historians results in "stories about evidence" rather than the recovery of a play as it was acted.

While we have much more than the bones and teeth of Richard III--for instance, texts and witnesses abound--such records of the living play, the texts as performed are often shadowy and inconclusive. Promptbooks frequently omit the very information we seek; theater reviewers have their biases, and frequently sacrifice sober report for verbal effects; memories and memoirs reflect deep layers of psychological editing, or mere forgetfulness; even the direct observations of sophisticated spectators can produce contrary reports of the effects of what happened, or disagreements about what, in fact, did happen during a production. Indeed, the stage historian, scribbling madly in the dark, can introduce tainted evidence by attempting to hold in focus a performance that refuses to hold still, but races by with its own momentum.

Although few scholars have ever claimed "certainty" for stage history, conventions of the genre have encouraged one to write such histories as if the puzzle were fully capable of solution. Yet the late revolution in literary studies has engendered a loss of innocence--and an end to complacencyabout the nature of historical evidence and the fabrication of historical nar-

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