Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Missing a Horse: Richard and White Surrey

Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Missing a Horse: Richard and White Surrey

Article excerpt

I begin with the Globe Theatre's Facebook page on February 4, 2013, the day of the press release from the University of Leicester announcing the discovery of Richard Ill's body: "Our neighbours Southwark Cathedral have a beautiful stained glass window depicting the death of Richard III. Next time you are on your way to us stop off and have a look." Providing a link to the Cathedral's own website, they "shared" this image, part of Christopher Webb's Shakespeare Window, unveiled in 1954 as a replacement for the war-damaged memorial window, originally installed in 1897: "This is the Cathedral's version of the death of #RichardIII, which is shown in our Shakespeare Window. Come and see it for yourself." (1) A typical online chat followed, by turns banal and witty: "Where's the car park?"; "The cathedral has a lot of interesting and beautiful memorials--worth the trip"; "I thought he was missing a horse when he was slain?" This last comment gives me the starting point for the argument in this essay: the thing everyone knows about Richard III is that when he died he was "missing a horse:"

   5.7 Alarum, excursions. Enter CATESBY
   Catesby: Rescue, my lord of Norfolk! Rescue, rescue!
   The King enacts more wonders than a man,
   Daring an opposite to every danger.
   His horse is slain, and all on foot he fights,
   Seeking for Richmond in the throat of death.
   Rescue, fair lord, or else the day is lost!
   Enter [KING] RICHARD.
   King Richard: A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!
   Catesby: Withdraw, my lord. I'll help you to a horse.
   King Richard: Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,
   And I will stand the hazard of the die.
   I think there be six Richmonds in the field.
   Five have I slain today, instead of him.
   A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! [Exeunt]. (2)

As Catesby makes clear, however, Richard is not just "missing a horse": he's missing his horse, White Surrey, to whom we are introduced at 5.3.62 in the immediate run-up to the battle ("Saddle white Surrey for the field tomorrow" [5.5.17]), and who continues to hold his place in the events that follow, up to this point, where we learn of his death. In this essay, I want to consider the implications of the fact that Richard's death is so closely associated with this animal. How is the curious fact that we are sympathetic to this notoriously "monstrous" character tied to his relationship to White Surrey?

It may seem an unnecessary question. Surely, since horses were a pervasive feature of everyday life in the society of which Shakespeare's theatre was also a part, we should not be surprised that they make their presence felt in his plays, albeit only in a (necessarily) offstage capacity. But White Surrey is a member of a very elite group of Shakespearian horses: named horses; a fact, as I have argued elsewhere, that demonstrates a significant nexus between the defining values of the action and those of the "worlds" in which their respective plays are embedded, either at the point of writing, or in successive contexts of production. (3) Commissioned in 1952 in the aftermath of World War II, Webb's window is a particularly interesting context of production. It brings together the visual cultures of the stained-glass window, medieval and Renaissance painting, and London's Shakespearian theatrical community, (4) all combined in Webb's own highly personal vision of the possibilities of his medium. (5)

The Richard III image is part of a triplet presenting characters from Shakespeare's plays. Prospero is in the middle; Richard and White Surrey are on the upper right. The window is positioned above a statue of Shakespeare, installed in 1912 as a complementary feature of the original memorial.

While our immediate response to this statue might be to see it as some kind of funerary monument, closer inspection reveals that the niche framing it includes images of Stratford, the Globe Theatre, and Shakespeare's contemporary London. …

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