by Candice Holdsworth and Robin Gilbert-Jones
18 pages, Wry Republic
Review by Marc Nash
Prompted by the discovery of King Richard III's bones under a car park, the authors offer four vignettes asking the reader to reconsider the artistic and historical view of the short-lived King and to suggest parallels with our own age as to how politics, media and art establish reputations according to prevailing agendas.
The vignettes take the form of a theatre review by Queen Elizabeth I, a groom's speech by Henry Tudor on the occasion of his fifth wedding, a letter from one of the young princes imprisoned in the Tower and lastly an eve of battle proration by Richard III himself. They pull off the not inconsiderable feat of sounding authentic to the language of the time, yet with modern sensibilities resonating behind. The notion of a Queen penning a theatre review is a good one, while she is fully aware of the spectre of etiquette ranging through to self-censorship in how Shakespeare portrays a recent historical figure on the other side of the political spectrum from her House of Tudor.
Henry's wedding speech is full of self-righteousness as he talks in terms of divine forces of good and evil, where he himself of course is god's vicegerent. The contrast with Richard's speech where he talks in similar terms, but eschews a divine force for the crushing attestation that humans are responsible for their own state of affairs, rather than projecting them on supernatural forces. He is aware that he is a ruler over "a kingdom of rats", who knows his lowly, mortal status. There is nothing holy, though all mankind may well be damned by our foibles and failings. The echoes of Henry's points of reference, put me in mind that Henry's wedding speech was itself a sort of pre-campaign ejaculation, as he was about to go into battle to ensure he sired a son and heir. It wasn't so much a consummation of marriage as a start of a siege. It made me feel utterly despondent for his bride who was to end up executed.
The most touching of the stories was that of the young Prince Richard of Shrewsbury. He recounts a couple of days activities, in which unbeknownst to his callow mind his life was threatened with being cut off. His tone is one of excitement to be out the tower, that it is all a great big game he was involved in at the generous and imaginative behest of his "Uncle Richard". So much so he looks forward to spending more fun time in the Tower. His narrative voice is precisely realised as a tutored, noble tongue, whereby his boyish excitement can only express itself via terms such as "marvellous" and "terribly exciting". In today's parlance, he might have declaimed his adventures to be "sick" rot "awesome". The poignancy of this tale reminds one of Emma Donoghue's "Room" and its five year old captive, also made to perceive he was involved in an ever-present game.
There's no doubt all the stories work individually and as a whole, but I'm unsure as to the offered aim of both reconsidering Richard's status in our cultural perceptions and also the translation to today's politics. If anything, such divergent views on that period of history does represent our age in simply adding a myriad of contrary viewpoints, contributing to the furious babble in which no one gets heard, no one's opinion is changed and no real debate can ever get heard. The cacophony and jangle Elizabeth complains of the cheap seats in the pit in her review, which she expects to be avoided by the design of the upcoming Globe theatre in Southwark. And even though today's reconstructed Globe Theatre plays host to school parties and tourists, we the subjects have discovered our voices. And through the explosion of online and social media, we risk deluging and drowning out all discourse, this book at least adds its voice in a refined and quietly self-confident manner.