Richard III, A Con­tro­ver­sial King

Var­i­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the life of Richard III ex­ist, the most well-known of which is un­doubt­edly Shake­speare’s play of the same name. The de­tails of an adap­ta­tion in Chi­nese are dif­fer­ent as the ver­sion re-ex­am­ines this his­tor­i­cal fig­ure.

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Liu Xian­shu Edited by Justin Davis

In lit­er­ary works, Richard III, the last York­ist king of Eng­land, is de­scribed as a tyrant. Richard died in bat­tle two years af­ter he as­sumed power, leav­ing his deeds to the judge­ment of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. In 1591, Shake­speare wrote the play Richard III based on his­tor­i­cal records. Richard III is de­picted as an ugly and cruel ruler, who re­alised his am­bi­tions by usurp­ing the throne and killing his po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies. How­ever, in the end he failed and brought dis­grace and ruin upon him­self.

In 2012, the Na­tional The­atre of China (NTC) staged a ver­sion of the play. It fea­tured rich Chi­nese flavour and was an in­stant suc­cess.

A King in His­tory

In 2012, ar­chae­ol­o­gist Richard Buck­ley from the Univer­sity of Le­ices­ter and his team un­earthed a skele­ton of an adult male be­neath at a coun­cil car park. This was an im­por­tant dis­cov­ery. Sci­en­tific dat­ing pro­cesses showed that the man died be­tween 1455 and 1540 in a war when he was in his thir­ties. The park­ing area was the site of Greyfri­ars Church where Richard III was buried. His­tor­i­cal records and a DNA com­par­i­son with de­scen­dants of Richard III proved that the skele­ton was that of Richard III, the king of Eng­land. His­tory books de­scribe Richard III as an ugly man with up­per limb at­ro­phy, but the skele­ton lacks any sign of at­ro­phy; it is only a lit­tle bit hunched. An an­ti­quar­ian club con­ducted a fa­cial re­con­struc­tion of Richard III and ex­hib­ited it at the Art Gallery of Burling­ton. Chair­man of the Richard III So­ci­ety, Phil Stone, stated, “It‘s an in­ter­est­ing face, younger and fuller than we have been used to see­ing, less care­worn, and with the hint of a smile… I think peo­ple will like it.”

On March 22, 2015, the cof­fin con­tain­ing Richard III’S re­mains was de­liv­ered from the ru­ral ar­eas of Le­ices­ter to Bos­worth, where he was de­feated. A crowd watched the cof­fin as it passed from both sides of the road. Twenty-one salvos were fired as a salute to the royal fig­ure. On March 26—530 years af­ter he died in bat­tle—richard III was buried at Le­ices­ter Cathe­dral. Peace was fi­nally brought to the de­ceased.

Born in 1452, Richard III was the younger brother of King Ed­ward IV of Eng­land. In 1483, Ed­ward IV died, leav­ing a post­hu­mous edict order­ing Richard III to be the Lord Pro­tec­tor, a re­gent. It is said that Richard III usurped the throne and be­came the king of Eng­land by killing Ed­ward V, the son of Ed­ward IV. De­spite sim­i­lar state­ments in his­tor­i­cal records, his­tor­i­cal groups in Bri­tain are deeply sus­pi­cious of this. There is no con­clu­sion that Richard III did that. Some schol­ars be­lieve that Richard III ac­ceded to the throne at the pe­ti­tion of some min­is­ters and that he was up­right in char­ac­ter and took mat­ters of ed­u­ca­tion se­ri­ously. Richard III’S reign lasted for merely two years. He put down the re­volt of the Duke of Buck­ing­ham who also ad­vanced a claim to the throne. How­ever, the duke was killed at the age of 32, as a re­sult of a be­trayal by his troops in a fight against Henry Tu­dor, Earl of Rich­mond.

The short pe­riod of Richard III’S reign saw re­mark­able achieve­ments and the ex­er­cise of his ex­tra­or­di­nary po­lit­i­cal tal­ents. He estab­lished a com­plete le­gal aid and bail sys­tem and ini­ti­ated the prin­ci­ple of the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence in the ju­di­cial do­main. He won ex­ten­sive es­teem by aid­ing lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties and churches and es­tab­lish­ing the North­ern Par­lia­ment. How­ever, Richard III is a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure in Bri­tish his­tory, and his im­age as a tyrant is deeply rooted. Chron­i­cles com­piled by his­to­rian Thomas More were the first to de­pict Richard III as a tyrant. Since then, his neg­a­tive im­age has con­tin­ued to be re­in­forced. As Shake­speare drew much in­spi­ra­tion from the his­to­rian of Henry VII, the suc­ces­sor to Richard III, he de­picted the pro­tag­o­nist as a crip­pled and hunch­backed king with an ugly face and evil mind in his play Richard III.

In 1591, Shake­speare wrote the play Richard III based on The His­tory of Richard III by Thomas More and chron­i­cles writ­ten by Ed­ward Hall and Raphael Holin­shed, re­spec­tively. It is Shake­speare’s sec­ond long­est play af­ter Ham­let. Shake­speare made bold at­tempts to adapt the play ac­cord­ing to his prin­ci­ples and cre­ative needs, de­part­ing from his­tor­i­cal records. In the play, Richard III was not an out-and-out vil­lain as More de­picted. In­stead, the fig­ure was en­dowed with richer con­no­ta­tions.

Shake­speare’s Richard III has a rigid writ­ing style. The work rep­re­sents the brief reign of the tyrant in a vivid man­ner. Af­ter the death of Ed­ward IV, his brother Richard III killed Ed­ward V, his nephew and the suc­ces­sor to the throne, in a cun­ning and sin­is­ter way and as­cended the throne. Richard III re­sorted to ex­treme mea­sures and grad­u­ally be­came a ruth­less killer. In the end, he was be­trayed by his troops

and killed by his en­e­mies, which was the fi­nal pun­ish­ment for his evil deeds.

The play was staged for the first time on No­vem­ber 17, 1633, the birth­day of Hen­ri­etta Maria, who watched it along­side king Charles I. Later, Col­ley Cib­ber adapted Shake­speare’s Richard III. This adapted ver­sion was per­formed at the Drury Lane The­atre be­gin­ning in 1700 with Cib­ber him­self play­ing the ti­tle role un­til 1739. This adap­ta­tion was per­formed on stages for the next 150 years. In 1845, Shake­speare’s orig­i­nal play was staged at the Sadler’s Wells The­atre. In 1913, Richard III was made into a film. In 1955, Lau­rence Olivier di­rected Richard III and per­formed the ti­tle role in his film. In 1996, Ian Mckellen starred in the film Richard III, a story adapted from the orig­i­nal work set in a fas­cist coun­try in mod­ern times. In 2011, Richard III star­ring Kevin Spacey pre­miered at the English Na­tional Opera. It was also per­formed in China dur­ing its in­ter­na­tional tour.

Usurpa­tion and Fail­ure

Richard III is an im­por­tant rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Shake­speare’s his­tor­i­cal plays. It is a dis­tinc­tive work highly rec­om­mended by con­tem­po­rary Shake­spearean schol­ars.

In the five-act play, the Duke of Glouces­ter was en­vi­ous of the power and glory of King Ed­ward IV and de­ter­mined to usurp the throne. Driven by greed and de­sire, Glouces­ter framed his el­der brother Gorge, the Duke of Clarence, who stood be­fore him in the line of suc­ces­sion.

Af­ter King Ed­ward IV died of ill­ness, his son Ed­ward, who was the Prince of Wales, re­turned to Lon­don for his coro­na­tion. The sanc­ti­mo­nious and as­tute Glouces­ter im­pris­oned the prince at the Tower of Lon­don. He cheated the peo­ple, and killed those who op­posed him. Fi­nally, he as­cended the throne and be­came Richard III. Af­ter as­sum­ing power, Richard III be­gan to get rid of dis­si­dents. He wooed Lady Anne, wi­dow of Prince Ed­ward, coaxed her into mar­ry­ing him and put her to death out of sus­pi­cion. He even mar­ried Ed­ward IV’S daugh­ter lest she should suc­ceed to the throne. All in all, Glouces­ter did a lot of evil and cruel things.

Later, Henry, who was the Earl of Rich­mond, launched a bat­tle against Richard III. Prior to the bat­tle, Richard was haunted by the ghosts of his vic­tims, all of whom bade him “de­spair and die!” He was blamed and cursed, and no one pitied him. In a fi­nal duel, Richard III is killed by Henry.

In the play, Richard III is born mal­formed and has a fierce look. When he grew up, he was ter­ri­bly hunched, and one of his arms was at­ro­phied like a dead branch. His cheeks were un­sym­met­ri­cal, and his fea­tures were un­pleas­ant. Be­neath his ugly ap­pear­ance, there was an evil soul. Be­cause of his ug­li­ness, Richard III be­lieved that he was not made for any­thing good in life. He de­vel­oped ha­tred to­wards and wanted to seek re­venge against ev­ery­one. He had a de­sire to de­stroy ev­ery­thing. In or­der to re­alise his am­bi­tion of as­cend­ing a throne which did not be­long to him, Richard III was un­scrupu­lous and re­sorted to evil deeds. He killed his brother, neph­ews and min­is­ters; his path to the throne was cov­ered with the blood of the in­no­cent. Ger­man play­wright Got­thold Ephraim Less­ing com­mented on the play, stat­ing: “Although Richard III is a tyrant, the play de­liv­ers au­di­ences com­pli­cated feel­ings of cu­rios­ity, amuse­ment, brav­ery, grandeur and hor­ror. The strength of the tragedy lies in these feel­ings that run through­out the play.”

In Richard III, the char­ac­ter of the cen­tral fig­ures is re­vealed in a tight­lyknit plot. Richard III is at the cen­tre of the plot, which un­folds based on his schemes. The play be­gins with Richard III’S de­ter­mi­na­tion to do evil deeds and ends with his de­feat and death on the bat­tle­field. Richard III is the fig­ure that con­nects all the fast-mov­ing scenes with the plot. The ap­pear­ance of ghosts, un­de­ni­able or­a­cles and the in­can­ta­tions of an­ces­tors to pun­ish evil cre­ate a mag­nif­i­cent and mys­te­ri­ous at­mos­phere. The in­ter­nal mono­logues re­veal the in­ner world of the fig­ures. Richard’s brother, the hand­some Ed­ward, as­cends the throne and be­comes King Ed­ward IV. Richard grows un­sat­is­fied with the ar­range­ment and loses bal­ance psy­cho­log­i­cally. Ugly as he is, Richard III “con­sid­ers him­self above the crowd. He is ir­ri­ta­ble, ar­ro­gant, cruel, as­tute and shame­less. He knows how to use power and schemes. De­spite his noble sta­tus, he seeks more power by all means.” His am­bi­tion is re­vealed in the mono­logue: “Plots have I laid, in­duc­tions dan­ger­ous,

by drunken prophe­cies, li­bels and dreams, to set my brother Clarence and the king in deadly hate the one against the other: And if King Ed­ward be as true and just as I am sub­tle, false and treach­er­ous, this day should Clarence closely be mew’d up, about a prophecy, which says that ‘G’ of Ed­ward’s heirs the murderer shall be.”

Shake­speare quotes the Bi­ble in the play, en­abling au­di­ences and read­ers to fac­tor this into their judge­ments of the fig­ures. The quo­ta­tions en­rich the con­no­ta­tion and strengthen the ap­peal of the play as well as re­veal the in­ner world of the fig­ures, mak­ing them more vivid and en­hanc­ing the theme of the play.

A Western Play Full of Chi­nese Flavour

In 2012, the Na­tional The­atre of China staged the Chi­nese ver­sion of Richard

III. The drama was pre­sented by Zhou Zhiqiang, di­rected by Wang Xiaoy­ing and pro­duced by Li Jia’ou. Liu Ke­dong was the stage de­signer. Zhang Dongyu, Wu Xiaodong, Chen Qiang and She Nan­nan played the ma­jor roles. The drama was first per­formed at the World Shake­speare Fes­ti­val in Bri­tain. It was then staged at the Na­tional Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts (NCPA) in Bei­jing and the Na­tional The­atre of China.

The World Shake­speare Fes­ti­val is an au­thor­i­ta­tive Shake­speare fes­ti­val in Bri­tain. In 2012, the fes­ti­val in­vited dra­matic artists from 37 coun­tries to per­form 37 plays by Shake­speare in 37 lan­guages as a tie in with the Lon­don Olympics. Richard III, di­rected by Wang Xiaoy­ing, was one of the 37 works and re­ceived high praise.

In Shake­speare’s Richard III, Richard is ugly and crip­pled. How­ever, in the Chi­nese ver­sion, the pro­tag­o­nist stands erect and is hand­some. Ac­tor Zhang Dongyu had to fo­cus more on pre­sent­ing the in­ner strug­gles of Richard III. He ex­plained: “In all plays, in­ter­pret­ing the char­ac­ters well should come first. Richard III is a typ­i­cal char­ac­ter. As we have changed his ap­pear­ance, we should make more ef­forts to ex­ter­nalise the vices that lie be­neath it.” The play has been a huge suc­cess in the­atri­cal cir­cles in China and abroad.

The Chi­nese ver­sion of Richard

III bor­rows from Chi­nese the­atri­cal arts and also in­cor­po­rates mod­ern el­e­ments in its char­ac­ter mod­el­ling, cos­tumes, per­for­mances, stage art, props and mu­sic. There are props bear­ing sym­bols of Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture (a Bronze Age cul­ture in what is now Sichuan Prov­ince), cos­tumes based on Han Chi­nese cloth­ing that are in­fused with mod­ern de­sign, and var­i­ous sounds pro­duced by drums and other Chi­nese per­cus­sion in­stru­ments. Artist Xu Bing de­signed some Chi­nese char­ac­ters with strokes re­sem­bling English let­ters. They em­body both tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture and mod­ern fea­tures, rep­re­sent­ing an in­ge­nious com­bi­na­tion of Chi­nese el­e­ments and Western in­flu­ence. Wang Xiaoy­ing stated: “Richard III in Chi­nese is not a sim­ple enu­mer­a­tion of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­tural el­e­ments. In­stead, it tells Shake­speare’s story against an an­cient Chi­nese back­ground and also has mod­ern artis­tic fea­tures.”

Wang boldly trans­posed the play from its orig­i­nal Bri­tish his­tor­i­cal set­ting to a tra­di­tional Chi­nese con­text. In a cold Chi­nese palace, char­ac­ters wear­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese at­tire ap­pear on the stage. Wield­ing weapons and recit­ing Shake­speare’s verses in Chi­nese, they en­gage in fierce con­fronta­tions in an at­tempt to re­alise their am­bi­tions and seize power. Wang ex­plained why the clas­sic work was ren­dered in such a dis­tinc­tive way: “Richard III in our drama is not ex­actly the one in Bri­tish his­tory. Rather, the fig­ure is an im­age closely linked with life to­day. We cast aside the his­tor­i­cal back­ground, for we only want to show how a man de­vel­ops his am­bi­tion, how he is driven and how he is fi­nally de­stroyed by the for­mi­da­ble, self­de­struc­tive power of his am­bi­tion.”

Many el­e­ments from Pek­ing Opera can also be found in this drama. Zhang Xin, an ex­cel­lent young ac­tress from the Na­tional Pek­ing Opera Com­pany, played the part of Lady Anne, who waved her long sleeves and ex­pressed her sor­rows by speak­ing and singing in the style of a qingyi (a fe­male role) char­ac­ter from Pek­ing Opera. Xu Mengke, a well-trained ac­tor who has of­ten played clowns in Pek­ing Opera, por­trayed an as­sas­sin. He was in­spired by the Pek­ing Opera San­chakou (lit. Cross­road) and cre­ated a gloomy, dark, hor­ri­ble at­mos­phere. Wang Xiaoy­ing also em­ployed some tech­niques that are rooted in Chi­nese opera. Ev­ery time a char­ac­ter dies, two per­form­ers (bit play­ers who are as­sas­sins or sub­or­di­nates) cover the head of the vic­tim with a piece of black crape. This per­son then goes off­stage by them­self. This is sim­i­lar to the prac­tice of ghosts wear­ing black crape in tra­di­tional Chi­nese opera.

Since its pre­miere in Bri­tain in 2012, the Chi­nese ver­sion of Richard III has been per­formed in the United States, Den­mark, Ro­ma­nia and many other coun­tries. It has won great ac­claim from au­di­ences. When the troupe re­turned to China and per­formed at the Bei­jing Cap­i­tal The­atre, Neil Con­sta­ble, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Shake­speare’s Globe, watched the show. When it was over, Con­sta­ble mounted the stage and praised the show as one of the best pro­duc­tions, say­ing: “Peo­ple in the UK of­ten think Shake­speare be­longs to them, but I think Shake­speare be­longs to the world. And to­day, Shake­speare be­longs to China!”

The NTC’S Richard III was se­lected into the Sino-korean ex­change reper­toire of 2016 on the 400th an­niver­sary of Shake­speare’s death. At the in­vi­ta­tion of the Na­tional The­ater of Korea, the play was per­formed three times at the Myeong-dong Art The­atre in Seoul. A Korean au­di­ence mem­ber ex­pressed: “The per­for­mance is amaz­ing. The Chi­nese opera el­e­ments are unique, and the rhythm of the Chi­nese lan­guage lends more aes­thetic feel­ing to the show. The au­di­ence mem­bers kept their eyes fixed on the stage through­out the per­for­mance and were to­tally im­mersed in the Chi­nese opera el­e­ments. I very much ad­mire the ac­tors and ac­tresses of the Na­tional The­atre of China, and I am so proud of Chi­nese opera!”

The NTC’S Richard III tran­scends time and space and con­nects East­ern and Western cul­ture. Shake­speare’s Richard III in por­trayed in a Chi­nese style of per­for­mance, of­fers au­di­ences a dis­tinc­tive King of Eng­land and en­ables them to en­joy ori­en­tal flavour to their heart’s con­tent.

Richardiii, staged by the Na­tional The­atre of China

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