(Author’s Note: Please accept my apologies as this draft is as yet incomplete, however I have posted it in the interests of whetting the appetite for further instalments as President Trump’s administration wends its way toward it’s own inevitable Battle of Bosworth Field:
“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”- I can almost hear his exclamations now.)
As a very wise man in antiquity once stated:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players”
With that in mind, what follows attempts to live up to this dictum. The following play takes on the theme of a senatorial satire, a congressional caricature if you will, that seeks to provide some wry observations, and no doubt somewhat glib insights into the internal machinations of the highest and most influential political offices in the entire Western world.
The current American political situation, from even the most cursory glance, has devolved of late into such high farce that it would be extremely difficult to exaggerate sufficiently to give these events any satirical edge, or to lampoon such a bizarre situation with enough vigour and piquancy to be worthy of more than one’s passing attention, let alone amusement.
Notwithstanding this salient point, what follows below is my Shakespeare-inspired interpretation of these recent and current events, which attempts to make some sardonic commentaries on the unrelenting battles fought between the Democrats (as represented by the House of Lancaster) and the Republicans (as represented by the House of York). In so doing, I hope to pointedly reference the main players and their roles in these Presidential proceedings through the lens of Shakespearean drama, as these events have unfolded during the recent political history of the good ol’ US of A.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester (eventually crowned King Richard III):
Deformed in body through a severe scoliosis, and twisted by his hatred of not only his hideous form but also of others. Richard finds refuge and solace in aggressive bluster and machismo, topped off by more than a tincture of over-weaning self-confidence and narcissism. He is inherently evil, fatally corrupt, sadistic and incredibly manipulative, and will therefore stop at nothing to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming King. His undoubted (if under-appreciated) intelligence, his political savvy, and his at times dazzling use of blunt language keep his audience of loyal followers suitably enthralled—and his subjects and rivals are thus kept firmly under his thumb, or more accurately perhaps, underfoot … Donald Trump
Richard’s right-hand man in his schemes to gain power. The Duke of Buckingham is almost as amoral and ambitious as Richard himself … Steve Bannon
King Edward IV:
The older brother of Richard and Clarence, and the king of England at the start of the play. Edward was deeply involved in the Yorkists’ brutal overthrow of the Lancaster regime, but as King he seeks to unify the various political factions that epitomise his reign against common enemies from beyond England’s shore, at least until the Black Prince’s rebellion comes to the fore. He is blissfully unaware of his brother Richard’s scheming ways, and more tellingly his none-too-subtle designs on Edward’s throne … George.W.Bush
George, Duke of Clarence:
The gentle and naively trusting brother, born between Edward and Richard in the York family, and thus a classic embodiment of middle child syndrome. Richard eventually has Clarence murdered before he can achieve the mantle of his older sibling as he stands between Richard and the ultimate prize: the British crown … Jeb Bush
Widow of the dead King Henry VI (Bill Clinton), and mother of the slain Black Prince Edward (Barack Obama). In medieval times, when kings were deposed, their children were often killed to remove any threat from the royal line of descent—but their wives were left alive because they were considered harmless. Margaret’s husband was deposed and murdered (along with their children) by the family of King Edward IV (George W Bush) and Richard of Gloucester (Donald Trump). As a result, she is consumed with bitterness and detests both Richard and his fellow Yorkists, all of whom were, in her view, complicit in not only the destruction of the House of Lancaster, but also in usurping their God-given right to rule … Hillary Clinton
The young widow of Edward, The Black Prince (Barack Obama), who in turn was the son of the former king, Henry VI (Bill Clinton), and Margaret of Anjou (Hillary Clinton). Lady Anne hates Richard (Donald Trump) for his part in the death of her husband, but for reasons of politics—and for sadistic pleasure—Richard persuades Anne to marry him, against not only her better judgement, but also the wave of nausea that enveloped her with every fond caress … Michelle Obama
Queen Elizabeth (aka Lady Gray):
The wife of King Edward IV (George W Bush) and the mother of the two young princes (at that time the would be heirs to the throne) and their older sister, young Elizabeth. After Edward’s death, Queen Elizabeth (also known as Lady Gray) is at Richard’s mercy. Richard rightly views her as an enemy because she opposes his ruthless rise to power, and because she is an intelligent and strong-willed woman who represents a potential threat to him. Elizabeth is part of the Woodeville family; her kinsmen—Dorset, Rivers, and Gray—are her allies in the court … Condoleezza Rice
Dorset, Rivers, and Gray:
The aforementioned kinsmen and allies of Queen Elizabeth, and members of the Woodeville and Gray families. Rivers is Elizabeth’s brother, while Gray and Dorset are her sons from her first marriage. Richard eventually executes Rivers and Gray, but Dorset flees and manages to survive … John McCain, Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich
Duchess of York:
Widowed mother of Richard, Clarence, and King Edward IV. The duchess of York is Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, and she is very protective of Elizabeth and her children, who are the duchess’s grandchildren. She becomes very angry with Richard for his heinous actions as the play develops … Barbara Bush
The two young sons of King Edward IV (George W Bush) and his wife, Elizabeth. Notably, their names are actually Prince Edward and the young Duke of York, but they are often referred to collectively. Agents of Richard murder these boys—Richard’s nephews—in the Tower. Young Prince Edward, the rightful heir to the throne, should not be confused with the elder Edward, Prince of Wales (the “Black Prince”: first husband of Lady Anne, and the son of the former king, Henry VI.) … Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio
The former Queen Elizabeth’s daughter. Young Elizabeth enjoys the fate of many Renaissance noblewomen. She becomes a pawn in political power-brokering, and is promised in marriage at the end of the play to Richmond (Cory Booker), the Lancastrian rebel leader, in order to unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster … Ivanka Trump
Two of Richard’s flunkies among the nobility, who generally do his bidding in matters of a delicate, or even a contentious nature … James Comey and Mike Flynn
A murderer whom Richard hires to kill his young cousins, the princes in the Tower … Dick Cheney
Richmond (a.k.a Henry Tudor, soon to be King Henry VII):
A member of a branch of the Lancaster royal family, Richmond gathers a force of rebels to challenge Richard for the throne. In the play, he embodies all the regal qualities of goodness, justice, and fairness—all those things that Richard lacks. Richmond is portrayed in such a glowing light not least because he founded the Tudor dynasty, which still ruled England during Shakespeare’s time … Jared Kushner
A lord who maintains his integrity, remaining loyal to the family of King Edward IV (George W Bush). Hastings loses his life for making the mistake of trusting Richard … Mike Pence
Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby:
The stepfather of Richmond. Lord Stanley secretly helps Richmond, although he is under Richard’s constant and watchful gaze… Al Gore
Lord Mayor of London:
A once influential and urbane fellow, whom Richard and Buckingham dupe and then use as a pawn in their ploy to help Richard become King … Nigel Farage
A friend of Elizabeth, Dorset, Rivers, and Gray who is executed by Richard along with Rivers and Gray … Mitt Romney
Gramm, Leach & Bliley:
Moneylenders of nefarious purpose and dubious repute… Robert Rubin (in various guises)
A courtesan, one time favourite of former King Henry VI (Bill Clinton), but whose vulnerability leads to her downfall as a scarlett woman who becomes a pariah across the kingdom … Monica Lewinsky
Czech countess secretly betrothed in an arranged marriage to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Donald Trump), but is locked high in the Tower where she remains his prisoner at (among other things) his sexual beck and call … Melania Trump
Characters not appearing in the play proper, but integral to the plot and/or action:
Richard II: … John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Henry Bolingbroke/Henry IV: … Lyndon Baines Johnson
Henry V: … John Fitzgerald Kennedy (in a dual role)
Richard, Duke of York: … George Bush Snr.
King Henry VI: … Bill Clinton
Edward, The Black Prince: … Barack Obama
Our story begins in the year of our Lord 1478, during the reign of the Yorkist King, Edward IV. The so called “War of the Roses” has been raging on and off for over two decades, with two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet, the Houses of York and Lancaster, fighting tooth and claw for ultimate supremacy, and thereby hoping to wrest absolute control of the English throne for their posterity.
King Edward’s younger brother, the hunchback Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is a misbegotten creature who represents the very culmination of centuries of inbreeding, deformed not just of body, but also of mind. He is further characterised by a pervasive self-loathing that has been sublimated into a cruel and sadistic personality that not only lusts remorselessly for power, but also has an utter disdain for the health and welfare of others. Somewhat ironically perhaps, Richard simultaneously projects an inflated over-confidence and an air of completely unearned self-entitlement, which eventually leads him to furtively covet the throne of his brother. This envy is destined to soon be sated with the execution for treason of his brother (the Duke of Clarence), and subsequently the untimely death (from natural causes) of his older sibling King Edward, leaving only Edward’s very young sons (the “Young Princes”) as heirs to the throne, sadly for them becoming the only remaining obstacles in the path of Gloucester’s ascent to becoming ruler of all England.
But, before we delve further into the action of the play, some background detail is in order, and is essential for those unfamiliar with the history of this rivalry. The House of Lancaster’s claim to the English throne stems from a rather dubious usurper, the Lancastrian Henry Bolingbroke, a rogue who would subsequently become King Henry IV after defeating and deposing his cousin, Richard II, in 1399. Upon the assassination of the erstwhile King Richard, the new King Henry embarked on a massive expenditure to curry favour with the peasantry, whereby he promised to build a “Great Society” to elevate every downtrodden soul from their privations, a scheme that was meant to especially promote the welfare of those denizens at the very lowest echelons of civil society. This scheme would come to serve the dual purpose of being seen to ostensibly improve the lot of the poor serfs, whilst simultaneously ensuring that they would in return form a bulwark against any uprising or rebellion being fomented against his rule by them being forever indebted to the largesse of the Crown. This was to be a tactic employed and perpetuated by the Lancastrian kings down through the ages, whereupon the championing of the poor became nothing more than a political tool of noteworthy effectiveness in ensuring the stability of their various reigns. Needless to say, the rub so to speak was that this required the peasants to remain peasants, and for the poor to remain poor (preferably in perpetuity), since the establishment of a “middle class” of burghers and other bourgeois upstarts was anathema to maintaining the emotional blackmail of this alleged, and some would say largely illusory compassion.
Henry IV was eventually succeeded on the throne on his death by his son Henry V, who embodied all that a King should be in his brief time as monarch. A renowned miscreant in his youth, the young Prince Hal mingled seamlessly with the lowlifes of the demimonde in the various gaming houses, taverns and bordellos of the city, but would subsequently reform completely on the death of his father, becoming a paragon of virtue (in the public eye at least) in his short but successful reign. After a famous and rousing victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V would become supreme ruler of both England and France, only for him to die unexpectedly from dysentery at the tender age of 36 years. This was indeed ironic given that, at the age of 16, Henry had managed to survive an arrow shot by a rebel soldier that pierced just under his left eye and then penetrated his skull backward to the occiput, a wound that was incurred during the torrid Battle of Shrewsbury. In order to remove this embedded arrowhead, special tongs had to be designed, made and carefully inserted nearly six inches into the wound to grip and extract the metal from his cranium. It then took a further three weeks to cleanse and close up the hole – and all without the benefit of anaesthesia. A miraculous recovery indeed, and one that stood in stark contrast to the rather mundane nature of his demise.
This untimely death elevated the heroic King’s infant son, Henry VI, to the throne. After ruling through a series of regents throughout his childhood, the younger Henry’s reign was eventually to be fatally compromised by his recurring mental instability, and more particularly by the compulsive womanising he scandalously undertook with the sundry scullery maids, domestics, flower sellers and lowly attendants who were unfortunate enough to cross his path. His affair with the Russian courtesan, Baroness Lewinsky, compromised the legitimacy of his crown even further, as it reflected poorly on his judgement and also on his ability to keep his irons in the fire without getting his fingers burnt. Even more egregiously perhaps, King Henry would come under the undue influence of three thoroughly unscrupulous money lenders (Gramm, Leach and Bliley), who persuaded the degenerate King to make various financial decisions that not only benefitted these usurers mightily, but which would also come to compromise the wealth of the entire kingdom to the gradual impoverishment of almost all of his most lowly subjects in particular, where the most vulnerable were either left homeless or destitute, while the land barons and gentry remained largely untouched or even profited by his financial profligacy.
King Henry VI’s legitimate birthright to the throne was eventually challenged by Gloucester’s father Richard, Duke of York, leading to an initial defeat of the Lancasters in the Battle of St Albans in 1455, a defeat that marked the beginning of the abovementioned recurring conflict that would come to be waged between the two noble houses. Henry VI’s queen, a formidable woman known as Margaret of Anjou, fomented this conflict between the upstart Yorkists and the Lancasters still further by labelling her husband’s rivals as a bunch of “deplorables”, leading to an even more deadly turn in the feud that would soon result in the capture of her husband at the Battle of Northampton in 1459, and then ultimately to his murder in the Tower many years later at the hands of his Yorkist rival. As was the custom at the time, Queen Margaret’s life was spared, having been political neutered in Yorkist eyes upon the death of her husband, a decision they no doubt would come to regret as she remained a thorn in their collective side for a decade or more thereafter, harbouring ambitions for the crown herself in spite of seemingly having no legitimate claim to the throne by right of ascension.
Upon the defeat of Henry VI, his one time rival’s eldest son ascended to the throne, becoming King Edward IV, whereupon an albeit short-lived peace and stability was attained. However, the new Yorkist King was soon to meet many almost insurmountable challenges, principal among which was the first ever successful attack on English soil by the barbarous Andalusian Berbers and Moors from the continent. These Islamic invaders managed to mount a decisive incursion into the northern city of York, wherein they sacked and destroyed the two tallest castle keeps in the entire city, leading to hundreds of peasants and soldiers being burned to death or crushed as these two symbols of Yorkist supremacy were razed unceremoniously to the ground. King Edward thus took little time in setting about planning and executing reprisals for this impudence, sending forth crusaders to Granada in the southern most regions of the Iberian peninsula, and to the Maghreb in North Africa to hunt down the Caliphs and their generals who were thought to be responsible for this vicious attack. His crusaders even made their way to the Holy Lands, to the very heart of Ottoman Caliphate, but these latter forays became not only hideously expensive to finance, but also led to great deal of bloodshed, and the loss of tens of thousands of innocent lives. This provided little if any worthwhile gain for England’s security, especially as the crusaders failed to find any of the legendary (some might suggest “mythical”) weapons of mass destruction responsible for such devastation, but nonetheless the fruitless search for this particular Holy Grail placed an appalling strain upon the overall financial solvency of the kingdom’s treasury.
Other notable incidents that characterised Edward’s short but eventful reign included the establishment of Guantanamo castle on the island of Majorca to house the Islamic fighters captured by the crusaders, where they were brought back from Africa and the Middle East for some friendly persuasion in picturesque surroundings, and where they could especially enjoy the various water-sports that were on offer. Of course, Edward’s largesse was not merely confined to enemy combatants in far off lands, but also to his subjects who were to benefit from a vastly improved homeland security, where the populace were made to feel much safer indeed from any further attacks through greatly broadening the powers of the local militias who policed the cities and surrounding townships. Every conversation between the peasants and among the townsfolk was to be monitored through a network of informants, and every bowel movement and sexual act was from now on to be faithfully recorded for the edification of those public officials whose task it was to scrutinise such important affairs, purely in the public interest of course. Such actions ensured that all patriots acted solely in the interest of their sovereign realm, and individual freedoms were thus frowned upon as undermining the protection of the people against the spectre of further possible terrorist attacks.
After 8 years of Edward IV’s reign, the House of York’s grip on power was challenged by the heir apparent to the albeit dubious Lancastrian claim to the throne: Edward of Westminster, the “Black Prince” of Wales. The son of Margaret of Anjou and the former King Henry VI, the Prince was living in exile under the rule of the Moaheb Sultanate, in a large township on the Swahili coast of East Africa. There he had organised the local community in order to raise an army that he hoped would allow him to retake England for himself (and by extension for his fellow Lancastrians), in order to regain their “rightful” place as sovereign rulers of England. This period of exile was preceded by a four year stint of spiritual enlightenment that the Prince undertook on the island of Java in the Majapahit Empire under the tutelage of the great Rishi Soetoro, before completing his formative education in the Sandwich Islands. Patiently biding his time in this African idyll, the Black Prince vowed he would soon be ready to launch his ultimate campaign for hope and change that he planned to set upon the British Isles, with his zealous army of followers faithfully in tow.
Once the Black Prince finally arrived on English soil, he established a beachhead in East Anglia where a settlement was soon under construction, a township that would come to be known as Washing Town. This township was founded on reclaimed swamp land, and in spite of this inauspicious foundation it soon became a thriving hub of activity, sadly though it would eventually become most conspicuous for the extreme level of institutionalised graft and corruption to be found there. The young Prince, in order to fund the construction of the town, had foolishly curried favour with those unscrupulous usurers who were the undoing of his father (Henry VI). Through his naive (at the very least) complicity with these money lenders, he further allowed an incredibly high level of unregulated money printing to occur under his watch, an action that utterly devalued the local currency. This merely served to undermine the monetary worth of the hard toil and the earnings of his loyal subjects, whilst the young Prince compounded the error further by authorising zero or negative interest rate loans to be established for the sole benefit of these same financial wunderkinds, allowing them to engage in the most outrageous and predatory speculative practices. By virtue of these decisions, many of dubious merit (at best), all of this speculation became effectively underwritten not only by the taxes extracted from his followers, but also those raised from the common folk whose assets were to be confiscated as his seat of power expanded from beyond the Washing Town environs into the surrounding hills and valleys.
As the Prince further consolidated his base of power, he began to cultivate a cult of personality among his acolytes, to the extent that these deluded zealots believed to a man that he could not only control the weather, but had the power to keep the tide at bay like some modern day variation of the famous Dane of yesteryear, King Cnut. This adulation was sorely tested, however, when all those hundreds of windmills and sun traps he had built around the town failed miserably to quell any of the winter storms and squalls that routinely rolled in off the North Sea, let alone to forestall the frosts and snowstorms that often blighted the region, nor did they ameliorate the stifling heat of the summer that provided a most conducive environment for the flies and mosquitoes that swarmed in their millions around the reclaimed swamp that gave Washing Town its pungent ambience.
Before launching his planned final drive toward York City in his bid to unseat the incumbent King Edward IV, the Black Prince decided to take time out to first embark upon a grand tour around the Mediterranean Sea, starting in Libya, then moving on to Tunisia then Egypt, before finally travelling throughout the Levant, spreading his good will and offering his support to all the incumbent rulers and potentates of these regions. By the most amazing of coincidences, no sooner had our would be pretender to the English throne left each of these countries in turn on his “Arab Spring Tour”, that spontaneous rebellions and civilian uprisings would break out, each devolving inevitably into widespread death and destruction across the countryside, on the path to the bloody carnage of all out civil wars.
His goodwill mission complete, the young Prince then embarked on his homeward voyage aboard the galley of a notorious corsair, where he struck up a firm friendship with a wandering Bedouin who had only just joined the ship as they sailed along the treacherous Barbary Coast. Sadly, whilst examining an arquebus from a captured Hungarian soldier, the weapon discharged unexpectedly killing the mysterious Bedouin instantly. Once the shock of what had occurred to his new found companion had properly sunk in, the Black Prince and his corsair hosts buried the hapless Arab anonymously at sea, according not only to his religious custom, but also to convenience. Unbeknownst to all, including the young Prince, he had inadvertently (not to mention serendipitously) killed the infamous Abu Abdallah, none other than the devious mastermind behind the twin tower attacks in York City a few years earlier.
Finally, the Black Prince returned to English soil, where he rallied the troops in Washing Town together and then marched on toward the capital, York City. On the outskirts of the city, he met up with his mother Queen Margaret and her followers to assess the best laid potential plans of attack against the King’s enclave, but they became somewhat hesitant in the face of his vastly superior forces and heavily fortified positions. Rather than a direct frontal attack to dethrone the King, the Prince and his mother resolved instead to launch a relentless propaganda campaign amongst the townsfolk designed to undermine the faith of the populace in the Yorkists in general, and the King and Duke of Gloucester in particular. This was to be achieved by disseminating paid agent provocateurs liberally amongst the town folk, who relentlessly lampooned the alleged lack of intelligence and the perceived failings of the King and his sibling. The Duke of Gloucester’s physical deformities in particular were a constant source of mirth and merriment in the taverns and the marketplaces of the city, where these agents would relentlessly mimic and mock his general appearance, stumbling gait, pale complexion and unruly hairstyle. Additionally, the Lancastrians sought to completely undermine the integrity of the local political scene through the mass importation of unskilled foreigners to form voting blocs throughout the city, and by establishing widespread gerrymander through propagating multiple rotten and pocket boroughs within the York City electorates to unduly influence the representative balance in the House of Commons to their own nefarious ends.
Once the King and the Duke realised what treason was being plotted and enacted against them, they marshalled their powerful Yorkist forces to hunt down and root out the interlopers, and in the ensuing melee the Black Prince was put to the sword and a sizeable portion of his army were either killed or maimed, whilst his loyal wife Anne and his mother Queen Margaret somehow managed to escape, living to fight yet another day for the apparently forlorn Lancastrian cause, a cause that refused to die in spite of the very best efforts of their adversaries. The lifeless corpse of the Black Prince, on the other hand, was hastily buried in a shallow, unmarked grave directly beneath the keystone in the arch of the Micklegate Bar, in ironic counterpoint to its primary purpose as the ceremonial entrance point of the city for receiving and honouring visiting monarchs.
And so now we find ourselves in the present day. It is mid winter in England’s north and in spite of his recent victories, the Duke of Gloucester finds himself in the throes of a strange melancholy, as the continued existence of his regal sibling and his inconvenient issue begin to rankle interminably……………..
Act I Scene 1:
York City. A busy city street.
It is in the full chill of midwinter, with people walking to and fro in front of a large and foreboding tower. Wind is whistling down the street, and the condensation from the breath of common throng clings tightly to the cold stone walls of the building.
A lonely figure stands hunched over in the cold, gripping his overcoat tightly against his chest as he gazes out on the cityscape before him. It is Richard, Duke of Gloucester, cowering there against the tower wall, a tower that formerly stood in London Town but was then dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt at his request in the city of York as a monument to his family’s supremacy.
The rebellion of the Black Prince has just been quashed, but Richard has been unduly stung by the criticism the traitorous operatives had recently been spreading about the city regarding his rather ungodly appearance. Richard’s vanity had been wounded and so he had sought the services of a local apothecary, with a view to helping him at the very least with his ghostly pale complexion. Richard was soon to be mightily pleased with the effects of the concoction he prescribed, and presently his skin tone was miraculously transformed from its usual deathly pallor to a more vibrant and virile orange and caramel hue. Our hero could not wait to exclaim his new found feelings of confidence in his appearance to the world, yet almost immediately to then lament the cruel hand that fate had dealt him in being born so misshapen and repulsive to the fairer sex.
“Now is the winter of our discontent,
Made glorious summer by this sun of York!
But I, alas, am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking glass;
I, that am rudely stamped and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.”
Realising that he was not well cut out to avail himself of more than the merest tincture of the pleasures of the flesh, Richard resolved instead to be a villain par excellence; to revel in the discomfiture of others, to gain pleasure from the tears of the grieving widow or the abandoned child, to find mirth in the face of pain and anguish wherever it might be found. So, he laid a course directly for treachery and deceit, making landfall at first light upon his own brother, the unfortunate Duke of Clarence, in whom he saw not a loving older brother, but instead merely his greatest obstacle to power should his oldest brother, King Edward, ever shuffle from the mortal coil.
As such, it was now necessary to sow the seeds of discord and distrust between his two brothers, set one against the other through subtle deception by the spreading of lies, distortions and misrepresentations. In the midst of drunken carousing with Edward one winter’s eve, one such seed was planted subtly by Richard in the king’s mind that his brother, the Duke of Clarence, had designs on the throne and was actively plotting against him. Whilst outwardly fond of his brother, secretly Richard despised Clarence’s lack of vigour and his passivity, seeing his low energy levels as a sign of undeniable weakness. The Duke was, in Richard’s mind, merely riding on the coat-tails of his stronger siblings and forebears, and basking in so much unearned reflected glory, rather than relying solely on victories won due to his own mettle and toil.
(Enter Clarence, guarded, and Brackenbury)
Brother, good day. What means this armèd guard
That waits upon your Grace?
Tend’ring my person’s safety, hath appointed
This conduct to convey me to the Tower.
Upon what cause?
Clarence: (shrugs shoulders)
Because my name is George.
Or perhaps because ’tis not!
Alack, my lord, that fault is none of yours.
The King has harken’d after prophesies and dreams,
These have moved his highness to commit me now!
‘Tis not the King that sends you to the Tower:
My Lady Gray, his wife, Clarence, ’tis she
That tempers him to this extremity.
Why, this it is, when men are ruled by women!
Brackenbury : (interjecting)
I beseech your graces both pardon me;
His majesty hath straitly given in charge
That no man shall have private conference,
Of what degree soever, with his brother.
We know thy charge and will obey.
Well, your imprisonment will not be long:
Meantime, have patience.
(Exuent Clarence, with Brackenbury)
“Go tread the path that thou shalt ne’er return.
Simple, plain Clarence, I do love thee so
That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven,
If heaven will take the present at our hands.”
But who comes here? Hastings?
What news abroad?
No news so bad abroad as this at home:
The King is sickly, weak and melancholy
And his physicians fear him mightily.
Now, by Saint Paul, that news is bad indeed.
O, he hath kept an evil diet long,
And overmuch consumed his royal person.
‘Tis very grievous to be thought upon.
I’ll be along presently.
There was suddenly no time to lose, as soon his oldest brother, King Edward, was destined to meet his maker. His brother, Clarence, on the other hand, needed to be dealt with post haste before the web of lies and deceit became untangled, or else the sudden death of the King would undo all the best laid schemes that Richard had put in train. So, away to the Tower it was, where Richard resolved to despatch his increasingly inconvenient brother Clarence with some urgency, leaving only Edward’s young Princes in his path to power.
(Exuent Richard, on horseback)
Act I Scene 2:
York City. Under the keystone at Micklegate Bar, on the edge of the city centre. The corpse of King Henry VI is carried in on a bier. Followed directly behind by Lady Anne, the widow of Edward the Black Prince, dressed in mourning clothes, and several armed guards accompanying her.
Set down, set down your honorable load,
If honor may be shrouded in a hearse,
Whilst I awhile obsequiously lament
Th’ untimely fall of virtuous Lancaster.
Be it lawful that I invocate thy ghost
To hear the lamentations of poor Anne,
Wife to thy Edward, to thy slaughtered son,
Stabbed by the selfsame hand that made these wounds.
O, cursèd be the hand that made these holes;
Cursèd the heart that had the heart to do it;
Cursèd the blood that let this blood from hence.
(Enter Richard, Duke of Gloucester)
What black magician conjures up this fiend
To stop devoted charitable deeds?
Villains, set down the corpse or, by Saint Paul,
I’ll make a corpse of him that disobeys.
Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell.
Thou hadst but power over his mortal body;
His soul thou canst not have. Therefore begone!
Sweet saint, for charity, be not so curs’d.
Foul devil, for God’s sake, hence, and trouble us not,
For thou hast made the happy earth thy hell,
Filled it with cursing cries and deep exclaims.
If thou delight to view thy heinous deeds,
Behold this pattern of thy butcheries.
(Points to the corpse)
Indeed, ’tis true, I slew this noble King,
And hath sent him swiftly to his Heaven.
He was much fitter for that place than Earth,
Yet I have taken scant pleasure in it.
So, dear lady, spare thy wrathful curses,
I did not kill your once belov’d husband,
He was slain instead by King Edward’s hand!
In thy foul throat thou liest: Queen Margaret saw
Thy murderous falchion smoking in his blood;
Which thou once didst bend against her breast,
But that thy brothers beat aside the point.
Richard: (feigning hurt feelings)
I was provoked by her slanderous tongue,
Which laid their guilt upon my guiltless shoulders.
Is not the causer of the timeless deaths
Of these Plantagenets, Henry and Edward,
As blameful as the executioner?
Thou art the cause, and most accursed effect.
Richard: (leaning closer to milady, and whispering in honeyed tones)
Divine perfection of a woman!
Your beauty was the cause of that effect;
Your beauty: which did haunt me in my sleep,
To undertake the death of all the world,
So I might live one hour in your sweet bosom.
Lady Anne: (recoiling momentarily in a mixture of horror and indignation)
If I thought that, I tell thee, homicide,
These nails should rend that beauty from my cheeks.
Richard: (carefully and furtively putting his right arm around Lady Anne’s shoulder in a gesture of supportive affection)
It is a quarrel most unnatural,
To be revenged on him that loveth you!
Surely, thou hast more than ample reason
To distrust this lamentable creature,
Standing before thee, bereft in love’s thrall,
But, have pity on this restless spirit,
Who hath gazed upon a wandering star
Daring to dream of snatching it hither,
Predicting that there in heaven will find:
That from thine eyes love’s knowledge shall derive.
(Then, thrusting his left hand southward toward milady’s nether regions, Richard (surprisingly) met little resistance. It would seem that Lady Anne, ever the pragmatist, realised belatedly that in the fortunes of war, to the victor inevitably goes the spoils!)
Reason is our soul’s left hand, Faith her right,
By these we reach divinity!
Say, then, my peace is made.
I would I knew thy heart.
‘Tis figured in my tongue.
I fear me both are false.
Then never man was true.
Well, well, put up your sword.
But shall I live in hope?
All men, I hope, live so.
Vouchsafe to wear this ring.
To take is not to give.
Look, how this ring encompasseth thy finger.
Even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart;
Wear both of them, for both of them are thine.
(Exuent Lady Anne, and her entourage)
Richard: (to himself)
Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I’ll have her; but I will not keep her long.
What! I, that kill’d her husband and his father,
To take her in her heart’s extremest hate,
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of her hatred by;
Having God, her conscience, and these bars
And I nothing to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!
Hath she forgot already that brave prince,
Edward, her lord, whom I, some three months since,
Stabb’d in my angry mood at Tewksbury?
A sweeter and a lovelier gentleman,
Framed in the prodigality of nature,
Young, valiant, wise, and, no doubt, right royal,
The spacious world cannot again afford
And will she yet debase her eyes on me,
That cropp’d the golden prime of this sweet prince,
And made her widow to a woeful bed?
On me, whose all not equals Edward’s moiety?
On me, that halt and am unshapen thus?
My dukedom to a beggarly denier,
I do mistake my person all this while:
Upon my life, she finds, although I cannot,
Myself to be a marvellous proper man.
I’ll be at charges for a looking-glass,
And entertain some score or two of tailors,
To study fashions to adorn my body:
Since I am crept in favour with myself,
Will maintain it with some little cost.
But first I’ll turn yon fellow in his grave;
And then return lamenting to my love.
Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass,
That I may see my shadow as I pass.
Act I Scene 3:
Having seen to it that Henry VI’s body was suitably interred, burying him in a pauper’s grave beside the turbulent whitewater of a small brook adjacent to the Ouse River Bridge, Richard then set his sights upon a confrontation with Henry’s widow, the one time Queen: Margaret of Anjou. In spite of others in the Yorkist camp perceiving her as little more than nuisance value, Richard rightly believed that she remained a woman of considerable power and influence, and a potential obstacle to his plans to gain ascendancy to the throne. Thus, he rode to the exotically named Xanadu, the former Queen’s palatial estate in the York city hinterland, to confront her over her role in the recent uprising by her son, Black Prince Edward, and his cohorts.
Upon arrival, Richard was ushered through the body of the manor into an ornate and elaborate garden paradise at the rear, where her ladyship awaited him, standing beneath a stately pleasure dome of oriental design. Running by the structure was a stream blessed with a charming ambience, while beyond that were twice five miles of fertile ground with walls and towers girdled all around. Beyond the bright gardens were many a blossoming incense-bearing tree, surrounded then by forests, ancient as the hills, so that the garden became completely enfolded in sunny spots of greenery.
The former Queen was clad in the most bizarre of raiments imaginable for a lady of her standing, with a buttoned double breasted straw-coloured suit top, under which she wore somewhat incongruous black pantaloons that seemed at odds with not only her royal status, but also her gender. She explained that her attire was allegedly more than 150 years old, having been brought back from the mystic Far East by the Venetian trader Marco Polo in the late 13th Century. Reputedly, it was once worn by a certain Yuan Dynasty Princess known as Kököchin, a member of the royal court of the great Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan. Or, at least, that was the tale the merchant in the town who sold it to her would have had her believe. To Richard’s eye, it more suggested a garb more suited to Kublai Khan’s manservant than to that of a lady of the Royal court, no matter whether of the Chinese or the English variety. Well, to each his (or her) own, Richard thought.
Richard: (with his trademark tact)
You certainly cut a fine figure of a man, milady!
Why don’t you crawl back under that rock whence you came, villain!
Richard: (feigning a fawning disposition)
Why, dear lady, it was you who summoned me hence.
How so, oh malformed devil’s spawn?
By your rebellious acts in York city,
To further the claims of thy upstart son.
Am I to suffer for my Edward’s sins?
I am guiltless, despite thy assertion.
Foul wrinkled witch, what makest thou in my sight?
Wert thou not banished on pain of death,
On the demise of thy lecherous spouse?
I was; but I do find more pain in banishment
Than death can yield me here by my abode.
Did York’s dread curse prevail so much with heaven?
That Henry’s death, my lovely Edward’s death,
Their kingdom’s loss, my woeful banishment,
Could all but answer for that peevish brat?
Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven?
Why, then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses!
If heaven have any grievous plague in store
Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee,
O, let them keep it till thy sins be ripe,
And then hurl down their indignation
On thee, the troubler of the poor world’s peace!
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be whilst some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils!
Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal’d in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother’s heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins!
Thou rag of honour! thou detested………
Have done thy charm, thou hateful wither’d hag!
Thou hast stamina indeed to endure,
Through the travails of a life lived at court,
But thou canst scarcely talk to me of “peace”,
When thy son hath worn a destructive path
Across the Holy Lands, ere this past spring,
From Benghazi to the Levant. Co-sign’d,
It seems to me, by thy well sullied hand.
Forsaken bastard son of Narcissus!
Thou art the most brazen of demagogues!
‘Twas nought to do with me that my Edward,
With youthful zeal, didst bring such misery.
Those drums of war doth beat in hostile lands,
At the whim of Mullahs bent on revenge,
For past injustices that bred disdain,
And made loyal envoys ripe for slaughter.
Such bad, bad experiences, ’tis true,
But such fake tales make thy motives ring false,
Thy chronicles dwell in their own reality,
Entwined in thy tangled web of deceit.
Grope for masculine “truth” if thou desire.
‘Tis a woman’s right to choose false from real!
Deceiving foes is something to cherish,
If it advances one’s malign purpose!
Richard: (leaning over her imposingly)
Thou hast such tremendous hate in thy heart!
Thy misdeeds fester in those dank corners,
Found within the dungeon of thy conscience,
And my hope most fervent: thou remaineth,
Imprison’d by those tormented memories,
As I bear righteous arms to strike thee down,
To banish thy unworthy soul to hell,
For unpunish’d crimes thou hast committed.
(Raises his broad sword and strikes her dead with one deft blow)
Richard: (to himself, standing over Margaret’s bloodied corpse)
I’ve now return’d this most taxing burden,
With one sword’s blow, to her maker’s bosom,
Consign’d her to her sweet oblivion,
Where perhaps this supreme higher power,
Might recast this pestilent fighter’s will,
Leaving her to more affordable care.
His soliloquy finished, Richard dragged Margaret’s lifeless body to the edge of the stream, crossed himself in a vague attempt at piety, and then gently lowered her body into the flowing waters. Her body floated down the stream as it widened to a river, there meandering with a mazy motion through wood and dale until it reached a vast cavern, measureless to man, where her body sank in tumult. Onward and onward her body was carried, until it faded beyond view, headed ultimately towards a lifeless ocean. His sacred duty to the dead complete, Richard then bestrode his noble steed and began riding hastily back to York city, to the Tower where his hapless brother Clarence awaited his final curtain, a fate Richard was hopeful of expediting before there was any chance that King Edward’s death might precede it. As he rode back along the country lanes, he gazed about the fields that lay on either side of the road, where it fleetingly seemed to him, in a moment of rare and all-too-brief clarity, that his country was dying. The vines in the vineyards seemed strangely withered, their grapes were now shrivelled and dry, not plump and robust as they had seemed on his forward journey. The wagon that he had seen along the way loaded with corn now lay askew as its front axle had broken, sheared off no doubt by the undue weight of its load. Now its bounty lay strewn about on the ground, spoiling in the hot summer sun, while the farmers ploughed in the surrounding withered fields for bread in vain.
It was an easy thing, he thought, to triumph in the summer’s sun. Richard could easily listen to a hungry raven’s cry in the wintry season when his red blood was fill’d with wine and with the marrow of lambs, without so much as a twinge of conscience or a single pang of guilt. Similarly, it had always been an easy thing for him to laugh at wrathful elements, to hear the dog howl at the wintry door, or listen to the ox in the slaughter house moan. Richard had long since chosen to see a God on every wind and a blessing on every blast; To hear sounds of love in the thunder storm that destroyed his enemies’ houses; To rejoice in the blight that covered their fields, and the sicknesses that cut off their children.
But now, this groan and the dolor should be quite forgotten, he thought. It remains universal that there will always be slaves to grind at the mill, whilst captives remain bound in their chains, and the poor confined to their prisons. Soldiers, for whom Richard had always held a special fondness, would remain forever consigned to their inevitable fates: to lie dying in the sundry battlefields to come, where their shatter’d bones would lay them groaning among the happier dead. The injustices of the world beyond, from now on, need be of no further consequence to him. He was henceforth to be nought but an island, entire of himself in a sea of iniquity, and such considerations would not deter him one moment longer from his brutal and ambitious mission.
Richard heard a bell tolling in the distance as he rode briskly into town, and strangely came to the singular belief that it was tolling for him, and for him alone. Thus, it finally dawned on him: It was an easy thing indeed for people to talk of patience to those afflicted such as he. Those of such misshapen form or misbegotten lineage, who routinely suffered mocking derision from the common throng, and were then expected to wither and shrivel in a discrete corner awaiting the merest crumb of kindness or favour from their “betters”. Well, it was not to be so any longer for such deplorable creatures as he! Richard was now even more determined to make his path to glory in his own image, in his own way and in his own time. No wall could be built too long, no tower too high, no barricade too impenetrable to keep him from his destiny!
(Exuent, riding off into the distance)
Act 2 Scene 1:
York City. The Tower, where Clarence awaits word from his brother, King Edward, hoping against hope that he might be summoned so that he might clear his name of these wrongful accusations of treason that had unjustly been levelled against him. Clarence is sitting in a lime tree bower within the centre courtyard of the tower, a place of contemplation reserved for the condemned prior to their execution, when his brother Richard arrives to offer comfort and consolation to his brother.
Richard! Dearest brother, you are well come.
I regret I’ve lost beauties and feelings,
Such as those that would have been the most sweet,
To my remembrance even when advanced age
Hath dimm’d mine eyes to blindness! Woe, alas!
Richard: (feigning concern)
My gentle-hearted Clarence! Thou hast pined
And hunger’d after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! It shan’t be long,
Dear brother, before the King sees reason,
And thou canst enjoy sweet freedom once more.
As I looked out this very eve, the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air.
Homewards, I blest it! Deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,
While I stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o’er my head, and had a charm
For thee, my kind-hearted Richard, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.
I’m grateful, brother, for thy well-wishes.
I hope thy blessing is returned in kind,
For ’tis thee who needs the Lord’s Grace, not I.
I’ve seen the World in a grain of sand,
And Heaven in a wild flower,
Held Infinity in the palm of my hand,
and Eternity in an hour.
I must hasten now to King Edward’s side,
And entreat His Majesty on your behalf.
Trust me, sweet Clarence, I shalt not fail thee!
Clarence: (to himself)
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“The breath goes now,” and some say, “No,”
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
As Richard walked away from his brother, he thought of how much he despised his trusting and innocent disposition, not to mention his complete lack of perceptiveness as to Richard’s true nature and motivations. He thought of his brother Clarence’s naivety thus:
“This life’s dim windows of the soul,
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole,
And leads you to believe a lie,
When you see with, not through, the eye.”
With this in mind, Richard then wandered down into the town to a local public house of his acquaintance where he met with two ruffians who, for the princely sum of 30 gold nobles, were hired to deal with his milquetoast sibling once and for all. A warrant in Richard’s hand was then given to these murderers, a missive in which Clarence was summoned from the Tower to confront the King over the allegations that had been made against him. As one might expect, Richard had ensured that his brother would not survive this final journey, and some hours later Clarence’s body was indeed found in the bushes by the highway some four miles out of town, stabbed multiple times in the chest, abdomen and neck, with much blood and gore spread round the scene that left the impression of a frenzied attack.
When notified of the murder of his brother, Richard feigned distress and shock at first, then collecting himself waxed philosophically to those gathered around him:
“Man was made for joy and woe,
Then when this we rightly know,
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul to bind.”
As Richard accepted the consolations and expressions of sympathy from those around him, he could not help but smile inwardly at his well laid plans having come to fruition so successfully. He consoled himself with a final thought on his late, lamented brother:
“Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.”
Act 2 Scene 2:
The Tower, in Richard’s private quarters situated high atop the newly constructed castle keep that arose from the west wing of the tower, a turret heavily machicolated to protect against unwanted intrusions by allowing boiling oil to be dropped on those plebeians below who might dare to arrive uninvited.
Richard and his partner in crime, the Duke of Buckingham, are pacing back and forth across the room, engaged in vigorous debate over the most pressing affair of state imaginable, namely how Richard, the hideously hunchbacked Duke of Gloucester, might conquer that most insurmountable of foes: namely the indomitable and not-always-so-fair Lady Anne. Having made short work of the former Queen Margaret and his own weak-willed brother Clarence, Richard planned to wed and bed the Black Prince’s widow in due course in the expectation of an upcoming ascent to the kingly throne, that is once his sickly older sibling, King Edward, had finally reached the end of his ever shortening rope.
Her raven-hair’d beauty dost beguile me,
But to win her I must dress in finery
Of the highest fashion to hide my form,
Lest it invoke her womanly disgust.
All the finest silken cloth in the realm,
Could scarcely hide thy misshapen aspect,
But a gift for romantic turns of phrase,
Hath been known to make the hardest of hearts,
Soften through those persuasive allusions,
That pander to love’s grander illusions.
Having little prowess for poetry,
Could I rely upon thy skills, kind sir,
To produce words of persuasive devotion,
To seduce this most feminine creature,
And release her wanton harlot within?
A sight to see, I’m sure, my noble friend.
But what of thy wife, Countess Melania?
Wilt she not object most strenuously,
To thy assignation with Lady Anne?
Our union is a secret well guarded,
So the Countess therefore has little choice,
But to acquiesce to allow my desires,
Whether in marriage or the bedchamber!
Any protestations she might care to make
Are destined to fall upon deaf ears.
But, of course, what she doth not know…….
Let’s not delay any longer; Lady Anne awaits
And love’s destiny is in the offing!
So Richard and his literary offsider, the not-so-noble Duke of Buckingham, rode off to the Black Prince’s estate on the outskirts of Washing Town. Undeterred by the hostile reception he was likely to receive from the acolytes of the recently deceased would-be usurper, Richard confidently headed east at some pace, certain that the prize awaiting him there would be all the sweeter for hearing the distant chorus of consternation arising from these unpatriotic vermin who resided in the swamp waters surrounding this corrupt, little backwater township.
Act 2 Scene 3:
Casa di Caprio, the magnificent hacienda-styled villa sitting high atop the tallest hill overlooking Washing Town. Beyond the main building’s manicured grounds were surrounding plantations of coffee, tobacco and cacao, where the Spanish-speaking braceros and slaves who were indentured to the former Black Prince harvest these cash crops from dawn till dusk. Presently, Richard and the Duke of Buckingham arrive on horseback, tie their mounts to the hitching rail and stride confidently inside. There they meet with Lady Anne’s maid servant, who ushers them into the reception room to await her ladyship.
(Enter Lady Anne)
Lady Anne: (still wearing Richard’s ring, feigning disdain but secretly pleased at his arrival)
A sudden pall hath enshrouded my home,
And Lo! Who else but thee, noble Gloucester!
Hast thou come to claim thy prize, foul devil?
Thy shape of beauty moves away the pall,
Of our dark spirits, and o’er-darken’d ways!
Thou art more lovely and more temperate
Than a summer’s day, and more refreshing
Than endless fountains of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heavens’ brink.
Thy silver’d tongue belies a blacken’d heart!
Let’s now leave the woeful world behind us,
With careless lips, eyes and hands desirous,
To enslave our bodies to passion’s needs,
That are soon reconciled in carnal deeds,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Let’s retire to my bedchamber, milord,
To abandon ourselves to lust and need,
Where thou shalt match thy eloquence in deed!
Lady Anne then ascends the stairs and, turning to Richard, gives him a conspicuous “come hither” look as she enters the bedchamber above. Richard acknowledges her with a wink, and when she has gone from his view he turns to Buckingham and thanks him for his service in scripting the two snippets of dialogue that he had used so tellingly in wooing the reluctant wench who now awaited him in her boudoir.
Thy honey’d words hath soothed the savage breast,
Of that luscious creature whom I shall best,
In the brutish battleground of her bed,
In stark remembrance of her maidenhead!
The pleasure is mine, milord. Anything to help the cause.