Jefferson Forest’s Cavalier Theatre has taken on a biggie with its latest Shakespearean production, “Richard III,” which begins its four-day run on Thursday.
The tragedy/history happens to be the Bard’s second longest play and features an action-packed plot, along with a character list that’s “Game of Thrones”-level complicated.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a high school doing it,” says Spence White, JF’s theater director. “I’ve certainly not even heard anywhere around here of somebody doing ‘Richard III.’”
Taking on this challenging play has given White’s students a chance to delve into one of Shakespeare’s most fascinating characters, and Central Virginia audiences now have the same opportunity.
“It’s unique or rare in that the antagonist is also the protagonist,” says White. “The bad guy is the main character, and he's the guy the audience gets behind in spite of themselves. They kind of love to hate him, and Richard is great fun to watch.”
To help you manage this beast of a play, The Burg graciously gifts you with “Richard III: the plot, the peeps, the point.”
The plot in just over 40 words
Richard methodically murders his way to the throne of England, offing his brothers, assorted family members and other enemies. It works for a bit, but Richard’s evil, so he eventually loses the love of the people, his allies and his life.
The main player
Richard, known as the Duke of Gloucester, is King Edward IV’s youngest brother. He was born with a deformity, which is often talked about. He’s considered by many to be one of Shakespeare’s best villains. Richie is cunning, politically savvy and quite funny (even if his sense of humor is seriously twisted).
The ones in Richard’s way:
– Edward IV: The current king of England and older brother of Richard and George. His health is failing — something Richard uses to his advantage to remove him from the throne.
– George, Duke of Clarence: Brother of King Edward IV and Richard. Richard gets George arrested for treason, then has him murdered in the Tower of London. Talk about sibling rivalry.
– Richmond: The guy who finally kills Richard. Also known as Henry, Earl of Richmond, and becomes King Henry VII. He shows up in the final act of the play to save the day, much like the perfect, dashing hero he’s supposed to be.
In fact, he’s almost too perfect. This is most likely because the real Henry VII’s ascension to the throne began the Tudor Dynasty, which was still in power when Shakespeare wrote his play. Rule of thumb: don’t criticize Elizabeth I’s granddaddy.
– Duke of Buckingham: Richard’s right-hand-man in all his dastardly deeds. Buckingham’s almost as amoral and ambitious as Richard, but turns on him when Richard asks him to kill Edward IV’s two sons (often referred to as the young princes since they’re children). Despite seeing the error of his ways, Buckingham’s end is rather bloody.
The women in Richard’s life:
– Lady Anne Neville: The widow of the late Prince Edward of Westminster and daughter-in-law of the late King Henry VI, whom Richard’s family (violently) removed from the throne in order to take it for themselves.
Despite knowing Richard is responsible for her husband and father-in-law’s deaths, she marries him. Richard eventually kills her too. Fun fact: Richard seduces Anne during her father-in-law’s funeral procession, in front of his corpse. #Classy.
– Queen Elizabeth: Wife of King Edward IV and mother of the two young princes (whom Richard has killed to remove them from the line of succession) and the young Elizabeth (whom Richard tries to marry after offing Anne).
– Margaret: The widow of Henry VI. She’s old and bitter — obviously. Casa de Richard murdered her husband and took her crown. But don’t write her off just yet. Margaret spends much of the play cursing people. And we don’t mean hurling expletives and insults (though she does quite a bit of that too); she puts actual magical curses on people, which come true. *Cue the eerie ghost noises*
– Duchess of York: Richard’s mom. Not a fan of his — maybe because he killed her other two kids? Just a thought.
There’s a ton more characters, but we think that’s enough to deal with. Don’t you?
At least 11, including the deaths of Henry IV and Prince Edward that take place offstage before the play begins. Also, there’s a battle, so bodies add up.
– Blind ambition
Like so many Shakespearean tragedies (and histories), the pursuit of power by any means necessary is a central theme in “Richard III.” And like most times the theme crops up, it ends with the same moral: lusting for power won’t bring you happiness (it also might get you killed), and climbing over others to get to the top will almost certainly leave you all alone. #KingingforDummies.
– Strength in words
As a playwright, Shakespeare was big into exploring the power of language, and “Richard III” is one of the best examples of this. He gains the crown through well-placed words, and though Margaret’s curses are dismissed as the mutterings of a bitter woman, they all come true in the end.
– Come to the dark side, there’s cookies
The temptation and seductive nature of evil is a biggie. Many of the characters allow themselves to fall for Richard’s charm and enticing words even though they know he’s a bad dude, and it often leads directly to their deaths. Even Shakespeare’s audience experiences the allure of evil through Richard’s manipulative words (another example of the power of language), which have many rooting for him by the end of the play despite his crimes.
Did you know?
– “Richard III” is set during the real-life War of the Roses, a series of civil wars fought by the houses of Lancaster and York for control of the throne of England.
– Richard III’s remains were discovered in 2012 beneath a parking lot in the city of Leicester, approximately 20 miles from where he died on Bosworth Field.
– Turns out much of the details in “Richard III” were fiction. There’s no evidence that Richard murdered Edward IV’s sons, Anne or Edward of Westminster and some of the other characters he dispatches in the play were actually executed (which is a legal process) for conspiracy. As for that deformity, science points to scoliosis. Artistic license, am I right?