Taking into consideration of the language and structure of the play, how would you direct a stage version of Act 1 of Richard III?

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Faith Austin                AS English Literature

Taking into consideration of the language and structure of the play, how would you direct a stage version of Act 1 of Richard III?

Richard III is definitely a play that needs to be looked at in depth. Shakespeare has so many themes and ideas running through the play when directing a stage version the director needs to take this into account. Shakespeare shows the importance of his themes and ideas through the structure and the languages used. For this essay I will be focusing on Act 1 in particular.

In the opening we are introduced to Richard and are given a basic history and background, that there has been war and now it is over. “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York.” Shakespeare started the play in this way because of the ‘equilibrium’; everything is neutral, war is over and there is peace. Shakespeare seems to suggest urgency the ‘Now’ indicates he wants attention, he has authority. And yet we get this opposition between ‘winter’ and ‘summer’, which suggests a fight with himself and for his identity. The use of natural imagery introduces the idea of nature vs. nurture, here Shakespeare is already asking whether Richard is naturally a villain, or whether his strives to be one. Therefore when Richard first comes on stage I would have him take his time to come to the centre front, to contradict the urgency that he wants when he speaks. I would have him put emphasis on the words winter and summer, so the natural imagery comes across. The theme of identity leads me on to my next point.

Shakespeare is trying to portray this idea of identity by using an oxymoron and ambiguity to play with how Richard sees himself. When Richard says “unless to see my shadow in the sun / And descant on mine own deformity” this illustrates the fight within Richard. By his shadow being in the sun he almost looks at himself in this negative way, as if he overcasts a shadow on those that are good. This is where the ambiguity is, as it could portray his inflated ego, as he uses ‘descant’ which can mean a criticism, but also a melody. Therefore Richard can be saying that he can look at his shadow and criticise himself in a negative way. Or, that even though he is rejected, he enjoys his deformity as he knows that he is intelligent and can use that to his own advantage. Here I would direct the actor playing Richard to look down slowly at his shadow, pause, and smile as he looks back at the audience showing that fight between his ‘shadow’ and ego.

After Richard’s soliloquy Shakespeare introduces us to his brother Clarence, we learn that Richard has been plotting to turn his two brothers against each other. We also learn that Clarence has been sent to the Tower. Therefore we know Richard isn’t wasting time.  Richard informs his brother he will do everything in his power to set him free. Again, Richard is left to speak with himself. Shakespeare wants us to keep seeing into Richards mind and know what he is thinking. He wants us to question Richard’s character, as he keeps changing his whole presentation of self so quickly, from being a loving brother, to someone plotting his death. “Simple plain Clarence, I do love thee so / That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven.” This is again a question of Richard’s whole identity, and the idea of roles. Therefore I would direct the actor to change his whole physicality from when he is on stage with others and when on his own. When talking to himself, his posture will be strong (for a disabled man) and his chin pulled close to him; to show his self-confidence in his intelligence, yet his secrecy. To show the change in character when with others he would roll his shoulders forward and try to hunch further over but hold his head up to the other character, consequently they will trust him because he will constantly be able to keep eye contact with them, but he will be hunched over to draw attention to his disability. This would make him seem fragile; not the usual suspect of murder. This would demonstrate his ability to perform roles, so we can see how he can be so manipulative.

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The second scene is at the funeral of Lady Anne’s father in law whom Richard killed, as well as Anne’s husband.  This is the first scene of the play we see with women, the fact that the first woman we see is wooing and in grief, shows us the stereotype of women at that time. Shakespeare wanted us to have this image of how women were perceived, but also how the women in this play perceive as just before Richard enters, Anne has a monologue, cursing him, in which she says “Oh, cursed be the hand that made these ...

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