David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD III: A Retelling in Prose —Act 1, Scene 2

— 1.2 —

On another street in London, the corpse of King Henry VI lay in an open coffin on a bier. Four gentlemen carried the bier. Attendants carrying halberds — a combined spear and battle-ax — guarded the body. Mourning the body was Lady Anne, King Henry VI’s daughter-in-law. Only nine or so people were present, including the gentlemen who were carrying the bier. Two of Lady Anne’s attendants, Tressel and Berkeley, were with her. The ruling party wanted little attention given to the disposal of King Henry VI’s corpse, and Lady Anne was being defiant by publicly mourning his death.

Lady Anne said, “Set down your honorable load, if honor may be shrouded in a coffin — does honor belong only to the living? Wait while I for a while lament as a mourner with proper regard for the untimely fall of virtuous Lancaster. The fall of the Lancastrian King Henry VI is also the fall of the House of Lancaster! Poor figure of a holy King! Your body is as cold as an iron key during winter. Pale remains of the House of Lancaster! You bloodless remnant of that royal blood! May it be lawful that I call upon your ghost, as if you were a saint, to hear the lamentations of Poor Anne, who was wife to your Edward, your slaughtered son, stabbed by the selfsame hand — that of Richard, Duke of Gloucester — that made these wounds that killed you! In these windows — your wounds — that let forth your life, I pour the unavailing and useless balm of my poor eyes — my tears.

“Cursed be the hand that made these fatal holes in your body! Cursed be the heart that had the heart to do it! Cursed be the blood that let this blood flow from out of your body! May a more direful fortune befall that hated wretch, who makes us wretched by your death, than I can wish to adders, spiders, toads, or any creeping poisonous thing that lives!

“If your murderer should ever have a child, let it be defective, monstrous, and prematurely brought to light. Let it have an ugly and unnatural appearance that will frighten the hopeful mother when she looks at it, and let that child be the heir to his evil, wrongdoing, and unhappiness!

“If he should ever have a wife, let her be made as miserable by the death of him as I am made by the deaths of my poor husband and you! Let her suffer from the death of a loved one as I have suffered!”

She said to the pallbearers, “Come, now let us go towards the monastery of Chertsey near London with your holy load, which we have taken from Saint Paul’s Cathedral to be interred there, and whenever you are weary from carrying the weight, rest yourselves while I lament King Henry VI’s corpse.”

The pallbearers lifted the bier.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, walked up to the group of people and said, “Stop, you who bear the corpse, and set it down.”

Lady Anne said, “What black magician has conjured up this fiend to stop our holy and charitable deeds?”

“Villains, set down the corpse,” Richard said, “or, by Saint Paul, I’ll make a corpse of him who disobeys me.”

A gentleman said, “My lord, stand back, and let the coffin pass.”

“Unmannered dog!” Richard said. “Halt, when I command you to. Stop pointing your halberd at my chest and instead hold it upright, or, by Saint Paul, I’ll strike you with my foot and spurn you, beggar, for your boldness in disobeying me.”

The pallbearers set down the bier.

Lady Anne said to them, “Do you tremble? Are you all afraid? I don’t blame you, for you are mortal, and mortal eyes cannot endure the devil.”

She said to Richard, “Avaunt, you dreadful minister of Hell!”

The word “avaunt” was a strong way of saying “get lost” and was used in addressing malevolent spirits.

She continued, “You had power only over the mortal body of King Henry VI. His soul you have no power over and cannot have; therefore, be gone.”

Richard replied, “Sweet saint, for charity, be not so curst and ill-tempered.”

Lady Anne said to Richard, “Foul devil, for God’s sake, go away from here and stop troubling us, for you have made the happy Earth your Hell. You have filled it with cursing cries and deep outcries. If you delight to view your heinous deeds, behold this corpse — this example of your butcheries.”

She said to the men with her, “Gentlemen, see, see! The dead King Henry VI’s wounds open their congealed mouths and bleed afresh! Such things happen when a corpse is in the presence of its murderer!”

She said to Richard, “Blush, blush, you lump of foul deformity, for it is your presence that draws out this blood from cold and empty veins where no blood dwells. Your murderous deed, which is inhuman and unnatural, provokes this most unnatural deluge of blood.

“God, Who made King Henry VI’s blood, revenge his death!

“Earth, which drinks King Henry VI’s blood, revenge his death!

“May either Heaven with lightning strike the murderer dead or Earth gape wide open and eat Richard quickly, as quickly as you swallow up this good King Henry VI’s blood that Richard’s Hell-governed arm has butchered!”

Richard replied, “Lady, you know no rules of Christian charity, which renders good for bad, and blessings for curses.”

“Villain, you know no law of God or man,” Lady Anne said. “No beast is so fierce but that it knows some touch of pity.”

“But I know none, and I therefore am no beast.”

“You are not a beast, and you are not a man. It’s wonderful when devils tell the truth!”

“It is more to be wondered at when angels are so angry,” Richard said. “Grant me, you divine perfection of a woman, the opportunity to acquit myself in detail of these supposed evils.”

“Grant me, you shapeless plague of a man, the opportunity to curse your cursed self in detail for these known evils.”

“You who are more beautiful than tongue can say, let me have some patient leisure time in which to explain to you my actions.”

“You who are fouler than any heart can think you to be, you can make no justified excuse for your actions other than to hang yourself.”

“By such despair, I should accuse myself,” Richard said.

Lady Anne said, “Yes, and also, by despairing, you should stand excused for your sin because you would do worthy vengeance on yourself, who did unworthy and undeserved slaughter upon others.”

The despair they meant was the kind that involved believing that Richard had sinned so greatly that God was incapable of forgiving him. That kind of despair meant committing the sin of pride since God is merciful and can forgive any sin that is sincerely repented. That kind of despair also often results in committing suicide, which is another sin. Dante’sInfernodescribes a ring in Hell that includes the suicides. Lady Anne would be happy if Richard were to despair, commit suicide, and be damned to Hell for eternity.

Richard said, “Suppose that I did not kill your husband and your father-in-law: Prince Edward and King Henry VI.”

“Why, then they would not be dead, but they are dead, and you devilish slave, you murdered them.”

“I did not kill your husband.”

“Why, then he is alive.”

“No, he is dead; King Edward IV’s hand slew him.”

“In your foul throat you lie,” Lady Anne said. “Queen Margaret, the wife of King Henry VI, saw your murderous sword steaming with his blood. That same sword you once pointed at her breast and would have used to murder her if your brothers — Clarence and Edward IV — had not beaten aside the swordpoint.”

“I was provoked by Queen Margaret’s slanderous tongue, which laid the guilt of my two brothers upon my guiltless shoulders.”

“You were provoked by your own bloody mind, which never dreamt about anything but butcheries,” Lady Anne said. “Did you not kill this King — Henry VI?”

“I grant you that I did,” Richard said.

“You grant me, hedgehog?” Lady Anne said, mockingly referring to Richard’s emblem, which was a boar.

An emblem is a heraldic device that symbolizes a family or person.

She continued, “Then, may God grant me something, too — that you be damned for that wicked deed! Oh, King Henry VI was gentle, mild, and virtuous!”

“Then he was all the fitter for the King of Heaven, Who has him.”

“He is in Heaven, where you shall never come.”

“Let King Henry VI thank me, who helped to send him to Heaven, for he was fitter for that place than Earth.”

“And you are unfit for any place but Hell.”

“I am fit for one other place, if you will hear me name it,” Richard said.

“You are fit for some dungeon.”

“I am fit for your bedchamber.”

“May troubled sleep be the rule in any bedchamber where you lie!”

“That will be the case, madam, until I lie with you.”

“I hope so,” Lady Anne said. “You will never lie with me, and so you will always endure troubled sleep.”

“I know so,” Richard said. “I know that I will endure troubled sleep until I lie with you. But, gentle Lady Anne, let us leave this keen encounter of our wits, and fall somewhat into a slower method of thinking. Isn’t the causer of the untimely deaths of these Plantagenets, King Henry VI and his only son, Prince Edward, as blameful as the executioner?”

“You are the cause, and you are the most accursed effect,” Lady Anne replied.

The word “effect” usually means “result,” but Lady Anne was using it in the sense of “fulfillment.” She meant that Richard was fully responsible for the two murders — he had been the cause of the fulfillment — accomplishment — of the two murders.

In his reply, Richard used the word “effect” with its usual meaning of “result”: “Your beauty was the cause of that effect. Your beauty that haunted me in my sleep caused me to undertake the death of all of the world, so that I might live one hour in your sweet bosom. Your beauty caused me to act as I did.”

“If I thought that, I tell you, murderer, my fingernails should rend that beauty from my cheeks.”

“These eyes could never endure sweet beauty’s destruction,” Richard replied. “You would not blemish your beauty, if I stood by — I would stop you. As all the world is cheered by the Sun, so I am cheered by your beauty; your beauty is my day, my life.”

“May black night darken your day, and may death darken your life!”

“Curse not yourself, fair creature — you are both my day and my life.”

“I wish I were, so I could be revenged on you,” Lady Anne said. “I would end that day and that life.”

“It is a most unnatural quarrel to be revenged on the man who loves you.”

“It is a quarrel just and reasonable to be revenged on him who slew my husband.”

“He who bereft you, lady, of your husband, did it to help you to a better husband.”

“His better does not breathe upon the earth.”

“He lives who loves you better than he — Prince Edward — could.”

“Name him.”

“Plantagenet,” Richard replied.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was a Plantagenet, by virtue of being a York; however, Prince Edward, Lady Anne’s late husband, was also a Plantagenet, by virtue of being a Lancaster. The House of York and the House of Lancaster shared a common ancestry. One of the sons of King Edward III — who was a Plantagenet — was John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster.Another of King Edward III’s sons was Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York.

“Why, Prince Edward was a Plantagenet,” Lady Anne replied.

“I mean a person with the same name, but with a better nature.”

“Where is he?”

“Here he is. I am he.”

Lady Anne spit at him. According to folklore, this was a way to ward off the malevolent influence of the evil eye.

Richard asked, “Why do you spit at me?”

“I wish it were deadly poison, for your sake!” Lady Anne replied.

“Poison has never come from so sweet a place.”

“Never has poison hung on a fouler toad than you! Get out of my sight! You infect my eyes.”

“Your eyes, sweet lady, have infected mine.”

In this culture, one person’s eyes were thought to be able to affect another person’s eyes. For example, people thought that illness could be transferred through glances from sore eyes. However, people also believed that love entered the body through the eyes.

“I wish that my eyes were basilisks, to strike you dead!”

Basilisks were mythological creatures that could kill simply by looking at a living thing.

“I wish they were, that I might die at once, immediately and once and for all, for now they kill me with a living death,” Richard said. “Your eyes have from mine drawn salt tears. Your eyes have caused me to shame the appearance of my eyes with a store of childish drops — tears. Your eyes have done that to these eyes of mine that have never before shed a remorseful tear.

“No, I did not weep even when my father — Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York — and my brother Edward, who is now King, wept when they heard the piteous moan that my late brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland, made when the black-faced and darkly angry Lancastrian supporter John de Clifford shook his sword at him and then killed him. No, I did not weep even when your warlike father, the Earl of Warwick, like a child, told the sad story of my father’s death and paused twenty times to sob and weep. All the bystanders who heard your father tell the tale wet their cheeks like trees dashed with rain, but in that sad time my manly eyes scorned to shed even one humble tear.

“But what these sorrows could not do — make me cry — your beauty has. Your beauty has made my eyes blind with weeping. I never sued to friend or enemy. My tongue could never learn sweet, smooth, flattering words. But now your beauty is proposed my fee, and so my proud heart sues, and prompts my tongue to speak. If speaking and pleading will earn for me your beauty, then I will speak and plead.”

Lady Anne looked scornfully at Richard.

Richard said, “Teach not your lips such scorn, for they were made for kissing, lady, not for such contempt. If your revengeful heart cannot forgive me, then here and now I give you this sharp-pointed sword, which if you please to hide it in my true and faithful bosom and let the soul that adores you leave my body, I lay it naked to the deadly stroke, and humbly beg the death that follows judgment upon my knee.”

Richard gave her his sword, knelt, and opened his shirt to lay bare his chest. Lady Anne pointed the sword at his chest, and then she paused.

Richard said, “No, do not pause, for I did kill King Henry VI, but it was your beauty that provoked me to kill him. Now dispatch me; it was I who stabbed young Prince Edward, your husband, but it was your Heavenly face that set me on.”

Lady Anne dropped the sword.

Richard said, “Take up the sword again, or take up me.”

Richard was in the position of a suppliant. If Lady Anne were to take his hand and help him up, she would be accepting his suit by showing mercy to the suppliant.

She said, “Arise, dissembler. Although I wish your death, I will not be the executioner.”

Richard rose, unassisted, and said, “Then order me to kill myself, and I will do it.”

“I have already done that.”

“Tush, you said that in your rage. Speak it again, and, even with the word, that hand, which, for your love, did kill your love — your husband — shall, for your love, kill a far truer love — mine. To both their deaths you shall be an accessary.”

“I wish that I knew what was in your heart.”

“What is in my heart appears in my tongue — with the words I say, I express what is in my heart.”

“I am afraid that both your heart and your tongue are false and treacherous.”

“Then no man has ever been true and faithful.”

“Well, well, sheathe your sword,” Lady Anne said.

“Say, then, my peace is made,” Richard said. “Say that we have made peace between us.”

The terms that Richard wanted with the peace treaty included marriage to Lady Anne.

“That you shall know hereafter.”

“But shall I live in hope?”

“All men, I hope, live in hope.”

“Agree to wear this ring,” Richard said, holding out a ring.

“To take is not to give,” Lady Anne replied.

Richard put the ring on Lady Anne’s finger and said, “Just like this ring encompasses your finger, even so your breast encloses my poor heart. Wear both of them, for both of them are yours. And if your poor devoted suppliant may but beg one favor at your gracious hand, you will confirm his happiness forever.”

“What favor do you wish?”

“That it would please you to leave these sad designs — the funeral arrangement for King Henry VI — to a man who has more cause to be a mourner. I want you to immediately go to Crosby Place, one of my residences in London, where, after I have solemnly interred at Chertsey monastery this noble King, and wet his grave with my repentant tears, I will with all speedy and expeditious duty see you. For many secret reasons, I beg you, grant me this favor.”

“With all my heart, I grant it, and it gives me much joy, too, to see you have become so penitent.”

She ordered her attendants, “Tressel and Berkeley, go along with me.”

“Tell me farewell,” Richard said.

“Faring well is more than you deserve,” Lady Anne replied, “but since you are teaching me how to flatter you, imagine I have said farewell already.”

Lady Anne, Tressel, and Berkeley departed.

“Sirs, take up the corpse,” Richard said to the pallbearers.

“Towards Chertsey, noble lord?” one of the pallbearers asked.

“No, to Whitefriars; there await my coming.”

Whitefriars was a monastery in London. Richard had no real reason to have the corpse taken there rather than to Chertsey, except to be contrary and not do what he had told Lady Anne he would do.

Everyone departed, leaving Richard by himself.

Pleased with how his courtship of Lady Anne had gone, he said to himself, “Was ever a woman in this manner wooed? Was ever a woman in this manner won? I’ll have her, legally and sexually, but I will not keep her long.

“What! I, who killed her husband, Prince Edward, and his father, King Henry VI, have taken and conquered Lady Anne when her heart was filled with the extremest hate of me, when she had curses for me in her mouth and tears in her eyes, when the bleeding witness — the corpse of King Henry VI — of her hatred for me was nearby, when God, her conscience, and these obstructions were all against me, and I had nothing to back my wooing of her at all except the plain devil and dissembling, hypocritical looks, and yet I won her, with all the world against me and nothing for me! Ha!

“Has she already forgotten that brave Prince Edward, her lord and husband, whom I, some three months ago, stabbed in my angry mood in the Battle of Tewksbury? A sweeter and a lovelier gentleman, created with the prodigality and generosity of nature, young, valiant, wise, and, no doubt, extremely royal and made to be a King, the spacious world cannot again afford, and will she yet debase and lower her eyes on me, who cropped the golden prime of this sweet Prince, and made her widow to a woeful bed? She will lower her eyes on me, whose all does not equal Prince Edward’s half? On me, who limps and is misshapen?

“I bet my Dukedom against a beggarly small coin that I have been mistaken about my personal appearance all this while. Upon my life, she finds, although I cannot, that I am a marvelously handsome man. I’ll buy a mirror, and pay some score or two of tailors to study fashions to adorn my body. Since I am crept in favor with myself, and have discovered that I am handsome, I will maintain my appearance with some little cost.

“But first I’ll dump yonder fellow into his grave, and then I will return lamenting to my ‘love’: Lady Anne.

“Shine out, fair Sun, until I have bought a mirror, so that I may see my shadow as I walk.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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