David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD III: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, scene 3

 — 1.3 —

In a room of the palace was Queen Elizabeth, wife of the very ill King Edward IV. With her were Rivers, Dorset, and Grey.

Queen Elizabeth’s maiden name was Elizabeth Woodville.

Rivers was Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, and he was the brother of Queen Elizabeth.

Dorset was the Marquess of Dorset, and he was a son of Queen Elizabeth, aka Lady Grey. This son is from a marriage previous to that with King Edward IV. Dorset’s father was Sir John Grey.

Grey, Dorset’s brother, was Lord Richard Grey, another son of Queen Elizabeth. This son is from a marriage previous to that with King Edward IV. Grey’s father was Sir John Grey.

Rivers said to his sister, Queen Elizabeth, “Have patience, madam. There’s no doubt that his majesty will soon recover his accustomed health.”

Queen Elizabeth’s son Grey said to her, “When you badly endure his illness, it makes him worse. Therefore, for God’s sake, allow yourself to be comforted, and cheer up his grace with quick and merry words.”

“If my husband the King were dead, what would happen to me?” Queen Elizabeth asked.

“No other harm but loss of such a lord and husband,” Rivers, her brother, replied.

“The loss of such a lord and husband includes all harm,” she said.

Grey said, “The Heavens have blessed you with a goodly son to be your comforter when he is gone.”

That son was the young Edward, the current Prince of Wales.

“Oh, he is young and while he is too young to govern, his power will be put unto the trust of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, a man who does not love me, or any of you. If my son Edward becomes King of England, then because Edward is so young, Richard will have the royal power until Edward becomes an adult.”

“Is it concluded that Richard shall be Lord Protector?” Rivers asked.

“It has been decided that he will be, but the decision is not officially made yet, but it will be officially made, if King Edward IV dies,” Queen Elizabeth said.

The Duke of Buckingham and Lord Stanley, who was the Earl of Derby, entered the room.

Grey said, “Here come the lords of Buckingham and Derby.”

Buckingham greeted Queen Elizabeth, “Good time of day unto your royal grace!”

Lord Stanley greeted Queen Elizabeth, “May God make your majesty as joyful as you have been!”

Queen Elizabeth replied, “The Countess Richmond, my good Lord Stanley, to your good prayers will scarcely say amen.”

The Countess Richmond was Lord Stanley’s wife. Her maiden name was Margaret Beaufort, and her first marriage was to Edmund Tudor, first Earl of Richmond, with whom she had had a son: Henry Tudor, second Earl of Richmond. Henry Tudor had inherited his father’s title. One of Countess Richmond’s ancestors was King Edward III. Henry Tudor was a member of the House of Lancaster.

Queen Elizabeth continued, “Still, Lord Stanley, notwithstanding she’s your wife, and she does not love me, I want you, my good lord, to be assured that I do not hate you on account of her proud arrogance.”

“I beg you,” Lord Stanley said, “either to not believe the malicious slanders of her false accusers, or, if she is justly accused, to bear with her weakness, which I think proceeds from chronic sickness, and not from firmly grounded and deeply rooted malice.”

Rivers asked, “Did you see the King today, Lord Stanley?”

“Just now the Duke of Buckingham and I have come from visiting his majesty.”

“What is the likelihood of his recovery from his illness, lords?” Queen Elizabeth asked.

“Madam, there is good hope of recovery,” Buckingham replied. “His grace speaks cheerfully.”

“May God grant him health!” Queen Elizabeth said. “Did you talk with him?”

“Madam, we did,” Buckingham said. “He desires to make reconciliation between the Duke of Gloucester and your brothers, and between them and Hastings, who is the Lord Chamberlain, and he sent people to summon them to his royal presence.”

“I wish that all were well!” Queen Elizabeth said. “But that will never be. I fear that our happiness is at the highest point and will soon suffer a decline.”

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Lord Chamberlain Hastings entered the room.

Pretending to be angry, Richard complained, “They do me wrong, and I will not endure it! Who are they who complain to King Edward IV that I indeed am stern and do not love and respect them?

“By holy Saint Paul, they love his grace only lightly when they fill his ears with such dissentious rumors. Because I cannot flatter and speak nicely, smile in men’s faces, smooth and conciliate, deceive and cheat, duck with French nods in ostentatious bows and apish courtesy, I must be held to be a rancorous enemy.

“Cannot a plain man live and think no harm, but his simple truth must be abused like this by silken, sly, insinuating Jacks?”

Jacks are lowly born fellows.

Rivers asked, “To whom present here is your grace speaking?”

“To you,” Richard said, insultingly, “who has neither honesty nor grace. When have I injured you? When have I done you wrong? Or you, Dorset? Or you, Grey? Or any of your faction? A plague upon you all! His royal person the King — whom I hope God may preserve better than you would wish! — cannot be quiet scarcely the time it takes him to catch his breath, but you must trouble him with lewd complaints.”

Queen Elizabeth said, “Brother-in-law Richard, Duke of Gloucester, you are mistaken about this matter. The King, of his own royal disposition, and not provoked by any suitor, thinking, probably, of your interior hatred, which in your outward actions shows itself against my kindred, brothers, and myself, has sent for you so that thereby he may learn the grounds of your ill will toward us, and so remove it.”

“I don’t know what to think,” Richard said. “The world has grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch. Since every Jack has become a gentleman, there’s many a gentle, noble person made a Jack.”

A Jack was an item used in the game of bowls. The Jack was a small bowl, or ball, that was targeted by larger bowls. Another meaning of “Jack” was “lowly born person.”

Richard was complaining because when his brother, King Edward IV, had married Elizabeth and made her Queen, her family — the Woodvilles — had been elevated to a high social status. And he was saying that some highly born people — such as his brother Clarence and Lord Chamberlain Hastings — were being targeted by the newly elevated people.

Queen Elizabeth said, “Come, come, we know your meaning, brother-in-law Richard, Duke of Gloucester; you envy my advancement and my kinsmen’s. May God grant we never may have need of you!”

“In the meantime, God grants that we have need of you,” Richard replied. “Your brother-in-law, Clarence, who is my brother, is imprisoned by your means, I myself am disgraced, and the nobility is held in contempt, while many fair promotions are daily given to ennoble those who scarcely, even two days ago, were worth a noble.”

The word “noble” referred both to a coin called a noble and to a nobleman or noblewoman. Richard, as Queen Elizabeth realized, was complaining about her family’s great rise in status and many promotions as a result of her marriage to Edward IV.

She replied, “By Him — God — Who raised me to this filled-with-worries height from that contented fortune that I previously enjoyed, I have never incensed his majesty the King against the Duke of Clarence, but I have instead been an earnest advocate to plead for him. My lord, you do me shameful injury when you falsely draw me into these vile suspicions.”

“You may deny that you were not the cause of my Lord Hastings’ recent imprisonment,” Richard replied.

Rivers said, “She may, my lord, for —”

Richard interrupted, “She may, Lord Rivers! Why, who does not knows that? She may do more, sir, than deny that. She may help you to many fair promotions, and then deny her aiding hand therein, and instead say that your ‘great merit’ deserved those honors. What may she not? She may, yes, marry, may she —”

“What, marry, may she?” Rivers asked.

The word “marry,” as used by Rivers, was a mild oath, meaning “By the Virgin Mary.”

“What, marry, may she!” Richard said. “Marry with a King, a bachelor, a handsome stripling, too. Certainly your grandmother had a worse match.”

Richard was making fun of Queen Elizabeth’s age; she was older than her husband. And by saying that Rivers’ grandmother had made a worse match, he meant that she had not married a King; indeed, Queen Elizabeth’s family was far from belonging to the top aristocracy until she married the King.

Queen Elizabeth said, “My Lord of Gloucester, I have too long endured your blunt upbraidings and your bitter scoffs. By Heaven, I will acquaint his majesty with those gross taunts of yours that I have often endured. I had rather be a country servant-maid than a great Queen with this way of life, being thus taunted, scorned, and baited at.”

The baiting she referred to was bear-baiting, in which bears were tied to a stake and tormented by dogs.

The old Queen Margaret entered the room in time to hear Queen Elizabeth say, “Small joy have I in being England’s Queen.”

The old Queen Margaret was the widow of King Henry VI. She was bitter about his death and the death of her son: Prince Edward.

She said to herself, “God, I pray that you lessen that small joy that she feels! Her honor, status, and throne are all my due. They belong to me, not to her.”

Richard said to Queen Elizabeth, “What! You threaten me that you will tell the King what I am saying? Tell him, and leave out nothing. Everything that I have said I will avouch to be true in the presence of the King. I dare to risk being sent to the Tower of London in retaliation. It is time for me to speak up; my pains are quite forgotten.”

Richard meant the pains that he had taken to make his brother Edward King of England, but the old Queen Margaret took “pains” to mean the pains that Richard had inflicted on her family.

She said to herself, “Damn, devil! I remember those pains all too well. You slew my husband, King Henry VI, in the Tower of London, and you slew Prince Edward, my poor son, in the Battle of Tewksbury.”

Richard said to Queen Elizabeth, “Before you were Queen or your husband was King, I was a pack-horse — a toiler — in his great affairs. I was a weeder-out of his proud adversaries and a liberal rewarder of his friends. To make his blood royal, I spilt my own blood.”

“Yes, and you spilt much better blood than your brother’s or your own,” the old Queen Margaret said to herself.

Richard continued, “In all which time you and your then-husband, Sir John Grey, were supporters of the House of Lancaster — and so were you, Rivers. Queen Elizabeth, wasn’t your husband slain in old Queen Margaret’s army in the Battle of Saint Albans? Let me put in your minds, if you have forgotten, what you have been before now, and what you are now, and in addition, what I have been, and what I am now.”

“You have been a murderous villain, and you still are,” the old Queen Margaret said to herself.

Richard said, “Poor Clarence did forsake his father-in-law, the Earl of Warwick; yes, he forswore and perjured himself — which may Jesus pardon!”

“Which may God revenge!” the old Queen Margaret said to herself.

George, Duke of Clarence, had married Isabella, one of the Earl of Warwick’s daughters — Lady Anne was her sister — and for a while he had fought for the House of Lancaster. However, he changed sides and fought for the House of York and helped to make his brother Edward King of England.

Richard continued, “Clarence fought on Edward’s side for the crown, and for his reward, poor lord, he is locked up in the Tower of London. I wish to God my heart were flint, like Edward’s, or I wish that Edward’s heart were soft and pitiful, like mine. I am too foolish — like a child — for this world.”

“Hurry yourself to Hell for shame, and leave the world, you evil demon! There your kingdom is,” the old Queen Margaret said to herself.

Rivers said to Richard, “My Lord of Gloucester, in those busy days that here you bring up to prove us enemies, we followed then our lord, our lawful King. Likewise, we would follow you, if you should ever be our King.”

“If I should be!” Richard said. “I had rather be a peddler than be King. Far be from my heart the thought of being King!”

Queen Elizabeth said to Richard, “As little joy, my lord, as you suppose you should enjoy, were you this country’s King, may you suppose me to enjoy as the Queen of this Kingdom.”

The old Queen Margaret, who regarded herself as the rightful Queen of England, said to herself, “The Queen truly enjoys little joy, for I am the rightful Queen, and I am entirely joyless. I can no longer hold my tongue.”

She advanced toward the others and said loudly to them, “Hear me, you wrangling pirates, who fall out with each other in sharing that which you have pillaged from me! Which of you who looks on me does not tremble? I am the rightful Queen, and if you don’t bow to me like subjects, then — because you deposed me — you quake like rebels!”

Richard turned as if he were going to walk away, but the old Queen Margaret said to him, “Oh, gentle villain, do not turn away!”

“Gentle villain” was an insult. Richard was gentle — highly born — but he was also a villain.

Richard replied to her, “Foul wrinkled witch, what are you doing in my sight?”

Many people in England believed that witches existed.

Old Queen Margaret replied, “I am making an account of everything that you have marred and ruined. I will make that account before I let you go.”

“Weren’t you banished from England on pain of death?” Richard asked.

“I was, but I find more pain in banishment from England than death can give me if I make my abode here. Richard, you owe me a husband and a son. All of you here owe me a Kingdom, and all of you here owe me allegiance: The sorrows that I have by rights are yours, and all the pleasures that you usurp are mine.”

Richard said, “My noble father laid a curse on you when you set on his warlike brows a paper crown and with your scorns drew rivers of tears from his eyes, and then, so he could dry his tears, you gave my father — the third Duke of York — a cloth steeped in the innocent blood of his young, pretty son Rutland. The curses that he then from the bitterness of his soul denounced against you have all fallen upon you, and God, not we, has plagued your bloody deed.”

Queen Elizabeth said, “God is just when he avenges the innocent.”

Hastings said, “Oh, it was the foulest deed to slay that babe, and the most merciless deed that ever was heard of!”

Rivers said, “Tyrants themselves wept when it was reported.”

Dorset said, “Every man prophesied that the evil deed would be revenged.”

Buckingham said, “Northumberland, who was then present, wept to see it.”

The old Queen Margaret replied, “What! Were you all snarling at each other before I came in here, with all of you ready to catch each other by the throat, and now all of you turn all your hatred on me?

“Did the dread curse of Richard’s father prevail so much with Heaven that King Henry VI’s death, the death of my lovely Prince Edward, the loss of their Kingdom, and my own woeful banishment were all needed to answer for the death of Rutland, that peevish brat?

“Can curses pierce the clouds and enter Heaven the way that prayers can? Why, then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses!

“If King Edward IV does not die by war, then may he die from sickness brought on by excess. That will avenge our King — Henry VI — who died from murder in order that your Edward could be made a King!

“Queen Elizabeth, may Edward, your son, who now is Prince of Wales, die just like Edward, my son, who was Prince of Wales, in his youth by similar untimely violence!

“May you, yourself a Queen, to avenge me who was a Queen, outlive your glory, just like my wretched self! Long may you live to mourn the loss of your children, and long may you see another Queen, as I see you now, decked in your rights, as you are installed in mine! May your happy days die long before your death, and, after many lengthened hours of grief, may you die not as a mother, a wife, or as England’s Queen!

“Rivers and Dorset, you were bystanders, and so were you, Lord Hastings, when my son, Prince Edward, was stabbed with bloody daggers. I pray to God that none of you may live out your natural life, but that by some unanticipated disaster your loves may be cut short!”

Richard said, “Finish making your curses, you hateful withered hag!”

“And leave you out?” the old Queen Margaret replied. “Stay, dog, for you shall hear me. If Heaven should have any grievous plague in store exceeding those that I can wish upon you, let Heaven keep it until your sins are ripe, and then let Heaven hurl down its indignation on you, the troubler of the poor world’s peace! I want you to commit many more sins before you die so that you can be all the more damned to Hell! May the worm of conscience continually gnaw your soul! May you suspect that your friends are traitors while you live, and may you believe that deep traitors are your dearest friends! May no sleep close up your evil eye, unless it be while some tormenting dream frightens you with a Hell of ugly devils! You elvish-marked, abortive and prematurely born, rooting hog! Malignant, spiteful elves marked you with deformities to show that you are their own. You were marked when you were born to show that you are the slave of nature and the son of Hell! You are in bondage to Humankind’s fallen nature!”

Margaret began to call Richard names: “You slander of your mother’s heavy womb! You loathed issue of your father’s loins! You rag of honor! You detested —”

Richard substituted Margaret’s name for his own: “— Margaret.”

The old Queen Margaret said the correct name: “Richard.”

“Ha!” Richard said.

“I am not calling you,” she said.

“I beg your mercy then, for I had thought that you had called me all these bitter names.”

“Why, so I did, but I looked for no reply. Oh, let me make the period — the end — to my curse!”

“I have already done that,” Richard said. “The end of your curse is ‘Margaret.’”

Queen Elizabeth said to the old Queen Margaret, “Thus have you made your curse against yourself.”

“You are a poor, painted, imitation Queen, a worthless decoration of my throne!” the old Queen Margaret replied. “Why are you strewing sugared words on that bottled spider — that humpbacked Richard — whose deadly web is ensnaring you? Fool, fool! You are sharpening a knife that will be used to kill you. The time will come when you shall wish for me to help you curse that poisonous hunchbacked toad.”

Hastings threatened, “You falsely prophesizing woman, end your frantic, insane curse, lest you disturb and end our patience and move us to hurt you.”

“Foul shame upon you!” the old Queen Margaret said. “You have all ended my patience.”

“Were you well served, and got what you deserved, you would be taught your duty,” Rivers said.

The old Queen Margaret replied, “To serve me well, you all should do me duty and show me that I am your Queen and you are my subjects. Oh, serve me well, and teach yourselves to do that duty! You should regard me with reverence!”

“Don’t argue with her,” the Marquess of Dorset said. “She is a lunatic.”

“Be silent, Master Marquess, you are impertinent,” the old Queen Margaret said. She was being insulting. “Master” is a title for a boy of good family.

She continued, “Your newly fired stamp of honor is scarcely current — your new honor is like a newly minted coin that has just gone into circulation. Oh, that your young nobility could judge what it were to lose it, and be miserable! They who stand high have many blasts to shake them, and if they fall from their great height, they dash themselves to pieces.”

Richard said, “That is good advice, by the Virgin Mary. Learn it, learn it, Marquess of Dorset.”

“It touches and concerns you, my lord, as much as me,” Dorset said.

“Yes, and much more,” Richard said, “but I was born so high. Our brood of young eagles — the sons of my father — build in the cedar’s top, and our brood dallies with the wind and scorns the Sun.”

Richard was alluding to these proverbs: “The highest trees abide the sharpest winds” and “Only the eagle can gaze at the Sun.”

“That brood turns the Sun to shadow,” the old Queen Margaret said. “Witness my son, now in the shadow of death, whose bright out-shining beams your cloudy wrath has folded up in eternal darkness. Your brood of young eagles built in the nest of our brood of young eagles. Oh, God, Who sees it, do not endure it! As it was won with blood, so let it also be lost with blood!”

“Stop!” Buckingham said. “Be silent for shame, if not for charity.”

“Urge neither charity nor shame to me,” the old Queen Margaret replied.

She then said to the people, other than Buckingham, who were present, “Uncharitably with me have you dealt, and shamefully by you my hopes are butchered. The most charitable emotion felt by me is only rage, and the only life I can live is one filled with shame — and in that shame shall always live my sorrows’ rage.”

“Stop, stop,” Buckingham said.

“Oh, Princely Buckingham,” the old Queen Margaret said, “I’ll kiss your hand as a sign of league and friendship with you. Now may good things happen to you and your noble house! Your garments are not spotted with our blood, nor are you included within the compass of my curse.”

“No one else here is included within the compass of your curse,” Buckingham said, “for curses never pass the lips of those who breathe them and never go into the air. Curses are not heard by God, and so curses have no effect on those who are cursed.”

“I believe that curses ascend the sky, and there they awake God’s gentle-sleeping peace,” the old Queen Margaret said. “Oh, Buckingham, take heed of yonder dog — Richard! Whenever he fawns, he bites; and when he bites, his venomous tooth creates a festering wound that kills. Have nothing to do with him — beware of him! Sin, death, and Hell have set their marks on him, and all their ministers are his servants.”

“What is she saying, my Lord of Buckingham?” Richard asked.

“Nothing that I respect, my gracious lord.”

The old Queen Margaret said to Buckingham, “Do you scorn me for my gentle, friendly, kind counsel? And do you soothe and flatter the devil that I warn you against? Oh, just remember this on another day that will come, when he shall split your very heart with sorrow, and then you shall say poor Margaret was a prophetess!”

The old Queen Margaret then said to everyone present, “May each of you live to be the objects of his hate, and may he live to be the objects of your hate, and may all of you live to be the objects of God’s hate!”

The old Queen Margaret departed.

Hastings said, “My hair is standing on end from hearing her curses.”

“And so is mine,” Rivers said. “I wonder why she’s at liberty. Why isn’t she locked up?”

“I cannot blame her,” Richard said. “By God’s holy mother, she has had too much wrong done to her, and I repent the wrong that I have done to her.”

“I never did her any wrong, to my knowledge,” Queen Elizabeth said.

“But you have received all the advantage of the wrongs done to her,” Richard said. “I was too hot to do somebody good, who is too cold in thinking about it now.”

That somebody was King Edward IV. Richard was saying that he had been eager to make Edward King, but now that Edward was King, Edward was not eager to reward Richard.

Richard continued, “As for Clarence, he is well repaid. He is enclosed in a sty to be fattened up for slaughter in return for his pains, which are similar to my pains. May God pardon all of them who are the cause of Clarence’s imprisonment!”

“It is a virtuous and a Christian-like conclusion,” Rivers said, “to pray for them who have done injury to us.”

Richard replied, “And so I always do.”

He thought, I am well advised to pray for those who do injury, for I am the one who does the injury. If I had cursed those who had gotten Clarence imprisoned, I would have cursed myself.

Sir William Catesby entered the room and said to Queen Elizabeth, “Madam, his majesty is calling for you.”

He then said to Richard and the others, “And he is calling for your grace; and for you, my noble lords.”

“Catesby, we are coming,” Queen Elizabeth said. “Lords, will you go with us?”

“Madam, we will attend your grace,” Rivers replied.

All departed except for Richard, who said to himself, “I do the wrong, and I am the first to begin to quarrel. The secret crimes that I set abroad I lay unto the grievous charge of others.

“Clarence, whom I, indeed, have laid in darkness, I weep over in the presence of many simple, gullible fools, namely, in the presence of Hastings, Lord Stanley, and Buckingham, and say that it is the Queen and her allies who stir the King against the Duke of Clarence, my brother. Now, they believe it, and they urge me to be revenged on Rivers, Vaughan, and Grey — all of whom are allies of Queen Elizabeth.

“But then I sigh, and with a piece of scripture, I tell them that God bids us do good in return for evil, and thus I clothe my naked villainy with old odds and ends stolen out of holy scripture and so I seem to be a saint when I most play the devil.”

Two murderers entered the room.

“Quiet!” Richard said to himself. “Here come my executioners.”

He said out loud, “How are you now, my hardy, brave determined associates! Are you now going to dispatch this deed?”

“We are, my lord,” the first murderer said, “and we have come to get the warrant so that we may be admitted to where he is.”

“Good thinking,” Richard said. “I have it here on me.”

He searched his pockets, pulled out a paper, and looked at it. It was the wrong paper — the one that stated that Clarence was to be released from the Tower of London. He searched another pocket and pulled out another paper — the one that was written earlier than the other paper and stated that Clarence was to be killed. Richard gave this paper to the first murderer, saying, “When you have finished, go to Crosby Place, a London residence of mine. But, sirs, be quick in the execution, and be obdurate — do not hear him plead for his life, for Clarence is well-spoken, and perhaps he may move your hearts to pity if you listen to him.”

The first murderer said, “Tush! Fear not, my lord, we will not stand and make prattling conversation. Talkers are not good doers. Be assured that we have come to use our hands and not our tongues.”

“Your eyes drop millstones when fools’ eyes drop tears,” Richard replied. “I like you lads. Go about your business immediately. Go, go. Hurry.”

“We will, my noble lord,” the first murderer said.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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