David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD III: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scenes 4-5

— 3.4 —

In the Tower of London, several people sat at a table and talked: Buckingham, Lord Stanley, Hastings, the Bishop of Ely, Ratcliff, Francis Lovel, and others. This council of lords was meeting to discuss plans for the coronation of Prince Edward, who would be crowned King Edward V. Ratcliff had been present for the execution of Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan at Pomfret Castle, but he had then ridden unbelievably quickly to London.

Hastings, who as Lord Chamberlain presided over the meeting, said, “Now, my lords, the reason why we are meetingis to come to a decision about the coronation.In God’s name, speak: When shall be the royal day?”

“Are all things ready for that royal time?” Buckingham asked.

“They are,” Lord Stanley said, “and all we need to do is to name the day for the coronation.”

“Let’s have the coronation tomorrow, then,” the Bishop of Ely said. “I judge that to be a suitable and happy day.”

“Who knows what Richard, the Lord Protector, thinks about the coronation?” Buckingham asked. “Who is the most intimate friend of the royal Duke of Gloucester?”

“We think that you, yourself, your grace, is the most likely to know what he thinks,” the Bishop of Ely replied.

“Who, I, my lord?” Buckingham said. “Richard and I know each other’s faces,but as for our hearts, he knows no more of minethan I do of yours. And I know no more of his than you know of mine.”

He then said, “Lord Hastings, you and he have a close friendship.”

“I thank Richard’s grace,” Hastings said. “I know he much respects me. But, as for his opinion about the coronation, I have not asked him, nor has he delivered his gracious opinion to me in any way. But you, my noble lords, may name the day, and on behalf of the Duke of Gloucester I’ll cast my vote,which, I presume, he’ll take well and without offense.”

Richard entered the room.

The Bishop of Ely said, “Now, at exactly the right time, here comes the Duke of Gloucester himself.”

“My noble lords and all my kinsmen, good morning,” Richard said. “I have been long a sleeper, but I hope thatmy absence has not caused you to neglect great matters that with my presence might have been dealt with and concluded.”

“Had you not come upon your cue, my lord,” Buckingham said, “Lord Hastings had pronounced your part — I mean, your vote — for the day on which to crown the new King.”

“No man might be bolder than my Lord Hastings,” Richard said. “His lordship knows me well, and he well respects me.”

“I thank your grace,” Hastings said.

“My lord of Ely,” Richard said, “when I was last in Holborn, where you have your palace, I saw good strawberries in your garden there. I ask you to please send for some of them.”

“I will, my lord, with all my heart,” the Bishop of Ely said as he exited.

In this culture, strawberries were associated with danger and death. Strawberry bushes grow low to the ground and provide cover for dangerous snakes.

“My kinsman Buckingham, may I have a word with you?” Richard asked.

They went a short distance away from the other people present, and Richard said, “Catesby has sounded Hastings about our business of making me King, and Catesby finds the testy gentleman so hot, angry, and passionate that Hastings says he will lose his head before he shall give consent that the son of his master, King Edward IV, as he worshipfully calls him, shall lose the royalty of England’s throne. He wants Prince Edward, King’s Edward IV’s son, to be crowned King Edward V.”

“Go into another room, my lord,” Buckingham advised. “I’ll go with you.”

Richard led the way out of the room; Buckingham followed him.

Lord Stanley said, “We have not yet decided on the day of triumph on which the Prince shall be crowned. Tomorrow, in my opinion, is too soon and sudden because I myself am not so well prepared as I would be if the day were postponed.”

The Bishop of Ely returned and asked, “Where is the Lord Protector? I have sent for the strawberries.”

Hastings said about Richard, “His grace looks cheerful and affable today. There’s some idea or other that he likes well when he says to others, ‘Good morning,’ with such a spirit. I think there has never been a man in the Christian nations who can less hide his friendship or his hatred than he, for by looking at his face you immediately shall know what is in his heart.”

Lord Stanley asked, “What of his heart have you perceived in his face by any liveliness he has shown today?”

Hastings replied, “I have perceived that he is offended by no man here, for if he were offended, he would have shown it in his looks.”

“I pray God that Richard is not offended by anyone, I say,” Lord Stanley replied.

Richard and Buckingham reentered the room. Anyone looking at Richard would think that he was angry.

Richard said, “All of you, please tell me what they deserve who conspire to bring about my death with devilish plots of damned witchcraft, and who have prevailed upon my body with their Hellish charms?”

Hastings replied, “The tender love I bear your grace, my lord, makes me most forward in this noble presence to doom the offenders, whoever they are. I say, my lord, that they have deserved death.”

“Then let your eyes be the witness of this ill,” Richard said, holding out his arm, which had been crippled since his birth. “See how I am bewitched. Look at how my arm is all withered up like a sapling blasted by lightning! Who are responsible for this? King Edward IV’s wife, that monstrous witch, has joined with that harlot and strumpet Jane Shore, and by their witchcraft they have thus hurt me.”

Richard was accusing Queen Elizabeth and Jane Shore, who had been King Edward IV’s mistress and who was now Hastings’ mistress, of being witches who had withered his arm.

“If they have done this thing, my gracious lord —” Hastings began.

“If —?” Richard interrupted “You protector of this damned strumpet — your mistress — you talk to me about ‘ifs’? You are a traitor!”

Richard then ordered, “Off with his head! Now, by Saint Paul I swear that I will not dine until I see his cut-off head. Francis Lovel and Ratcliff, see that it is done. The rest of you, who love and respect me, rise and follow me.”

Everyone exited except Hastings, Ratcliff, and Francis Lovel.

“Woe, woe for England!” Hastings said. “But not a bit of mourning for me because I, who have been very foolish, might have prevented this. Lord Stanley dreamt that the boar cut off his helmet, but I did not believe it, and I scorned the dream and distained to flee. Three times today my horse, which wore a finely decorated covering on its back and sides, stumbled and started when it looked upon the Tower of London as if my horse were loath to carry me to the slaughterhouse.

“Oh, now I need the priest who spoke earlier to me. I now repent that in front of the Pursuivant I exulted too much at how my enemies bloodily were butchered at Pomfret Castle. I thought that I was safe because I had Richard’s grace and favor.

“Oh, Margaret, Margaret, now your heavy curse has lighted on poor Hastings’ wretched head!”

“Hurry, my lord,” Ratcliff said. “Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, wants to eat his dinner, but he won’t until he sees that you are decapitated. Make a short confession of your sins; he longs to see your head.”

“Oh, the momentary and temporary grace of mortal men, which we hunt for more than we do the permanent grace of God!” Hastings said. “Whoever builds his hopes on air, based on the favorable looks and opinions of mortal men such as Richard, lives like a drunken sailor on a mast, ready, with every sleepy nod, to tumble down into the fatal bowels of the deep.”

“Come, come, hurry,” Francis Lovel said. “It is useless to exclaim and complain.”

“Oh, bloodthirsty Richard! Miserable England!” Hastings said. “I prophesy the most fearful time to you that any wretched age has ever looked upon.

“Come, lead me to the executioner’s chopping block. Take to Richard my head. They who smile at me now shall shortly be dead.”

 — 3.5 —

Hastings had been executed illegally, without recourse to law. Now Richard had to provide an excuse for Hastings’ death. He decided to pretend that a plot had broken out in the Tower of London and that Hastings had attempted to murder Buckingham and him. He and Buckingham had put on rusty, ugly armor as if they had been suddenly attacked and had been forced to put on whatever armor they could find. Now they were standing by a drawbridge of the Tower of London.

Richard said to Buckingham, “Kinsman, can you shudder, and change your color, murder — that is, stop — your breath in the middle of a word, and then begin again, and stop again, as if you were distraught and mad with terror?”

“Tut, I can imitate the deep tragedian, the actor who plays in tragedies,” Buckingham said. “I can speak and look back over my shoulder, and peer on every side, tremble and startle at the mere wagging of a straw, all while pretending to be deeply suspicious. Ghastly looks are at my service, like forced smiles, and both are ready to do their duty at any time, to advance my stratagems.

“But has Catesby gone?”

“He has,” Richard said. “Look, he is returning, and he is bringing the Lord Mayor of London with him.”

The Lord Mayor and Catesby walked over to Richard and Buckingham, who quickly began acting.

“Lord Mayor —” Buckingham began.

Richard shouted, “Look to the drawbridge there!”

“Listen!” Buckingham said. “A drum!”

“Catesby, look over the walls,” Richard ordered.

Catesby went to the wall to keep a “lookout.”

“Lord Mayor, the reason we have sent —” Buckingham began again.

“Look behind you! Defend yourself! Here are enemies!” shouted Richard, who saw Ratcliff and Francis Lovel coming toward them.

“May God and our innocence defend and guard us!” Buckingham said.

“Be calm,” Richard said. “They are our friends Ratcliff and Francis Lovel.”

Ratcliff and Francis Lovel had with them Hastings’ head.

Francis Lovel said, “Here is the head of that ignoble traitor, the dangerous and unsuspected Hastings.”

“So dearly I loved the man,” Richard said, “that I must weep. I took him to be the most plain and harmless creature who ever breathed upon this Earth a Christian. I made him my diary in which my soul recorded the history of all her secret thoughts. So smoothly he covered his vice with a show of virtue, that, with the exception of his obvious and open guilt — I mean his sexual intercourse with Shore’s wife — he lived free from any hint of suspicion.”

Buckingham said, “Well, well, he was the most secretive and hidden traitor who ever lived.”

He said to the Lord Mayor, “If it were not for the great preservation and protection given to us by Heaven, we would not be alive to talk to you. Would you imagine, or almost believe, that this secret traitor had plotted to murder me and my good Lord of Gloucester today in the Council House?”

“Did he do that?” the Lord Mayor asked.

“Do you think that we are Turks or infidels who do not respect the rule of law?” Richard asked. “Do you think that we would, against the rule of law, proceed thus rashly to the villain’s death unless the extreme peril of the case, the peace of England, and our personal safety forced us to do this execution of the traitor?”

“Now, may fair fortune befall you!” the Lord Mayor said. “He deserved his death, and you, my good lords, both have done the right thing, thereby warning false traitors not to attempt what this man, Hastings, has attempted. I never looked for anything better from him, after he once fell in with Mistress Shore.”

“We had not decided that he should die yet,” Richard replied. “We wanted your lordship to come and see his death. But the loving haste of these our friends, Ratcliff and Francis Lovel, somewhat against what we had intended, have prevented that because they quickly executed the traitor out of regard for our safety.

“My lord, we wish that you had heard the traitor speak, and timorously confess the manner and the purpose of his treason. That way you might well have told what you witnessed to the citizens, who perhaps may misunderstand us and bewail the traitor’s death.”

“But, my good lord, your grace’s word shall serve as well as if I had seen him and heard him speak,” the Lord Mayor said. “I believe what you have told me. Do not doubt, both you right noble Princes, but that I’ll acquaint our duteous citizens with all your just proceedings in this cause. I will tell them that you are fully justified in what you have done.”

“That is why we wanted your lordship to be here to witness the execution of the traitor,” Richard said. “We wanted to avoid the carping censures and criticisms of the world.”

“But since you came too late to do what we intended,” Buckingham said, “you can still witness — and serve as witness to — what you hear we intended, and so, my good Lord Mayor, we bid you farewell.”

The Lord Mayor exited to address the citizens of London.

“Go, after him, kinsman Buckingham,” Richard said. “The Lord Mayor hurries as quickly as he can towards Guildhall, the town hall of London. There, at the most suitable time, imply that King Edward IV’s children are bastards, that they are not his and so are not eligible to succeed him as King. Tell them how King Edward IV put to death a citizen because the citizen said that he would make his son heir to the Crown, although the citizen meant only that his son would inherit his house, which was named the Crown, as a sign outside the house attested. That King Edward IV would do that is evidence that he feared that he was a cuckold. It is also evidence that he acted tyrannically over minor things. In addition, I want you to talk about his hateful lechery and his bestial appetite that required frequent change of the women with whom he slept. Say that his lechery was so vast that it stretched to their servants, daughters, and wives because his lustful eye and savage heart had no control over what they wished to make their prey.

“Indeed, if necessary, you may thus far come near my person: Tell them that when my mother was pregnant with that insatiable Edward, my Princely father, the Duke of York, then had gone to the war in France, and say that a just computation of the time shows that the child — Edward IV — was not fathered by him, as could be seen in Edward’s appearance because he did not look anything like the noble Duke my father. But touch on this lightly, and subtly, because you know, my lord, my mother is still alive.”

“Fear not, my lord,” Buckingham said. “I’ll orate as if the golden fee — the crown — for which I plead were for myself, and so, my lord, adieu.”

“If you thrive well, bring the citizens to Baynard’s Castle, one of my residences, where you shall find me well accompanied by reverend fathers and well-educated bishops.”

“I leave now,” Buckingham said. “Around three or four o’clock look for news from the Guildhall.”

He departed.

Gloucester ordered, “Go, Francis Lovel, as quickly as you can to Doctor Shaw.”

He ordered Catsby, “You go to Friar Penker.”

He said to both of them, “Tell them both to meet me within this hour at Baynard’s Castle.”

Doctor Shaw was a Doctor of Divinity. Both Doctor Shaw and Friar Penker supported Richard.

Everyone exited except Richard, who said to himself, “Now I will go in to give a secret order to draw the brats of Clarence out of sight, and to give notice that no person, no matter how important, at any time shall have means of access to the Princes: Edward, the Prince of Wales, and his brother, the young Duke of York.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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