I have finally completed the cycle of plays that starts with Henry VI Part One and ends with Richard III. There was a lot of action, a lot of killing, and even a smattering of comedy, but for the most part the stories were pretty heavy. The Henry trilogy was fun but a bit of a mess, all told, while Richard III was leaps and bounds ahead in quality. It was not without its faults, however. I’m enjoying this project more and more each play and I am truly excited to move into a different kind of play with the Comedy of Errors.
I’ve talked a bit about what problems I’ve had with the Henry plays, but the long and short of it is the pacing and overall storytelling just felt messy throughout. We got fairly flat characters, but when a character began to show some depth, he died almost immediately *cough* John Cade *cough*. So imagine my pleasure when Richard III began and I was drawn to our titular antihero right out of the gate. Richard as a character would fit right into the morally gray heroes of modern popular fiction and as such I found the balance of charm and repulsiveness to be perfectly struck throughout the play. Except for the very end. Richard became almost pathetically remorseful after being visited by the ghosts of his victims the morning of the final battle with Richmond, which was not at all in keeping with the Richard I had grown to love hating. This final emotional appeal to both God and the audience felt like a heavy-handed attempt to make sure we felt some pang at his death. But for me, it had the opposite effect. It took me out of the scene and diminished what could have been a much more moving and satisfying death.
Quibbles with character aside, I don’t have a lot to say about the structure of the play, but it did seem a bit long to me. There were scenes that served only to reiterate that Richard’s a big ol’ bastard, Margaret is laughing at everyone getting their just deserts, and the women in Richard’s life are wracked with grief forevermore. All of these things are interesting in the play, but we get a whole lot of it over the course of multiple scenes. I think the play could have been cut down quite a bit and not lost much in the way of emotional impact. I bet his editing chops get better as we go along through the plays, however.
Which brings me to the part I’m most excited about. After another interlude in which I read a few more sonnets that hopefully have nothing to do with procreation, I will be moving onto my first Shakespearean comedy. As in my first one EVER. I never read Much Ado About Nothing or A Midsummer Night’s Dream in school. In fact, I’ve only ever read the tragedies. So I’m looking forward to getting a few laughs out of this. Lord knows I can use it after all the blood and guts of the first four plays.