This is Chu's fourth blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he discusses his character and issues in the play in further detail.
Transcript of Podcast
Last time I talked about Aumerle's loyalty, I said that he is loyal to Richard and that he wavers at the end of the play. Well, my view of Aumerle has changed over this last week and I’d disagree with that interpretation now. It's not that he's undergone a huge transformation – as though he was a fascist and now he's suddenly communist – but I do like Aumerle more than I did earlier and he's changed subtly but significantly as a result. I’m less inclined to think his loyalty to Richard is ‘wavering’. A lot of that is to do with me really; I’m getting to the stage where I’ve stopped talking about Aumerle as somebody else and I’ve realised he's not a million miles away from me. There's some common ground I think I rejected – his arrogance… well, I can be arrogant too, in a different context. Some mentioned at rehearsals about Aumerle's arrogance and it struck me that there was this side of his character and it was a perfectly valid view, but at the same time it's dangerous to use characteristics as labels. There's a difference between ‘playing’ arrogant and being arrogant. Anyway, in the parliament scene (IV.1) when Aumerle is repeatedly accused of the duke of Gloucester's death, his denials are not arrogant in a simplistic way: when we did an exercise in rehearsal that involved giving the speeches as actors in an impersonal way, we found that those speeches really do come from a very personal space. There's a rawness to it, which could become comedic with characters just saying ‘You’re a liar’, ‘No, you’re the liar’ and so on. It is overblown, but honour is a deeply personal concept and the challenges bring this into the public realm in a very immediate way – people talk about the split between the public and the private but really in Richard II, there is no such division. The same thing happens in politics today. The public ‘political’ sphere is very much rooted in and grows out of the private, emotional space of the character: it is always, to a lesser or greater extent personal. If you don’t have any conviction then you’re not a politician. This is obviously an idealised view, but I think that's how it should be.
If the public and private spheres intersect in this way, then you have to ask again what treason actually means from your point of view. One could say that Aumerle remains loyal to Richard then wavers at the end in Act V, or that Aumerle is loyal to Richard until Richard makes continued loyalty all but impossible. If Aumerle decided in the parliament scene that ‘ok, Richard is going to abdicate, I’ve done my duty to him and he's no longer king – my duty is to Bolingbroke’, then he could be accused of treason as easily as the Duke of York sees treason in his son's involvement in the plot against Henry IV. In the parliament scene Aumerle looks for support from Henry and the other lords but finds himself totally isolated. He sees the upshot of the Bishop of Carlisle's protest and the injustice of what's happening, which shocks him because Carlisle is also Richard's ally; Aumerle recognises a similarity between his own loyalty and Carlisle's destruction. When Richard enters and is asked to read out a list of his crimes, it is clear that he's being treated abominably – this wasn’t in the original deal, and shows just how little power he has left. Phaeton has descended. Yet Aumerle continues to support Richard beyond the point where it is politically safe. Different factions have different versions of the truth in this play, and accordingly they have different definitions of treason: Aumerle finds himself on the wrong side of those definitions without wavering as such. He has very little influence and his means of survival are jeopardised. What would you do? Changing sides is a pragmatic and necessary move that Aumerle makes at the eleventh hour.
Aumerle as innocent?
I also mentioned earlier that I thought Aumerle was really only duplicitous when he gives his report of Bolingbroke's farewell to Richard. But there's the possibility that he's lying in a much more brazen way throughout IV.1. I haven’t actually discussed this with Tim (Carroll, Master of Play), but certainly it's something to explore during the run. Basically, in that scene he's accused of murdering the Duke of Gloucester – there's no proof and Bolingbroke, who manages the scene, has just accused Mowbray of the murder. In my version of history, Aumerle does not murder Gloucester – Bagot testifies against Aumerle in order to save himself. But maybe Aumerle's arrogant bluff is cover for something darker.
The parliament scene
The parliament scene is central because it involves a number of important betrayals. When Aumerle enters he doesn’t know what he's letting himself in for; he doesn’t know that Bagot's going to be brought in and when Bagot does come in, he doesn’t know what he's going to say. Aumerle has a double shock – he's accused by someone who has everything to gain by his downfall, and then Bolingbroke orders him to stand up and face the charges:
Cousin, stand forth, and look upon that man.
My response is to ask ‘Why should I?’
What answer should I make this base man?
Shall I so much dishonour my fair stars
On equal terms to give him chastisement?
Either I must, or have mine honour soiled
With the attainder of his slanderous lips.
Bagot's trying to implicate me to get himself out of a very nasty situation. Bolingbroke knew he was going to bring in Bagot – did he know he would accuse Aumerle? Perhaps. Bolingbroke's address ‘cousin’ especially draws attention to the strain different relationships are placed under – despite the personal connection, Bagot's charge must be answered, and I think for Aumerle that in itself is a betrayal. The question for me now is essentially to do with negotiating your loyalty to a system: you can support a system but when the system changes how do you change with it? The system at the start of the play suits Aumerle. He's in a privileged position – he has the ear of the king and a belief in the monarchical system founded on divine right, which cannot be changed just because you take exception to the way the king rules. That's a bone of contention between Aumerle and the Duke of York who is very pragmatic with his allegiance. Aumerle is the one who is trying to convince Richard not to give up and Richard rejects that support: ‘Beshrew thee, cousin, which didst lead me forth…’ (III.3.200) At the end of III.3, Aumerle is faced with a situation where Richard has given up and is about to be imprisoned in the Tower. He has utterly lost control. I’m wondering to what extent Richard did give up or whether his abdication was forced; at the moment I think Richard packs it in. When Bolingbroke asks for the restoration of his revenues, Richard anticipates losing everything in an almost hysterical way:
What must the King do now?
Must he submit? The King shall do it.
Must he be deposed? The King shall be contented.
And all the while Aumerle is trying to keep Richard calm and reasonable, whispering into his ears ‘just be patient, flatter Bolingbroke now, then take action’:
No, good my lord, let's fight with gentle words
Till time lend friends, and friends their helpful swords.
This is practical advice (though ‘No, good…’ hints at a pessimistic ‘no good’ before Aumerle completes the line and changes the sense). Anyway – it's a long way from the defeatist attitude with which Richard offers up the crown and his life. The way Richard abdicates from all his responsibilities is appalling, without really considering his country or supporters – without analysing the effects of his actions beyond his own personal misery. Aumerle is eventually left with only one option: as Richard said ‘All souls that will be safe fly from my side’ (III.2.76), but I don’t take his advice. I think Aumerle honours his own idea of loyalty and until act V nothing he does can be described as treasonable. Even at this very late stage in the day, racing to Henry before the Duke of York is an entirely practical decision, an instinct for survival. He has lost everything; his allies, titles, power, trust – along with any hope of reinstating these things by putting Richard back on the throne. Things couldn’t look much bleaker. You have to do what you have to do. What remains is the fact that Richard's restoration is in my self-interest. As I said, personal and public or political motivations are deeply interlinked.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.