This is Peter's fourth blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he talks more about the Duchess of York, and also about Ross and Richard and the company's visit to Middle Temple Hall.
Transcript of Podcast
The Duchess of York
Lots of scholars dismiss the scenes with the Duchess of York as being ‘not very good’, and they are often cut from productions of Richard II. Some apparently believe that he wrote it very quickly, which is why most of the lines are in a simple tetrameter (4 beats in a line) rather than in Shakespeare's usual pentameter (5 beats), and the language is very plain and straightforward. I really enjoy these lines, and their lack of complicated language means that whenever a more poetic line arrives, I enjoy it even more; my favourite is when, speaking to the King, the Duchess says:
Thine eye begins to speak. Set thy tongue there;
Or in thy piteous heart plant thou thine ear,
That hearing how our plaints and prayers do pierce,
Pity may move thee pardon to rehearse.
I think it's a beautiful speech. During this scene, I think the Duchess treats Bolingbroke/King Henry like a 5 year old. She is telling him; ‘you weren’t brought up to be a king, remember what a king should be like, a king should show mercy.’ In many ways, seeing the Duchess treat the king in this way is very funny, but at the same time, she is in an absolutely terrible situation; her son could be put to death, and she's risking everything she and her husband have, against her husband's will, to save him. She is very angry with her husband, in fact, in today's rehearsal, I’m going to try hitting York at the end of the scene as we exit, just to see how he reacts. He can’t say anything, (I have the last line of the scene!), but it will be interesting to see whether he accepts it, and accepts that he was wrong, or whether he remains angry with me for arguing against him in front of the king.
Ross and Richard
I’ve also been thinking about the character of Ross, and why he rebels against Richard. One reason could be that he does it to get more power for himself; he is only a Baron, and would probably gain a higher title, perhaps a Dukedom or an Earldom, if Bolingbroke succeeds. However, Ross was a high-ranking member of parliament, (the House of Lords), who was well connected at court, and what he says in the play suggests that his reasons for supporting Bolingbroke were far from selfish. He is concerned that:
The commons hath [Richard] pilled with grievous taxes,
And quite lost their hearts. The nobles hath he fined
For ancient quarrels, and quite lost their hearts.
I think that Ross is concerned for the whole country, not just himself or the nobles. Unlike Bolingbroke, who declares that all he wants is his lands and titles, what drives Ross is a need to protect the country from falling apart, and if this means deposing Richard, so be it.
Middle Temple Hall
We went to Middle Temple Hall yesterday and spent some time trying different games in the space to get used to working there. One that was very useful was when the whole company spread out across the space, then we would run through the lines for a certain section of the play. The person who was speaking would throw the ball from one hand to another, throwing it up in the air from one hand on the last stressed syllable of each line, and catching it in the other on the first stressed syllable of the next. When you reached your last line, you would throw the ball to the next speaker on your last stressed syllable, so that they could catch it on their first such syllable. Whilst we were running certain scenes in the hall, we had members of the company sitting on all three sides to help us become used to having an audience there. When you were sitting down, if you felt at any time that you weren’t being included in the scene by those on stage, you were allowed to raise your hand. When you were on stage and someone raises their hand, your job is to turn around and include them, ‘knocking’ their hand down. I’ve worked in a lot of pantomimes, which is useful preparation for working in traverse (with an audience on three sides, as at Middle Temple Hall), or in the round (with an audience on four sides), as you often have to start a speech looking at the character you’re talking to, then turn to address the middle of the speech to the audience, then finishing it back facing the same character. I’ve done one play in the round, and it's amazing to have an audience so close to you; it feels like you’re in a cauldron, with people scrutinizing your every move. You have to be careful not to exaggerate the way you speak or move, and make sure you look the audience in the eye. It's fantastic. My costume as the Duchess of York is nearly finished. I’m going to look like a battleship. However, it is the most beautiful costume I’ve ever seen. Much of the cloth is a raised velvet woven on looms in Genoa that were used to make a similar cloth in Shakespeare's time. It's very exciting – I can’t wait to see it finished.
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.