Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 3

This is Peter's third blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he talks about working on his character, the Duchess of York.

Transcript of Podcast

The Duchess of York

I’m getting a little nervous now; we’re in the fourth week of rehearsals. We’ve been working through the play scene by scene, and we’ve now reached the beginning of Act V, so I’ve now been able to have a go at the Duchess of York's scenes. I’d done a lot of work on them at home, both before rehearsals started and during these last three weeks, making sure I knew exactly what each line meant and which words I should stress to make sure the that meaning is clear to an audience. Of course, as soon as I got to play the scene in rehearsals, everything fell apart! Still, we tried it again the next day and it was much better.

Background of the Character

I’ve been doing some work on the background of my character. I’ve discovered that Richard II is not historically accurate, because at the time when play is set, the Duchess of York was not Aumerle's mother. Aumerle's mother, the first Duchess of York, had died around 6-7 years earlier, and the second Duchess of York, Joan Holland, who was the Duchess of York at the time this play is set, was in fact only 5-6 years older than Aumerle. So, when she sarcastically asks the Duke of York whether they can have any more children if Aumerle is killed:

Have we more sons? Or are we like to have?
Is not my teeming-date drunk up with time?
(v.2.90-91)

In the story of the play, the answer is ‘no’; she is too old, but historically, she was still young enough that the answer could have been ‘yes.’ Perhaps Shakespeare believed that his audiences, watching his play 200 years after these events had taken place, would have forgotten that Edmund Langley, Duke of York had married twice during the 1380s and 1390s.

The Duchess and Motherhood

In many ways, I think the character of the Duchess of York represents motherhood; and in particular, what it is like for a mother to lose her child. As soon as he discovers that Aumerle has been plotting against the newly-crowned Bolingbroke, the Duke of York immediately says that he will ride to the king and tell him what he's discovered. As a traitor to the king, Aumerle would then most likely be put to death. The Duke of York is in a very difficult position; he has sworn to be responsible for Aumerle's behaviour not just to the king, but in parliament as well, and as a result, if Aumerle commits any crimes, it's either his life or the Duke's that must be forfeit. By telling the King that Aumerle has committed treason, the Duke is saving his own life.

Even so, the Duchess finds it very difficult to believe that her husband could allow their son to be killed, especially given that, being related to the king, there is potentially some hope that he could be saved. It's for this reason that she bursts in on the king, Aumerle and York in act V scene 3. We’re just starting to explore that scene, but I think that, by interrupting in this way, she is putting herself in great danger. Like her husband, she was a staunch supporter of Richard when he was on the throne; Richard sent the Queen to stay with her not long after they were married, so to put herself in between Aumerle and the king's anger is a very brave thing to do. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the scene develops over the next few days.

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.

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