Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 2

This is Ann's second blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard III in which she discusses researching her role, the murderers, costume, and the relationship between Catesby and Richard.

Transcript of Podcast

This is Ann's second blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard III in which she discusses researching her role, the murderers, costume, and the relationship between Catesby and Richard.

Researching the Role

The whole company has been doing a lot of research into our characters and the historical period in which the play takes place. At the moment, I’m reading The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe by Charles Nicholl. It's rumoured that Marlowe was murdered, and, since I’m playing a murderer and a spy (Catesby), I wanted to find out about such people in the Elizabethan period. I’ve been wondering how Richard would meet the murderers, who they were; were they high status courtiers or low status beggars and thieves.

Spies such as Catesby were usually men of high social status. During the Elizabethan period, spies were often recruited through the universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge. Many spies were recruited by high-ranking members of the court such as Sir Francis Walsingham, (one of whose responsibilities was to look after Elizabeth's personal security), who often used those people he caught in acts of treason to spy on their fellow conspirators. Spying was often linked to religion; England under Elizabeth was a Protestant state and Catholicism was illegal, though many people continued to practice the Catholic faith in secret. Many plots to kill or replace Elizabeth were supported by English Catholics, even though their reasons for plotting against Elizabeth often had little to do with religion. Walsingham would often use those English Catholics he caught to spy on others. Although these people called themselves Protestants in public, they would easily be able to infiltrate the Catholic community and find out about future plots and unrest because they themselves were once, if they weren’t still, practising Catholics. Spies were often people of very high status, but murderers such as in Richard III would most probably come from the lower levels of society. Servants who showed their masters that they could be trusted, perhaps through successfully completing smaller tasks, may have been asked to do such things. They may have been offered money to commit murder, or perhaps a higher position in the household. I’ve been wondering why the murderers do what they do, and why they get on with Richard. Their common ground is that they’re both fighters and feel that they don’t really fit in the world that we see at the beginning of the play, ruled by a king who has no interest in war. In such times, all of the under-ground, slightly dodgy jobs that they’d usually be employed to do don’t exist. Something we’ve been working on with Kathryn [Hunter, Richard III], is that the murderers and Richard share a kind of social discontent. Because of his deformity, Richard is rejected by the Royals, and as a result, perhaps feels more able to fit in with people like the murderers than his own ‘family’.

The Murderers

We’ve been looking in detail at the murderers’ scene. As I’ve mentioned, I think it's a really funny scene, but that, in many ways, means it's especially hard to pull off in performance. I think the key is going to be playing the scene totally straight, not trying to play the scene for laughs. I remember a comedy show I saw once when one of the characters walked into a hardware store and asked the man behind the counter for some nuts and bolts. Of course, it turns out that he isn’t after nuts and bolts such as you’d find in a hardware store; instead he's after some peanuts to eat. It doesn’t sound that funny put like this, but when you’re watching them do the sketch it's brilliantly funny because that character plays the scene as though he's asking for something totally normal, something you’d expect to find in a hardware store, and as a result, he gets a little puzzled when the shopkeeper tells him he doesn’t have any… At the moment we’re trying the murderers’ scene (act 1 scene 4) in the same way. So, when the Second Murderer asks me, “Shall I stab him as he sleeps?”, I reply as though it's a serious question: “No. He’ll say ‘twas done cowardly / when he wakes.” At the moment, I think the audience will find it funnier if they’re laughing at us rather than with us.


I had my first costume fitting for Catesby the other day. It's quite plain and simple; I’ll be wearing doublet and hose, but nothing elaborate; it's mainly black with little touches of white here and there. It's very plain and official-looking, which I think is very appropriate for the character. Catesby needs to be able to blend in; he needs not to be noticed when it suits his purposes, but at the same time, it's appropriate that his clothes are very different to those of Edward IV and his court, whose clothes are far more brightly coloured and gaudy.

Catesby and Richard

I’ve been starting to think about why Catesby sides with Richard. I think they both believe that England is not well served by Edward and his family and that they need to instigate change. He also sees the opportunities for advancement in serving Richard; there is a possibility of a better future for him if he serves Richard because of their shared opinions. The other consideration is that Catesby is a man with nothing to lose. When reading the play, I found no hints that he had anything to lose in following Richard, and when I was doing some research into the history of the character, I found out that the real Catesby's wife died shortly before the time period during which the events of the play take place. When this happened, the historical Catesby was of an age when he probably wouldn’t be able to marry anyone else, so all he was risking in following Richard was his own person and reputation.

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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