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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: December ::
Re: Ian McKellen and Richard III
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0935.  Friday, 1 December 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Laura Blanchard <
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        Date:   Thursday, 30 Nov 1995 09:27:19 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Ian McKellen and Richard III
 
(2)     From:   David Evett <R0870%
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        Date:   Thursday 30 Nov 1995 16:12 ET
        Subj:   SHK 6.0932  Re: Ian McKellen's *
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laura Blanchard <
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Date:           Thursday, 30 Nov 1995 09:27:19 -0500
Subject:        Re: Ian McKellen and Richard III
 
I too saw the McKellen production at the Kennedy Center, with a remarkably
mystified Mary McGrory as my guest. McGrory, who made her reputation reporting
on the McCarthy hearings, had not read the play for decades, was having
difficulty following the accents and did not like the production at all (partly
because, having recently read The Daughter of Time, she was annoyed with
Shakespeare's slanders). We attended with a group of about 20 members of the
Richard III Society -- hardly a group likely to be attuned to the portrayal of
Richard III as hitleresque.
 
Nevertheless, I found the production eerily compelling. In conceptualizing
Richard as he did, McKellen didn't take the easy route of flirting with the
audience and engaging their amused sympathies in the earlier acts. This was
patently a Richard that not even a mother could love -- one that wouldn't know
what to do with a woman even if she fell on the floor and quivered at him. This
was also a Richard most dangerous to those who are likely to assume that others
share our values, that they think and react like us and are driven by the same
motivations. McKellen's Richard is nothing at all like any of us.
 
I thought the whole thing was fascinating, and am actually looking forward to
seeing it on film. (Besides, there's supposed to be a magnificent steam engine,
originally built in Germany in the 1940s and now in Lancashire, in one of the
scenes; it's worth the price of admission right there to see Richard III and a
steam locomotive in the same scene.)
 
As a Ricardian and hence a bit of a historical revisionist, I'm perversely
pleased at the concept of the new film as well. I like to think that by moving
Richard to the 1930s, McKellen is reinforcing the notion that this Richard is a
_literary_  figure, not a historical one. I will be interested in seeing the
reviews when the film opens on December 22 -- only in New York and Los Angeles,
alas.
 
Regards,
Laura Blanchard
Richard III Society
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <R0870%
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 >
Date:           Thursday 30 Nov 1995 16:12 ET
Subject: Re: Ian McKellen's *
Comment:        SHK 6.0932  Re: Ian McKellen's *
 
Query:
 
Bill Day's comments on the McKellen R3 fall in nicely with a question that
occurred to me as I was reading a set of student papers on the Scottish play.
Pursuit of power as an end in itself is taken pretty much for granted in this
and other plays.  Macbeth does not have a philosophy of government, a vision of
an ideal or at least desirable Scottish society that he wantsto enact; to the
extent that alternative modes of ruling are presented in the play--choice
between Macbeth and Malcolm--it's in terms of personal morality, not ideology,
and as far as I can find in a few minutes of mental review that's true of the
other choices dramatized in this canon--Richard II and Bolingbroke, Henry VI
and the Yorks, and so on.  There's an implicit difference of something like
_style_ visible in Antony and Caesar, but neither of them (nor any of their
supporters or subjects) directly talks about what the difference might mean for
individual citizens trying to live their lives.  Brutus plots to murder Caesar
on ideological grounds, of course, but he doesn't seem to want power for
himself, and when we get a look at those who do, Antony and Octavius, we again
find no explicit ideological discussion.  The citizens, here and in
_Coriolanus_, are as committed to an essentially personal approach. As I recall
Machiavelli,
 
usually supposed the most sophisticated political thinker of the time, he pays
little or no attention to this kind of question; Elyot and the other courtesy
books construe these things in moral terms.   I can't imagine a late C20 pol,
however venal, presenting his drive as pure naked ambition even to herself,
with no reference however hypocritical to the good of the society. I'm tempted
to suppose that the early modern attitude derives from the fact that power was
more directly and merely mediated by physical force (Stanley managing not to be
a factor at Bosworth).  But I'm not sure I know enough to work it out.  Can
SHAKSPER subscribers recommend histories of political thought that address the
problem?  Have any of you out there thought about it, maybe even written about
it, and about the ways it might touch on our reading, production, etc.?
 
Politically,
Dave Evett
 

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