Peter Schuyler has performed some of the most demanding and iconic roles in western drama for Bag&Baggage: George in Of Mice and Men…John Proctor in The Crucible…Ivor Fish in Rough Crossing (well, actually, that last one wasn’t that hard, really)….Now, Pete puts on the hump and takes on his biggest challenge yet, the bunch-backed toad King Richard III! Here Pete blogs about the challenge of playing one of the most iconic roles in all the world:
I have zero interest in exploring the life of the actual King Richard III. The short-lived, unfortunate historical figure, who was so brutally killed and cast into an unmarked grave some 500 years ago is not the Richard III of Shakespeare (let’s call the play R3).
The timelines don’t match up, Richard being only three years old when the events of Henry VI (let’s just say H6 from here on out) begin to take place.
As much fun as the image of a rapier wielding toddler is to imagine, for my purpose it will not serve.
The Richard I am interested in is more clearly outlined in the cycle of Henry VI parts 2-3. Nobody in the play seems to have very nice things to say about Richard here.
Small wonder too as Richard becoming king is something like putting a loaded gun on the throne. The Richard of those plays is, well, I think he says it best to Queen Elizabeth in R3, Act I Sc 3:
Ere you were queen, ay, or your husband king,
I was a packhorse in his great affairs,
A weeder-out of his proud adversaries,
A liberal rewarder of his friends.
To royalize his blood, I spent mine own.
He’s the royal hitman.
Richard, and he’s being honest here, sees himself a dutiful son, a steadfast brother, and an accomplished soldier, all in the face of a handicap that shaped the way the world viewed him. Where he looks for thanks, he gets curses. The brutality of the world in which he lives and the vacuum of any morality so shapes his worldview to match his body and believe that he is the ugly king fit for these ugly times. If not him then who? Clarence the turncoat or his brother Edward the lecher? His idiot nephews?
Not a chance. Along with his deformities Richard has qualities his brothers both keenly lack; ambition; a malevolent sense of humor and intelligence; and this may be the most important for me — delight.
He’s the royal hitman, and he LOVES his job.
This is where I start. That’s the guy I’m interested in playing. What can I do with that on stage, that delight? What avenues does that open up to me to show how much Richard loves the plotting and murder just for the sake of plotting and murder? Sure, he’s wanted to be king for years, but would he still want to be king if here were more able bodied and there wasn’t a line of people to be mowed down like grass to get to the throne? Again, not a chance. To come at if from another side — what would you want to do the people in power who have used you like a tool for years, telling you “good job!” to your face and then calling you a toad, a hedgehog, or a dog behind your back? If you knew in your hear t of hearts that you were stronger, more capable, smarter, and funnier than these people? If you were Richard, what would want to do?
Well, wouldn’t you want to kill everyone? Richard sure does, and he’s going to have a blast doing it. And I’m pretty sure you are going to have a blast watching him do it, too.
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