Monday, February 2, 2015

Fight Scenes in Richard III

King Richard III. Dir. Michael Bogdanov. Perf. Andrew Jarvis, Michael Pennington, Anne Penfold, June Watson, and Susanna Best. Wars of the Roses. 1990. DVD. Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2005.

My students often ask incredibly compelling questions; I occasionally have answers to them. When I don't have an answer, I try to find one (rather than making one up, which is not the best pedagogical practice).

In my Shakespeare and Film class, we study the film versions of Loncraine (with Ian McKellen) and Olivier (with Olivier) fairly extensively. While doing some heavy comparison and contrast, a student asked whether there was a film version of Richard III that had more of a traditional one-on-one battle sequence at the end.

The question was quite astute and very interesting. The stage direction in the first Quarto of the play (which I was able to view at the Huntington Library—for which, q.v.) is very sparse, reading only "Enter Richard and Richmond, they fight, Richard is slain" (click on the image below to enlarge it).

[Shakespeare, William.] The Tragedy of King Richard the Third. London: Printed by Valentine Sims, for Andrew Wise, dwelling in Paules Chuch-yard [sic], at the Signe of the Angell, 1597. Huntington Library Call Number 69350. Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Digital Image by Keith Jones. Original housed in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. No copies may be made.

Such a vague stage direction allows for considerable latitude in actors' and directors' decisions. Loncraine's is to have Richard flee to the top of an abandoned warehouse; Olivier's is to have Richard, after a brief initial exchange with Richmond, attacked by the entire army. My students wanted to see some traditional hand-to-hand combat, and I was stymied—at first.

I decided to try the end of the Richard III that is part of the series The Wars of the Roses, the English Shakespeare Company's astonishing production of both tetralogies (for which, q.v.). And I found what we were all looking for.

It was a little unusual, I suppose, to find it there.  The film is largely in modern dress with modern warfare. The clip below will give you a flavor of that at the beginning (with gunfire) and the end (with an address to the nation that gives the events of the play a very pro-Richmond spin). In the middle, however, we get knights in armor (see if you can guess which one is Richard and which was in Richmond) in old school hand-to-hand combat.


I was very grateful for the good question. It enabled us to explore this production and to discuss a number of deep reasons the production might have had for presenting this battle in this way.

Links: The Series at IMDB.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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