enter Richard, Duke of Gloucester, alone.
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York,
So, starts The Arden Shakespeare edition of: Richard III. This is all that is written of the play on page one. A whole page dedicated to the first words of Shakespeare’s history play, not even a full sentence as you can see by the apostrophe at the end. The rest of the page is filled up with notes on this single half sentence. The speech goes on over the next three pages before Clarence makes an appearance. The extensive notes are brilliant, they inform you that Richard is the only character in a Shakespeare play to open with a soliloquy. The first three paragraphs of notes deal with the location and of the different ways the play has been staged, The Court, London, or a street near the Tower of London. Then the notes go on to talk about the metaphors in the mention of winter, summer. There is a famous Spanish tragedy by Thomas Kyd written between 1582 and 1592, which Shakespeare has Richard reversing the opening lines. I am trying to interpret these notes without writing them verbatim from the page but, for me to understand deeper the writing of Shakespeare I must study these notes, some of them are complex and harder to understand than the words of the actual play. According to the notes, “metaphors of seasonal transformation were ubiquitous in Tudor poetry.” Well, yes, they certainly are! I have read The Faerie Queene, a long poem by Edmund Spenser, I have had a go at the poems of John Donne, so I do know a bit about metaphors but, it doesn’t come natural or easy to me. Then there is the history of the monarchy at that time, I get confused with the relationships of the brothers and uncles, fathers and sons.
Son. There is a lot of different opinions on what this one word means. It could refer to Edward IV, Richards brother, son of the Duke of York. Or it could be a pun, referring to the emblem on Edwards shield, after three suns appeared during his victorious battle with the Lancastrians. It has also been suggested that it refers to the infant, later to be Edward V. I may have it all wrong but, I wonder if the latter is the best guess on what he means by Son of York. The war of the Rosses is a source of confusion to me, at one time I thought it was simple, Yorkshire against Lancashire, I know now it wasn’t. But that is history, although I love history, I am more interested in his drama. For instance, the first two acts of Richard III span 12 years, I think that is astounding in the context of the play. Watching it being performed, I would have had no idea. Weather that is a good thing or bad, I will have to think about it the next time I go to see it on the stage.
A page at a time, that’s what I have called this post because, this is the way I will have to go, even then, I’ll struggle to understand the subtleties of Shakespeare’s words. But, as I have said in past blog posts, it’s the journey that is the most fun, trying to decipher the meaning of his poetry is a secondary past-time.
I am grateful to The Arden Shakespeare, third series, edited by James R. Siemon, for their amazing work. These books are a massive help to a Shakespearian Truck driver like me.
Bathgate, Monday 3rd of December 2018