Shakespeare’s Early Histories

Rivals of his later masterpieces? No. But the “first tetralogy” about the War of the Roses swims with scenes of consummate badassery and characters that make Mr. T. look like Mr. Rogers.

The most remorseless b–slapper of them all?

Not the vengeful Earl of Warwick, who instantly transformed himself from Edward IV’s ambassador to the champion of Edward’s foes, just because the king embarrassed him in front of the French court.

Richard III, who slew his in-laws, his brother, his nephews, his two best friends, and his wife? No…

…Queen Margaret of Anjou takes the prize for steely fifteenth-century malice. (She slung the bitter imprecation we recently recalled.)

Check her out in Act I, Scene 4 of Henry VI, Part Three. She reduces the Duke of York, pretender to her husband’s throne, to tears. Margaret’s henchman Clifford murdered York’s youngest son–just a little boy–in the previous scene. Margaret has offered York a napkin to dry his tears, a napkin drenched in his own son’s blood!

Also: admire the young Theoden’s (Bernard Hill) skill. He could really act, when he had lines to say that were a little less silly than the Two Towers and Return of the King screenplays…

One thought on “Shakespeare’s Early Histories

  1. Fr. Mark,

    Théoden (a real Anglo-Saxon word that originally meant ‘leader of the people’): what a great part for an actor: awake from a drug-induced dream (during which he sacrifices his son Théodred) to a real-life crisis, and thence to die.

    But, such is the stuff of which Shakespeare is made. In Tolkien’s “Return of The King”, Theoden’s neice, Éowyn, slays the Witch-king of Angmar with Merry’s help. The Witch-king is confident of victory because, “no living man may hinder me;” and Éowyn reveals herself as a woman, and strikes the mortal blow.

    In McBeth, the protagonist is bold, relying on the 2nd apparition’s counsel, “Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man; for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” Then, he is undone when he learns that McDuff was untimely ripped (by Caesarean section) from his dead mother; and McDuff kills McBeth.

    The options to expand meaning that a real knowledge of language, literature, and history offer to an author are astounding. But, I am reminded that I quoted Pope on March 23rd; and I recognize that I’ve scant begun to quench my thirst. So, I’d best be quiet.



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