Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas 1484 with Richard III: A Playlet

Scene 1: Westminster Hall is bedecked with greenery and tapestries covered with little white boars as King Richard III and Queen Anne enter. They look around admiringly.

Anne: Isn’t it beautiful? (Coughs) I beg your pardon. And look, I’ve left a couple of places vacant just in case your nephews Edward and Richard return for Christmas from their grand tour of the Continent.

Richard: How thoughtful, my dear. (Aside) What am I going to tell her next? I can't keep them on the damn Grand Tour forever.

Scene 2: Some time later. The king and queen are mingling with their guests.

Anne: Here comes your brother’s daughter Elizabeth. I do think she's bearing up pretty well after being in sanctuary all that time, don't you? And look, Richard! Just in case the poor girl was feeling sad this Christmas I had her dress made from the same material as mine. Isn’t it beautiful?

Richard: (Eyes popping) Yes. She—er—it is.

(Elizabeth, heading toward the royal couple, passes courtiers)

Courtiers: Wowsa!

Elizabeth: (Aside) And I thought it was going to be no fun being a bastard. (Curtsies to Richard) I wish you good tidings of the season, your grace. Oh, and your grace too. (Turns to Anne) How are you feeling, your grace?

Anne: Perfectly well, thank you. (Coughs for five minutes or so) Excuse me for a few minutes.

Elizabeth: (Taking out a slip of paper from a pouch she wears at her side) I thought she’d never stop coughing. Do you know when the doctors say she’ll die? This is what I want engraved on our plate once we’re married, Dickon.

Richard: Sweetheart, I told you to keep calling me “uncle” in public.

Elizabeth: (Pouting) All right, Uncle. But what do you think about the engraving?

Richard: Beautiful. Er— Anne?

Anne: What are you showing your uncle, dear?

Elizabeth: Oh, that would spoil your surprise, your grace. (Scampers off)

Anne: What a sweet girl. We really need to find a husband for her, dear.

Richard: Oh, I’m working on it.

Anne: You think of everything.

Richard: Welcome, Lord Stanley! How goes it with your wife?

Stanley: My wife?

Richard: Yes, your wife, Margaret Beaufort. The woman you have under house arrest on my orders.

Stanley: Oh, yes, my wife. She is very well.

Richard: She doesn’t find her confinement disagreeable?

Stanley: Oh, she finds ways to pass the time.

Richard: And how is that son of hers? John, no, Edward, no, Henry. That’s it. Henry Tudor.

Stanley: Him. I have no idea. I don’t hear from him. She never hears from him. We never hear from him. Frankly, I think sometimes my wife forgets he’s even alive, he’s been abroad so long.

Richard: Indeed. Well, a merry Christmas to you, Lord Stanley. (Aside) Lying bastard.

Stanley: And a merry Christmas to you, your grace. (Aside) Not “your grace” for long if Maggie has her way. (Exits)

Richard: Oh, hello, Mother.

Cecily: Hello, dear.

Richard: Are you enjoying your Christmas?

Cecily: As much as I can since you spread that nasty rumor that I had been unfaithful to your father and that your brothers weren't his children.

Richard: Not that again. It was nothing personal, Mum. We went through this last Christmas.

Cecily: Yes, and we’ll go through it this Christmas too, and the Christmas after that, and the Christmas after that. And you know why? Because I’m your mother and I can say to you whatever I please. Even if you are the king. And don't get me started on how you got to be the king. Your dear little nephews—

Richard: Mother, how about going on pilgrimage next Christmas? I’ll pay for everything.

Scene 3: The royal bedchamber. Richard is lying alone in the royal bed. Suddenly a spirit appears, shrouded in a deep black garment that conceals all of it except for one outstretched hand. Richard stirs and wakes.

Richard: What—? (Aside) I knew that last cup of wine was a big mistake.

Spirit: I am the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Richard: The what?

Spirit: You’d understand better if you were living about 400 years later. By then, a chap named Charles Dickens— But I’ve got other visits to pay tonight. Let’s discuss Christmas Yet to Come.

Richard: Tell me, O Spirit.

Spirit: Well, to begin with, your wife is going to die. I know you’ve been expecting that, but it’s not going to work out as you planned. You’re going to have to give up your plans to marry that nubile little niece of yours.

Richard: No nubile niece!

Spirit: It goes downhill from there. She’s going to marry Henry Tudor.

Richard: Not Tudor, no! Not Tudor!

Spirit: They’re going to have sons, and one of the sons is going to have six wives.

Richard: Six wives! I can’t even marry two! Or can I? Do I get to marry anyone else? Do I get to have living children?

Spirit: Sorry, no. Now, how can I put this? Well, in your case there’s not going to be a Christmas Yet to Come. This is your last one. Hope the food was good tonight.

Richard: Spirit?

Spirit: You’re going to die in battle before the end of the coming year, and Tudor is going to take the crown. Then he gets your niece, and the son with the six wives becomes king after him. You’ll be the end of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Richard: (After a long silence) I killed the little brats for this?

Spirit: I'm afraid so. But you will fight pretty well in that last battle, aside from getting killed. That's something.

Richard: Spirit, what I can do to change this dire future?

Spirit: Not a blessed thing. Too many people are going to be making a living writing books about you and the king with the six wives. But there is an upside to all of this.

Richard: Tell me, O Spirit.

Spirit: Your reputation will be bad, and a glover’s son named William Shakespeare will make it even worse. You’ll even be depicted with a hump on your back. But after 500 years or so, it will start to get better. There will be a society devoted entirely to improving your reputation. There will be publications devoted to you. Your enemies will be slandered. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a novel about you where you aren’t the good guy. Women in particular will love you. Everyone will blame someone else for the Princes in the Tower, and people won’t even care that you executed Hastings, Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, and Haute on trumped-up charges. You’ll be everybody’s favorite dead king.

Richard: So. Tudor gets the girl and the crown, and I get the Richard III Society and the adoring women?

Spirit: Yes.

Richard: (Sighing) Well, there are tradeoffs in life, aren’t there? Merry Christmas, Spirit.

Spirit: Merry Christmas. And to all a good night.

14 comments:

Lynne said...

I LOVED this! Richard III is one of my favorite characters to read about.

Kailana said...

That was great! Very creative addition to the Advent Calendar!

Daphne said...

This is hilarious!! I laughed all the way through it!

Gabriele C. said...

You gotta love family Christmasses. :) I'm glad my brother took his stupid wife and the kids for a skiing holiday in the Alpes this year, so we'll escape the Boxing Day dinner with the bitch and her even stupider relations.

Poor Richard, to fall into the hands of that Shakespeare guy. He and Macbeth could have some nice conversation about him. ;)

Carla said...

This is great, Susan! (You put my contribution to the Blog Tour to shame!).

Deirdre said...

This just made my day. Especially since I recently finished reading AJ Pollard's Richard III and the Princes in the Tower and so was able to get most of the references. A nice antidote to all the overwrought Ricardian fiction out there.

elena maria vidal said...

Very funny, Susan. I have been in love with Richard since I was fourteen! Did he really plan on marrying Elizabeth?

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, all! Gabriele, I feel your pain! Carla, I can't do recipes, so I've got to do something!

Elena, no one's sure whether Richard had plans to marry Elizabeth or not. In the 1600's, George Buck, who was sympathetic toward Richard, quoted a letter from Elizabeth in which she expressed her impatience for Anne to die and called Richard her "only joy and maker in this world." The letter itself, if it ever existed, has been lost. Richard was rumored to be planning to marry Elizabeth, however, and he had to publicly deny the rumor, after which Elizabeth was sent away from court.

Sarah said...

I agree, very funny! Poor Richard III, but what would novelists have done without him?

elena maria vidal said...

Very interesting, thanks, Susan. I always enjoyed Rosemary Hawley Jarman's take on Richard in "We Speak No Treason." In fact, I liked that book so much I was never able to get into Penman's "The Sunne in Splendor." Just my own hang-up. But I did really like Norah Lofts' portrayal of him in "The Goldsmith's Wife."

Susan said...

This is sheer genius. Thanks for the laughs.
Susan A

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Sarah & Susan!

Elena--I was the opposite. I couldn't get into the Jarman at all (incidentally, it's being reissued in the UK), but I really enjoyed the Penman. I'll have to look at the Lofts.

Aarti said...

This was a lot of fun, Susan! I enjoyed reading it :-)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Aarti!