Friday, April 04, 2008

Fragment 404

Shakespeare’s Richard II is a monarch undone by his own verbosity, brought down by his own poetic gift within which he is imprisoned, helpless.
His first instinctive response, for example, to the devastating news of his army’s defeat in Ireland, an event which he knows marks the beginning of his downfall, is to reach for the heights of performative eloquence: let’s talk of graves, of worms, of epitaphs, make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. He simply cannot prevent himself from improvising the sublimest poetry.
He is a man with a poetic temperament in a position of power, and therefore vulnerable to the machinations of the caterpillars who crawl out to take advantage of his sheer lack of sense of the exigencies of realpolitik: the word defeated by the deed.
In his last days in solitary confinement, he builds great metaphorical structures, likening his thoughts to the people of the world, his sighs and tears and groans to the minutes hours and times of the clock. Time passes slowly in prison, but not emptily when you have such linguistic and metaphysical resources at your disposal.
Incidentally, the meaning of Richard’s remarks about the music he hears outside his prison have been missed by directors of all the performances I have seen of this play. The point is that the music is played badly, that the musicians are not playing in time together. This Richard hears: Ha Ha! Keep time!, he admonishes the players, How sour sweet music is when time is broke. And it prompts him to a rare moment of clarity: and here have I the daintiness of ear / To check time broke in a disordered string / But for the concord of my state and time / Had not an ear to hear my true time broke. / I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…
The whole metaphorical structure is completely meaningless if this dissonance is not brought out in performance: so is it in the music of men’s lives…..

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