I’ve never heard Shakespeare’s language spoken as lucidly as it is spoken in the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Richard III. It is spoken so lucidly that I can now say with more assurance than ever that, while this play has an exciting beginning and an engrossing second half, the second quarter of the play is a deadly, over-plotted slog.
One of the greatest English-speaking actors of our time, Mark Rylance, makes a full meal of the title role, finding unexpected comedy throughout. This Richard isn’t the vicious moustache-twirler often seen in the role. Oh, he’s a villain, alright (which is probably unfair to the historical Richard, whose legal legacy actually included increased protections for the poor and free speech), but Rylance takes his cue from Richard’s description of his former behavior late in the play: “antic”.
This Richard is decidedly antic, taking everything from murder to war very lightly one minute, screaming and bellowing the next. This quality makes his tragic end more poignant than usual – when he uses the word antic, he’s actually lamenting that he no longer has the antic spirit he once had.
Samuel Barnett also makes a considerable impression as Elizabeth Woodville, consort to King Edward IV (Richard’s brother), in a scene late in the play where she answers Richard’s every attempt to get around her with bitter, eloquent sarcasm equal to his own. This scene, while a strong one, isn’t usually one of the play’s high points, but Barnett’s sharp performance makes it one.
If you are in any way inclined toward Shakespeare, this production does indeed come close to being definitive, and is unquestionably instantly legendary. If you love Shakespeare, don’t you dare miss it!
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