Viewing posts tagged tricky dicky

Tricky Dicky, Part 9: Margaret on the Bonfire

The only point having a character in a story make a prophecy is so that it can come true - unless the story is specifically about fake or failed prophecies. 

We talked (a lot) last time about Queen Margaret in the First Tetralogy.  Her main role in the last play of the cycle, Richard III, is to foretell the future.  She predicts, more or less accurately, the fates of all her tormentors.  When she tells Buckingham that he will one day rue his alliance with Richard, she tells him:

...remember this another day,

When he shall split thy very heart with sorrow,

And say poor Margaret was a prophetess!

...which is, of course, exactly what happens. 

In a recursive moment - which anticipates the way the witches in Macbeth turn cause-and-effect into a moebius strip - Buckingham fulfills Margaret’s prophecy by quoting it from his own memory, while waiting in one of Richard’s cells to be executed.  The comparison with Macbeth’s witches or weird sisters is apt as, in her role as a prophet of doom, Margaret takes on the role of a witch.  Richard calls her “foul wrinkled witch” in response to her accusations.  This is ironic, given Margaret’s ...

Tricky Dicky, Part 8: Margaret on the Escalator

In Richard III, the deposed former queen, Margaret, widow of Henry VI, though notionally banished, continues to haunt the new Yorkist regime of Edward IV.  She has no role anymore, no status.  (In most theatre productions she literally has no role - she is cut from the play for time reasons).  She is a defeated enemy.  An enemy, moreover, who is directly responsible for the death of the new Yorkist king’s father.  Even so, the Yorkists are content to let this relic of the defeated Lancastrians carry on perambulating around the court, snarling at them, cursing them, and wailing of her unjust plight at their hands.  They occasionally grumble that she should be gotten rid of, but nobody does anything about it.  Not even openly taunting and cursing the new queen, her replacement, can earn Margaret more than a verbal rebuke.  Margaret haunts the outskirts of the play like a bad conscience, the bad conscience of all the other characters.  That’s certainly how she thinks of herself: as a living rebuke to those whose triumph is also her desolation.  And it’s hard not to think that they see her that way too, despite the fact that she has plenty to ...

Tricky Dicky, Part 7: Vanilla History

NOTE: This article has been amended to remove factual errors (please see the comments).


It used to be said that Englishmen got their understanding of history from Shakespeare and their understanding of theology from Milton.  These days, they get their understanding of history from Simon Schama and their understanding of theology from Richard Dawkins.  God help us.  In practice, this means middlebrow television and middlebrow publishing.  Which could, at the moment, with a little stretching, be boiled down satisfactorily to one quasi-word: BBC. 

Shakespeare, meanwhile, has gone largely from being a purveyor of an idea of history to being a bit of history that is itself purveyed.  It’s no secret that he’s an industry all to himself.  Of course, what that actually means is that he's become an idea people sell - and part and parcel of this idea is a whole complex of other ideas, some of which are still about the history he supposedly tells or implies.  Like any industry, the packaging is as much ideological as it is plastic and cardboard.  And when it comes to the ideological packaging of isolated, decontextualised, atomised, rendered, pulped and puréed ...

Tricky Dicky, Part 6: Dress Modern

We are now in an odd, reversed position when it comes to William Shakespeare and Richard III: all of a sudden, and for the first time, we seem to know where Richard III's head is, but not where to find Shakespeare's.

I’ve written in previous instalments of this series about the relationship between Richard III (the man), Richard III (the play), William Shakespeare, and history. 

Essentially, my argument is that William Shakespeare was, for various reasons to do with his class position, his family, his career, and the historical moment and social milieu in which he found himself, peculiarly well placed to dramatise social energies, feelings, anxieties, and vertigos, which still speak to us today.  He was writing at the dawn of modernity, during the years immediately following the end of the medieval, in the immediate aftermath of the English Reformation… all of which is related to the fundamental fact that he was writing during the transition from feudalism as the dominant economic form of English society to capitalism.  We still live with the energies and dystrophies of modernity, since we still live in capitalist society.  Indeed, Shakespeare has in some ways only become ...

Tricky Dicky, Part 5: By Dissembling

This should be read as, in some ways, a continuation of the previous instalment.

I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me, as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time.

Richard III, I, I

Used as the epigraph to Ben Aaronovitch's novelisation of 'Remembrance of the Daleks'


In Richard III, as I started to talk about last time (in Part 4), Richard draws upon his ‘deformity’ for an identity. As noted in a previous instalment, Richard is a narcissist (hardly an original observation) and a vital part of his narcissism is expressed in his concentration upon what he sees - or spins to us, the audience - as his own physical monstrosity. He concentrates on his physical ‘defects’, talking them up, poetically riffing on them and exaggerating them (if he were as monstrous as he says he is nobody would be able to look at him let alone accept him as colleague or husband) until ...

Tricky Dicky, Part 4: Of Performity

Just a reminder: I recently guested (again) on the Oi! Spaceman podcast to talk about ‘Caves of Androzani’. Download here.


What makes an English king ‘bad’? It certainly isn’t starting wars, brutally oppressing peasants and vassals, invading places, or killing and exploiting lots of people. If it were, most of them would be seen as bad, and Edward III (who basically started the Hundred Years War) and Richard I (crusader) wouldn’t have the perennially good reputations they still enjoy. Generally we seem to decide a king is bad if he lost something. We - by which I of course mean 'someone somewhere' - seem to have decided that John, Edward II, Richard II and Richard III were the 'bad' kings.  Losers all.  John lost a lot of France, and a lot of his power to his barons, an event marked by Magna Carta. Edward II lost to Robert Bruce at Bannockburn, thus losing control of Scotland, and then lost control of his kingdom to his wife and Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. Richard II was challenged by the peasants’ revolt, and ousted from power twice by his barons, being finally deposed by Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Lancaster. Richard III ...

Tricky Dicky, Part 3: First as History, Then as Tragedy

William Shakespeare lived at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I and the start of the reign of James I (and VI of Scotland). This was a time when modernity was coming into being. Feudalism was crumbling and fading, and the capitalist epoch was in the process of being born. That’s why we call his time the Early Modern Period (another name for the Renaissance, basically). Modernity is essentially another way of saying capitalism, from its beginnings as a predominant social system onward. (We won’t here argue about whether we currently live in post-modernity.)

Shakespeare lived and died in an era of what Marx refers to as ‘primitive accumulation’. This was the process whereby feudal property was appropriated, broken up and turned into capital.

The basis of the feudal system was land, owned by lords, farmed by peasants who were tied to the land, generally not allowed to leave (which is why it’s such a clever joke when, in ‘The Androids of Tara’, the fourth Doctor responds to Zadek’s observation “You don’t look like a peasant” with “Well of course not, I’ve travelled”). The peasants farmed and produced their own subsistence directly. For the privilege of being ...

Tricky Dicky, Part 2: The Mirror Effect

Bit of an unplanned diversion for the Tricky Dicky series, this. Normal service to be resumed soon. (This series was always intended as a free-associating ramble.) We're going to Shakespeare, albeit not in the way originally planned, so Spoiler Warning… um, for a play first performed about 423 years ago. Oh, and Trigger Warning, for discussion of recent violent acts, and some hardcore misogyny.

Apparently, the guy who recently murdered nine innocent people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon - let his name go unmentioned and unspoken, and be forgotten, for he is unimportant as an individual; and he made himself so – had the audacity to leave behind lots of written complaints at the site of his killing spree. They were mostly about not having a girlfriend, and about feeling that everybody else was crazy.

Oh, boo hoo. Join the fucking club, you fucking asshole. Most people have gone through the same or similar things at one time or another. A lot of people have gone through a lot worse.  What gives you the right to express your displeasure at a routine and banal human experience by violating other people’s right to live?

Thing is… this is ...

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