There is a moment before most theatrical performances when the audience decides for itself that the event is about to begin. The volume of chatter dissolves to near silence and the separate individuals who have made the trip to the theatre become unified as a body of spectators. For the first time the audience acts collectively. Before every performance of Richard III it is probable that this moment is heavy with expectation: somewhere backstage he is waiting to step forward and deliver himself to our eyes and ears. Over the following pages, I want to offer a detailed commentary on what might happen next. The cleanliness and predictable regularity of printed texts — all margins aligned, all font the same size, long speeches with the appearance of forbidding monuments — all this can, if we are not careful, lull us into reading Shakespeare’s plays as epic poems, or, more broadly, as Literature. Nor is there anything wrong with this. The artefact belongs to us, its audience, and it is our individual right to enjoy and value it on whatever level we choose. But if (cf. Chapter 6, Critical Assessments) we cannot be sure what Shakespeare intended this piece to mean, we can at least be sure that he meant it to be performed. That is, our enjoyment and valuation of the text is liable to increase if we can either see it in performance, or, while reading, make the effort to imagine the words as spoken in concrete situations by actors who are aware of our presence and are seeking to thrill, excite and move us.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number