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'Richard III' And The Art Of Villainy

Jay Whittaker as the title character in William Shakespeare's "Richard III."
The Old Globe Theatre
Jay Whittaker as the title character in William Shakespeare's "Richard III."

Globe Mounts New Production Of Shakespeare's History Play

Summer Shakespeare is in full swing at the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. The creative team behind "Richard III" provide some insights into one of Shakespeare's best known villains. Watch the video.

The real Richard III was likely very different from the character created by William Shakespeare in the 1590s. But on stage and in a series of memorable films (see below) the last king from the House of York has been immortalized as an artist in evil who both fascinates and repels.

"Now is the winter of our discontent..." These are Richard's opening lines in the play and his soliloquy draws us into his schemes to become England's king, but it will take a little Machiavellian maneuvering to place him on the throne.

This is Lindsay Posner's first time directing Shakespeare's "Richard III."

"Evil when presented on stage is charismatic," Posner says, "I think if you actually look at portraits of tyrants through the ages from Stalin onwards, they were very charismatic figures because they had, if you like, a guru quality, even though the politics were distasteful."

Posner's production of "Richard III" for the Old Globe Theater's Festival stage makes the 400-year-old play resonate for contemporary audiences by tying it into modern politics.

"We've been through various historical moments recently with [Muammar] Gaddafi and [Saddam] Hussein, which in terms of the oppression in their societies and the tyrants who governed them, follows pretty directly with the psychological and, in one sense, the storyline of 'Richard III.' Obviously not in its historical context but in every other way.

"In terms of the design and the concept we've tried o make it feel very modern and that the battle scenes and very exciting, and generally we've given it a modern, very accessible slant rather than setting it in a court in the 16th century, which immediately has a kind of museum distance and heritage distance, which doesn't always work but sometimes it's nice to look at. I hope that this way it immediately will speak to people in terms of what it's about."

The Globe's 'Richard III'

Actor Jay Whitaker took on the role of Richard 13 years ago and finds new pleasure in taking on Shakespeare's complex villain.

"I think the joy of the part and of watching it is seeing him woo the audience and charm them and then turn."

Posner explains, "It begins with wonderful speeches where he engages the audience and gets the audience to go on his ride."

"He definitely gets joy from it and gets joy in bewildering the audience as much as he does the characters and making them laugh at moments when it might not be completely appropriate to laugh," adds Whittaker.

"There's certainly a sense that he almost stands outside his actions in order to relish them and take the audience along with him," says the director.

"He's moving the chess pieces constantly and yet at the same time playing this character that everyone thinks he's not smart enough to be moving all the pieces," says Whittaker, "It always seems like he's pushing people, everyone that he's around, he's pushing them beyond their comfort zone. And everybody's being manipulated, all the time. There's not a single person free from his manipulation."

"There's a sense that he knows what he wants from each character in each scene and exerts his will to achieve that, till I think he's crowned then things start to slip from his grasp and distrust grows and insecurity grows," Posner says.

"He's not enjoying himself any more, when he's enjoying himself he wants the audience to be a part of it and then when he's not they become almost an enemy," explains Whittaker.

A scene from the Old Globe Theatre's production of "Richard III."
The Old Globe
A scene from the Old Globe Theatre's production of "Richard III."

Richard's trajectory as a character proves fascinating from start to finish, and has enough vigor to still engage contemporary audiences says Whittaker: "I think the way Shakespeare frames a sentence and uses language allows for... it opens up a channel for passion and emotion that is so much deeper and stronger than you can find often in contemporary plays, especially words, the words he chooses."

"I'd say with all Shakespeare if it's done well and it's told with clarity, the story and the plots are the most engaging plotlines in any dramas you will find," says director Lindsay Posner.

The Globe's production of "Richard III" runs through September 29.

Check out the following link:

The Richard III Society whose mission is "In the belief that many features of the traditional accounts of the character and career of Richard III are neither supported by sufficient evidence nor reasonably tenable, the Society aims to promote, in every possible way, research into the life and times of Richard III, and to secure a reassessment of the material relating to this period, and of the role of this monarch in English history."

Trailer for Laurence Olivier's 1955 adaptation of "Richard III," which also includes scenes from "Henry VI," Shakespeare historical trilogy that preceded it.

Trailer for Al Pacino's brilliant dissection of "Richard III" and valiant crusade to make Shakespeare less scary.

Opening scene from Ian McKellan's turn as "Richard III" in 1995.

Video of Kevin Spacey taking the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey stage for "Richard III."

And if you can find it, there is a recording of "Richard III" with Robert Stephens that is sheer genius.

If you feel like doing a little reading of Shakespeare's text before heading out to the play, you can find the complete play here.

And finally, if you love the Bard, check out what the San Diego Shakespeare Society is up to.