I may have anticipated this week’s use of Richard’s final speech to Henry in Henry the Sixth Part Three in the episode twelve review, but the line that I ended with and this week’s episode begins with still informs Richard’s character a great deal. “I am myself alone” and its myriad interpretations speaks to the turmoil in his heart, even if he believes, in killing Henry, he is currently without soul. What’s interesting is that although Richard says more than once that he has killed his own soul in that final encounter with his love, there’s not that noticeable a difference in his actions now. He still laments his body, is conflicted about the crown, and is quietly working behind the scenes, to what end even he may not be fully aware of. We know what Edward wants, what Elizabeth wants, what Buckingham wants. But what does Richard want? And has he ever really known?
It’s fitting that this point in the story is when Aya Kanno‘s version of the plays brings in Jane Shore. In Shakespearean terms, Jane isn’t a named character in any of the plays, although some productions do give her name to one of the random court ladies and she is mentioned as “Mistress Shore.” (She is, however, a significant character in several other versions of the Richard III story, including a 1714 play named after her.) Historically she was in fact Edward’s mistress beginning in 1476 until his death in 1483, and while she wasn’t a witch, Richard did accuse her of conspiring against him when he took the throne. Ultimately Jane did pretty well for a player in the Wars of the Roses saga, outliving basically everyone else to die in her 80s. Her status as a witch in Requiem of the Rose King, at least as we see it in this episode, is yet another marker of Richard’s discomfort with his feminine aspects; he compares her to Joan (also not a witch), and she makes him similarly uncomfortable as she seeks to manipulate him for her own ends. In Richard’s world, women are witches like Jane and Joan, betrayers like Anne and Cecily, or schemers like Isabelle, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Why would he want to accept that part of himself when he can’t like it in others?
Jane’s entry on the scene is also a good way to show us how much time has passed. Prince Edward died in 1471 and King Edward is still alive, so we have to be somewhere between 1476 and 1483, a time frame borne out by the ages of the new sons present in the episode – and Buckingham’s impressive growth spurt. (And guess what? The new kids are also all Edwards and Richards!) The king’s slide into debauchery and George’s descent into wine-fueled anger are what allow Jane to slip in and begin manipulating circumstances as she pleases, but if we’re honest she doesn’t have to work that hard, because both of Richard’s older brothers aren’t exactly leading healthy lives. Richard’s exclusion – which he basically does himself – is what gives him a better view of what’s going on but also what may be keeping him safer than either Edward or George, because he’s not out there in plain sight most of the time. Sure people wonder why he and Anne have only one child (and we all know who that adorable kid really is), but for the most part he’s just quietly lurking.
That’s what makes the opening scene of this cour so striking. It features an actor as Richard, performing the scene I mentioned in the beginning. Richard is playing a part, it implies, reciting his lines as he moves through the world still feeling the pain of Henry’s loss and does what he believes is his part for his father’s dream. Heaven may not be in the circlet of the crown, but Hell most definitely is, and Richard’s been staring down into that abyss for a while now. Will he slip over the edge and embrace Shakespearean villainy? The curtain has risen on Richard III. Let’s watch and find out.
Requiem of the Rose King is currently streaming on Funimation.