Shakespeare’s play Richard III while it was set over 100 years before it was performed in the 1590s was a starkly contemporary reflection of the realities of what life and politics must have been like during Shakespeare’s own time. We get a hint of the savage brutality that was part of the reigns of all the Royal figureheads, from Elizabeth Ist’s father Henry VIII, through to Elizabeth’s Catholic sister Mary and then into Elizabeth’s own reign- and beyond into the reign of James 1st: being burnt at the stake, being hung, drawn and quartered or simply having your head chopped off with an axe were nearly daily occurrences in this period of history.
And people seemed to enjoy this spectacle of brutality meted out to those whose religion or politics were different from the accepted mood of the times. So this is where the link between Sir Walter Ralegh and Richard III becomes interesting. Ralegh was such an eminently succesful explorer, writer, thinker, statesman and yet stepping slightly out of line led first to his alienation from his beloved Queen and then eventually to his imprisonment in the tower- and finally his execution- under the reign of James Ist. So reading Ralegh’s poems give a graphic sense of how people insecure people must have felt during this period. Both his poems “What is Life” and “The Lie” together with the “Conclusion” to his History of the World, give a taste of the cynicism that was part of his experience.
Blog topics for Week 3
CRITICAL. What does Ralegh mean by his sentence in the Conclusion to his The History of the World that “It is …Death alone that can suddenly make man to know himself.”?
CREATIVE. You are imprisoned in the Tower of London uncertain of your future. Write a letter to your friend expressing your sense of grief and your faint hope that you might be able to avoid execution.
CRITICAL. What is the central complaint that underlines Ralegh’s poem “The Lie”?
CREATIVE. You are a woman in Richard III’s court. You hate everything he is doing. Write a series of curses that go to the heart of who and what Richard III is.
CRITICAL. Write a short appraisal of what you have found on the Richard III Society web site? Is this society seeking to liberate Richard from the tyranny of Shakespeare and Thomas More, or is it simply seeking objective information about this king?
CREATIVE. What is our life? A play of passion (from Ralegh’s “What is our life”). Use this opening line to build your own poem basing it around the metaphor of life being like a stage performance.
CREATIVE/ CRITICAL. Create a topic of your own that picks up your main interest in the work we have been exploring during the last week.