Now mark me, how I will undo myself;
I give this heavy weight from off my head
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duty's rites
I've heard acute narcissism is often caused by childhood abuse. After watching a production of Richard II last night, the idea doesn't seem strange to me.
I'd never read the play or seen a production before I watched last night one from 1990 starring Michael Pennington as Richard. I wasn't strongly impressed by the first three acts--it seemed mainly to be manoeuvring of armies, like a lot of the plot business in Macbeth and King Lear only without the character study. Richard's serial bad decisions felt kind of like anti-Plantagenet propaganda and I wondered at Pennington's oddly preening performance. Then, in the deposition scene of Act IV, it suddenly made complete sense as the text became a brilliant portrait of self-destructive narcissism, and made sense of earlier portions of the play, including the King's waffling over how to deal with the dispute between Mowbray and Bolingbroke--first trying to make peace between the two, then allowing them to duel, then stopping the duel at the beginning to exile them both from England. I wondered at the weird indecision at the time, but it makes sense as someone constantly criticising himself, constantly consumed with his own image, more interested in being the great and divine King than in doing the right thing. His decisions have the ironic effect of making him first the image of a bad King, and then no longer a King at all. It's an impressive tangle of self-destruction as his attempts to look great have the opposite effect, thereby prompting him to make further attempts to improve his self-image, again resulting in the opposite effect.
I like Pennington's idea of how to play Richard maybe more than his execution. Sometimes it's very good, sometimes it seems a little too broad for me. I wish I could get my hands on the version with Ian McKellen in the role.
Twitter Sonnet #271
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