For the first time in four centuries a modern writer challenges William Shakespeare head-on, writing in English as it was available to the Bard. Shakespeare wrote 'The Tragedy of Richard the Third' as Tudor propaganda for the Court of Queen Elizabeth I, portraying King Richard as a misshapen sociopath and killer.
Robert Fripp, the former Series Producer at CBC-TV's investigative 'The Fifth Estate' program, wrote Dark Sovereign over a period of four years. 'Dark Sovereign' counter-attacks Shakespeare's polemic, offering a researched, balanced tale of Richard's troubled reign.
British author Robert Fripp has also written several internationally published books. His fictive 'Power of a Woman' finds Eleanor of Aquitaine writing her memoirs.
Robert Fripp is my guest on FLY HIGH! to introduce you the results of his research and his play dedicated to Richard III. Enjoy his piece and join our discussion about the true nature of King Richard Plantagenet. Your comments and contributions will be really welcome!
Repairing King Richard III: Writing 'Shakespeare'
to change history
~ the story behind Dark Sovereign ~
By Robert Fripp
In 1983 I was producing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's ongoing investigative series, The Fifth Estate, each week. 1983 happened to be the five hundredth anniversary of King Richard III's accession to the throne of England, so the international press reached our Toronto Broadcast Centre full of stories about the mysteries and controversies that continued to broil around him. Rival theories about the life and times of the last Plantagenet king escaped from the Richard III community and gained wider attention.
As a current affairs television producer, and later as a communications consultant, I found the Richard III dilemma fascinating. Did he kill his nephews? Was the man a devil or a saint? He reigned for just 25 months, so why did well-educated people, would-be 'arbiters of conventional wisdom', continue to debate his actions and his character five centuries later? Charles Ross, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Bristol, even commented that Richard III was one of just two medieval figures who continued to be the subject of at least one major work in every generation through five hundred years.
Many books have proclaimed Richard a benign leader. Others take the opposite view. The verdict on Richard is more split than ever—which means that the number of his supporters is growing. Richard, who spent much of his life in the North Riding of Yorkshire, or guarding the Scottish border, worked hard to improve life in the underprivileged North. The North of England continues to support him. But one of William Shakespeare's first plays, The Tragedy of Richard III, has been a public relations disaster for Richard and his supporters through four hundred years.
The Tragedy of Richard III is a work of pure character assassination. Written around 1591, it was probably performed first for the Court of Queen Elizabeth I. Tudor monarchs had been ruling for more than a century by then, but their tenuous claim to the throne still seemed to trouble them. The first Tudor king, Henry VII, had killed Richard in battle at Bosworth in 1485, then ordered his body exposed for three summer days. Having denied Richard a decent burial a century earlier, the last of the Tudor monarchs, Elizabeth I, still found need to heap dirt on his reputation.
Four centuries have passed since The Tragedy of Richard III outlived its motive, which was to denigrate the Tudors' nemesis, the last Plantagenet king. But the Bard's propaganda remains a clever, firmly established and popular work of spite. It ranks among his top five performed plays.
I reasoned that the only way to combat four centuries of Shakespeare's hostility was to write a better play than the Bard, doing so in English as it was available to him and his contemporaries. It took four years, working 45 hours a week on top of my television job. Of course, I had to put as much work into researching the English language as into the history of Richard III.
It was difficult to write the English of the 'Golden Age' four centuries later. Dark Sovereign contains no word, preposition, verb form, expression, allegory or metaphor that entered English after 1626. That year marks the death of Francis Bacon, the 'last great Tudor'.
Dark Sovereign is now published as a book with an introduction I call 'The Owner's Manual'. This explains in detail how one goes about writing a Shakespearean play in the English of the 'Golden Age'. The short answer is: You crawl forward, and back, from syllable to syllable, and from word to word.
For example: How does one set up a metaphor describing inherited character traits without referring to evolution as Wallace and Darwin introduced it in the nineteenth century? I'll save you the months it might take you to answer that question: Open a Bible to the Book of Genesis, Chapter 30, and read the story of Jacob, Laban, and the streaked or spotted goats. After reading it a few times you may experience a Eureka! moment. You will suddenly realize how important it was to all the factions involved to control the education and life experiences of the twelve-year-old heir to the throne, the future Edward V. To possess the person of the boy would, in effect, enable the winning party to steer the direction of sovereign policy. There lies the urgency and motivation for Richard Gloucester's coup d'etat against the Woodvilles.
I started writing Dark Sovereign with one advantage. At the age of eight I won a choral scholarship to the choir of Salisbury Cathedral, where I spent five years reading, reciting, chanting and singing sixteenth century English through eight services and seven rehearsals a week.
Exhaustion was also a priceless asset. Dark Sovereign emerged after many fourteen- to sixteen-hour days, sandwiched between producing network television. Curiously, writing six to eight hours might generate little before exhaustion set in. At that point my conscious brain, bone-weary, dropped its guard and strange and alien concepts and words began to appear. A larger, intuitive spirit—a shamanic state of consciousness—took hold and I watched ink dry on serendipitous research findings and on words that appeared, suited and fit in time and in place. Aboriginal peoples would say: My helper spirits were at work. I agree. Having survived the strangely spiritual experience of creating Dark Sovereign, I wrote a book about Animism, spirit worlds and healing in ancient times: Spirit in Health. It seemed like the sensible thing to do.
As an experiment in language, Dark Sovereign has already generated several unintended consequences. For a start, uncut, it runs longer than Hamlet. (I have already shredded the full text of Dark Sovereign to suit the stage.) Overnight, Dark Sovereign becomes the longest play ever written in the English of the 'Golden Age'.
Thanks for reading