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tv   Eyewitness 11PM News  CBS  February 1, 2013 11:00pm-11:35pm EST

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announcer: theater legend derek jacobi considers shakespeare's "richard ii," a king corrupted by absolute power. jacobi: let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings. justin champion: he is regarded as an evil man and these are evil times. a play about
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a weak, ineffective monarch who is deposed. here, cousin seize the crown. although "richard ii" is set in a distant past not all the water in the rough, rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king. announcer: "richard ii" on "shakespeare uncovered." captioning made possible by friends of nci major funding for "shakespeare uncovered" is provided by... the national endowment for the humanities... exploring the human endeavor... the howard and abby milstein foundation.
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shakespeare is an enduring treasure of western art. bringing new audiences to his work is a key reason we're funding "shakespeare uncovered." please join us in supporting your public television station. announcer: major funding is also provided by: rosalind p. walter; the polonsky foundation... virginia and dana randt; the luesther t. mertz charitable trust; and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. "for god's sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the
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death of kings." westminster abbey, for over a thousand years, graveyard of the great kings and queens of england. this is one of them, richard ii murdered, some say over 600 years ago. the inscription says here that he was tall in body and as sage as homer. it goes on to say that he laid low anyone who violated the royal prerogative. well, that last bit perhaps flatters him. one man, henry bolingbroke duke of hereford not only violated the prerogative, he dismantled it.
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the play "richard ii" dares to imagine what it is to have supreme power and then lose it. are you contented to resign the crown? ay. no. no. ay, for i must nothing be. this drama offers a ringside seat to one of the most scandalous and shocking moments in english royal history. "richard ii," a play about a weak, ineffective monarch who is deposed. the tragedy of the play and the theatrical dynamic of it comes from the fact that richard is the rightful king anointed by god, but he's an ineffective king. bolingbroke is not the rightful king, but he is an effective politician. jacobi: it's a brutal and forensic examination of richard's catastrophic mental collapse. garber: the play
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is very powerful in the way that it deals with redefining where power comes from. can it ever be right to dethrone a king? it was deeply threatening to elizabethan politics. jacobi: threatening, too to the man who wrote it. bate: if things had gone just a little bit differently, shakespeare could have been thrown in the tower or even executed. jacobi: beyond the politics, "richard ii" is also a powerful evocation of england and the only one of shakespeare's plays written entirely in verse. "this royal throne of kings "this sceptered isle this earth of majesty, "this seat of mars "this other eden demi-paradise, "this fortress built by nature for herself against infection
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and the hand of war." i want to find out who the real richard ii was and how, long after richard was dead shakespeare was able to piece together his story. i'll show how actors bring poetry to life giving us one of history's most complex characters in a drama as fresh today as it ever was because it's a warning to kings, presidents and prime ministers anywhere who dare to believe in their own invincibility. [crowd cheering] we were not born to sue, but to command! jacobi: any actor would kill to play richard. ben whishaw is the latest to take on one of acting's greatest roles. richard ii: six frozen winters spent. return with welcome, home
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from banishment. how long a time lies in one little word. whishaw: my understanding of him is of someone who's not really in the world. he doesn't consider himself to be a human being quite like other human beings. goold: for a long time actually i was really interested in "richard ii" as a sort of, um michael jackson figure sort of a sexually ambiguous separate playful, capricious diva. there's a monkey in the piece which is the one echo still of that. jacobi: whishaw follows a clutch of actors who tackled the role each in their own unique way. a young ian mckellan wallowed in richard's self-love. richard ii: not all the water in the rough, rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king. the breath of worldly men cannot depose the deputy elected by the lord.
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[fanfare playing] jacobi: mark rylance played the king as a spoiled child. richard ii: we were not born to sue, but to command! jacobi: stars like jeremy irons, ray fiennes, and kevin spacey have all tackled shakespeare's masterpiece. what does the king do now? must he submit? jacobi: i, too have worn the crown. back in 1978, i played richard on bbc television. a king shall be contented. must he lose the name of king? it's strange to see it. it's quite moving to watch it because i've never seen it and to see yourself 31 years younger is quite startling anyway. no deeper wrinkles yet. of course, they tried to make me look like the pictures of richard as possible so they curled and frizzed my hair. o flattering
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glass like to my followers in prosperity, though it does beguile me. and there i am with this round moon face, which sort of works for the part. my "richard" also starred one of britain's greatest actors, john gielgud. jacobi: in the 1930s gielgud's own richard had been a critical triumph. this royal throne of kings this sceptered isle... nearly 50 years later, gielgud, now playing the aged john of gaunt, dominates the early scenes with a blistering attack on richard's misrule. this dear, dear land dear for her reputation through the world, is now leased out. dying men flatter with those that live. jacobi: a huge row with richard follows. thy deathbed
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is no lesser than thy land, wherein thou liest in reputation sick. a thousand flatterers! sit within thy crown. why, cousin, weren't thou regent of the world? landlord of england, art thou now not king? now, by my seat's right royal majesty, weren't thou not brother to great edward's son? this tongue that runs so roundly in thy head should run thy head from thy unreverend shoulders! jacobi: i don't think richard is cruel and gaunt very much was a father figure to him. i think he's insensitive. we were not born to sue, but to command. it's a kind of inherent insensitivity to other people, to other people's feelings to other people's possessions, other people. "there is only one person that's of any importance in this room and that is me, richard." shakespeare's richard was, of course, a real king, named richard of bordeaux.
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he was crowned king of england in 1377 in westminster abbey and like his character in the play, he gloried in the trappings of power. he became the first king in english history to demand that his subjects call him majesty. but where did this arrogance come from? at the national gallery in london, one of the real king richard's most intimate possessions is on display. it's an object that perfectly sums up his sense of divine destiny. this is the famous wilton diptych, 600 years old, and still so wonderfully vibrant and colorful and meaningful. this was richard's own personal traveling altarpiece. he'd simply open it up, kneel down, and pray. you see him
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here. you see his curly golden hair, kneeling, with three saints-- john the baptist holding the lamb of god, saint edward the confessor and saint edmund. and they are all looking over to the right here where there's this wonderful representation of the virgin mary and the christ child surrounded by 11 angels, one of whom is carrying the flag of saint george and she seems to be offering or presenting it to richard. so there you have it. this is how richard sees himself in sole and divine possession of england.
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to be fair to richard, he wasn't the only one who thought himself divinely appointed. it was taken as read. researching his subject in the early 1590s shakespeare would have turned to the standard history book of the elizabethan age. champion: it's one of the great scholarly industries trying to identify precisely the sources for shakespeare's "richard ii," and there are a number of candidates. but the major one must be raphael holinshed's chronicles which devotes about 140,000 words to the entire life of richard ii. we can see that holinshed himself has a very clear moral position on the reign of richard ii. he is regarded as an evil man and these are evil times. jacobi: "there reigned abundantly "the filthy sin of lechery and fornication, with abominable adultery especially in the king."
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he goes on "those who he chiefly advanced were readiest to control him "which stirred such malice betwixt him and them "that at length he could not be assuaged without peril and destruction to them both." digging for as much dirt as possible shakespeare's drama, written early in his career in the mid-1590s is one of his greatest history plays. he both documents and embellishes richard's painful overthrow at the hands of henry bolingbroke the future henry iv. these iconic figures from history would be brought back to life at london's globe theatre, an elizabethan playhouse. today, a replica stands on the south bank of the river thames.
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man: i think you have to remember that despite the codification of their relationship, they are close relatives. jacobi: inside actors are discussing richard's overwhelming arrogance. man: and richard is a bit like a thief. he's come to rob the relative... jacobi: john of gaunt is now dead, and his son, the exiled henry bolingbroke, duke of hereford is his rightful heir. o, death, be poor. it ends a mortal woe. but for richard, himself desperate for cash gaunt's tragic death is an enticing opportunity. the ripest fruit first falls, and so doth he. his time is spent. our pilgrimage must be. so much for that. now, for our irish wars... we must supplant those rough rug-headed kerns which live like venom, where no venom else but only they have privilege to live.
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and for these great affairs, do ask some charge towards our assistance we do seize to us the plate, coin, revenues and movables whereof our uncle gaunt did stand possessed. whereof our uncle gaunt did stand possessed. excuse me for interrupting. i'm dropping in on the globe rehearsal. it all sounds fascinating. [laughter] i think you're making him much nicer than i did. [laugher] right. ok. i remember when he said, "the ripest fruit first falls." it's a kind of, "oh, well they're all gonna die. "the ripest fruit. and he's old. "of course he's gonna die. he's old. "i'm young." right? let's talk about that. "let's talk about these irish wars. "now, i've got to go do something about them. "i don't want to. it's gonna cost money. "who's got any money? he's got some money. i'll have his." and that's virtually what you're saying. yeah. in theatrical terms, you know, if you want to set it up over the first two lines being very, you know... very serious and somber. and then this thing-- "bollix all that. he's dead anyway. who cares?" and moving on, you know.
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potentially you can get a lot. did you ever do that or... always one for the cheap gag, yes. why, uncle what's the matter? jacobi: gaunt's brother, though, can't believe his ears. to him, bolingbroke, duke of hereford has been royally ripped off. seek you disease and gripe into your hands the royalties and rights of banished hereford? doth not the one deserve to have an heir? is not his heir a well-deserving son? for how art thou a king but by fair sequence and succession? it's not just that succession is right. it's that it's right in this case as well. well, he's questioning richard. he questions richard openly and says that what richard is doing is wrong. yeah. the basic one is the father's dead the son's alive. for how art thou a king but by fair sequence and succession? jacobi: shamelessly stealing bolingbroke's inheritance is the decisive act on which the entire play turns. it's vital that the audience understand this. and deny his offered homage.
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you pluck a thousand dangers on your head. they're hearing it for the first time most of them. so for them, the accessibility is triggered by your attitude. the situation, yeah. your attitude. and they can hear, by your tonality or whatever, um, what you're thinking, because of the way-- it ain't what you say, it's the way they watch you say it. and prick my tender patience to such thoughts as honor and allegiance cannot think. think what you will. we seize into our hands his plate, his goods his money, and his land. it's this divinity hedging this king. he could do anything. he can be wayward, and it's a wayward thing to do, with little thought for the consequences. yeah, short-term. which is his great tragedy. he doesn't think. he doesn't think things through. no. "ah, richard. "with the eyes of heavy mind, "i see thy glory like
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a shooting star "fall to the base earth from the firmament. "thy sun sets weeping in the lowly west, witnessing storms to come, woe, and unrest." exiled, his father dead, his inheritance stolen the duke of hereford henry bolingbroke, returns home to wage war against the king. richard at first panics, but then comforts himself with the belief that whatever happens, god will save him. not all the water in the rough, rude sea can wash the balm off from an anointed king. the breath of worldly men cannot depose the deputy elected by the lord, for every man
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that bolingbroke hath pressed to lift shrewd steel against our golden crown god, for his richard hath in heavenly pay a glorious angel. and if angels fight, weak men must fall for heaven still guards the right. jacobi: so, who is shakespeare's bolingbroke, the man who believes he can defeat both richard and his army of angels? i am a subject and i challenge law. attorneys are denied me, and therefore, personally i lay my claim to my inheritance of free dissent. i don't think bolingbroke is the bad guy. he doesn't set out to replace richard in any way. and bolingbroke, when he comes back to england, is and continually says has only come back to regain what
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is his. he hasn't come back to be king. he hasn't come back to usurp richard. he's come back to gain what is his. now, the thing is, do you believe him? man: ok. well, we'll spend a few minutes thinking about bolingbroke and the question of... jacobi: at the globe, actors are discussing bolingbroke as he captures two of richard's closest allies. man: in this particular speech he appears to be punishing these men on behalf of richard and i think the key line in it is when you say, you know "myself a prince by fortune of my birth near to the king in blood and near in love." this is bolingbroke's main problem is that he cannot make clear his objective because to do so would be treason. bolingbroke at this moment is surrounded by lords and nobles. he has to make sure that he doesn't put a foot wrong and that seems to be like, his objective throughout the entire play. he is politic in a way that richard isn't. yeah, that's right. bolingbroke is a sort of realist. what are you trying to do? you're trying to isolate richard.
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jacobi: bolingbroke is a politician. only a politician could execute richard's closet allies and claim he's only doing it to protect the king. you have misled a prince a royal king a happy gentleman in blood and lineaments, by you unhappied and disfigured clean. jacobi: bolingbroke himself says... all he is doing is seeking to remove these people to allow you again to be the king you should be and were before. now, that may well force richard into an untenable position. but you said that this is old-style punishment. he's gonna kill a number of people starting with these two. so he takes a pretty stern line. and i think it is intended to demonstrate strength. this...and much more much more than twice all this condemns you to the death.
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jacobi: today, battles for power in england are fought here at the palace of westminster. most of the buildings date from the 19th century. one original building, though, survives-- westminster hall. in the 1300s, this was richard's military headquarters. some of the events re-created in the play actually happened here. the real richard had a huge timber roof built overhead. it was studded with wooden angels watching over him like a divine army. now in the drama shakespeare's richard is about to mobilize them. "yet know my master, god omnipotent
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"is mustering in his clouds armies of pestilence "and they shall strike your children "yet unborn and unbegot "that lift your vassal hands against my head and threat the glory of my precious crown." the central theme of shakespeare's "richard ii" rings remarkably true across the centuries. like richard, many despots from our own time have professed themselves amazed that anyone could challenge them. although "richard ii" is set in a distant past and of course, even when it was first put on it was set in the past it's hugely relevant to the present. the reality of regime change is something that the leader who's losing his
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grasp on power simply doesn't fully understand. they love me all my women with me. they love me all. bate: they're often in a state of delusion. they think that people still love them, that they can still give orders, but it doesn't happen. jacobi: still waiting for god's reinforcements richard, now confronted by bolingbroke is running out of options. we are amazed... and thus long have we stood to watch the fearful bending of thy knee, because we thought ourself thy lawful king. and if we be, how dare thy joints forget. whishaw: i remember when we were preparing to film the play. it was the time when gaddafi's regime was in its death throes, and i think it was actually gaddafi's son was making these speeches about how if the people rose up in rebellion there would be rivers of blood.
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and richard stands on a rampart at one point and says exactly the same thing. richard ii: tell bolingbroke beyond methinks he stands, that every stride he makes upon my land is dangerous treason! he has come to open the purple testament of bleeding war and bedew her pastures' grass with faithful english blood. that felt incredibly... i mean, it was literally... you could sort of put the two speeches side by side, and they resonated so strongly. jacobi: the themes marbled into the text of "richard ii" don't just resonate with one-party states and self-appointed dictators. 20 years ago england famously witnessed a political drama not unlike the one faced by richard.
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for 10 years, prime minister margaret thatcher, the iron lady, had like richard, been invincible, her leadership unchallenged but in 1990, an attempt to levy a new poll tax triggered violence on the streets of london and ultimately a rebellion deep within her own party. itching to take over former minister michael heseltine challenged mrs. thatcher for the leadership. for bbc journalist john sergeant, it was a battle of shakespearean proportions. mrs. thatcher, could i ask you to comment? oh, good evening. good evening. where's the microphone? it's here. this is the microphone. he's pushing me you see? yeah. i've got more than half the parliamentary party. disappointed that it's not quite enough to win on the first ballot. so i confirm it is my intention to let my name go forward. [reporters shouting questions] thank you very
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much. the game is up. within two days, she's gone. it's two days after this? two days after this, she's finished. she resigns. that's the end of it. and the comparison with "richard ii" is extremely close. it is amazing, the parallels between what happens when a prime minister of margaret thatcher's stature is then brought down by the people who she would regard as traitors. michael heseltine clearly was, in fact the most dangerous one. he was bolingbroke. and there was no question that he wanted the crown, and he was then going to attack her, as he did in the ballot of conservative mps. and even referring to her being stabbed. yes, stabbed in the front. oh, absolutely. but these are the death of kings aren't they? yes. and the "richard ii" quote-- "let us sit around and discuss the death of kings. are they deposed? are they killed in battle?" man: when mrs. thatcher entered the chamber... jacobi: mrs. thatcher described events
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leading to her fall as "treachery with a smile on its face." and parliament seemed to agree. may i pay tribute to the prime minister and to her decision this morning? she showed by that that she amounts to more than those who have turned upon her in recent days. ladies and gentlemen we're leaving downing street for the last time after 11 1/2 wonderful years. jacobi: mrs. thatcher's empire had crumbled in just two days. but even the orderly transfer of democratic power comes with a double edge. president reagan on behalf of our nation, i thank you for the wonderful things that you have done for america. jacobi: outgoing american presidents must always stand by while the incoming president ascends to power. today we celebrate the mystery of american renewal. i salute my predecessor, president bush... jacobi: one man's
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rise is his predecessor's political funeral. as i begin i thank president clinton for his service to our nation. jacobi: it's a never-ending cycle. i stand here today humbled... jacobi: what goes around comes around. i thank president bush for his service to our nation. jacobi: so far shakespeare's richard has fought bitterly to deny the inevitable. now, though, he appears to just give up, almost deposing himself. what must the king do now? must he submit? the king shall do it. must he be deposed? the king shall be contented. must he lose the name of king, a god's name? let it go. it's the sensitivity of richard. it's the vulnerability of richard behind the divinity, the impregnable man, the man with ostensibly total self-belief and therefore total
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courage, and inside is this kind of boy this sensitive boy who actually can't cope. i'll be buried in the kings highway some way of common trade where subjects' feet may hourly trample on their sovereign's head. for on my heart they tread now whilst i live, and buried once, why not upon my head? the pathos is simultaneously moving and annoying, as pathos sometimes is. richard is self-indulgent, infantile, absurd in his too-easy glorying and too-easy despair. but at the same time, one feels the poignancy of it all. jacobi: what we feel is obviously heightened by the brilliance of the play's stunning poetry. indisputably, it's the work of a literary genius. but was it shakespeare's genius? some think not. hedingham castle
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near london, is the ancestral home of the de vere family. in the course of his reign richard proved he was a very contentious king. he set many cats among many pigeons. and my presence here at hedingham castle may, like richard, set the fur flying. edward de vere the 17th earl of oxford, once entertained elizabeth i here. oxford was close to the queen. he had a reputation as a bit of a poet, too. but i believe his literary skills went way beyond dabbling in verse. i believe he and not william shakespeare, wrote both "richard ii" and, in fact, all the plays attributed to the man from stratford.
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[indistinct conversation] hedingham's current incumbent agrees. like me, jason lindsay believes oxford wrote the works anonymously, allowing shakespeare to stage the plays... and take all the credit. i am descended from edward, so i have a vested interest, it's worth declaring. but i do feel that there is so little on the william shakespeare of stratford there just isn't enough knowledge really that could be gained from a person who is educated in a local school. why aren't there any manuscripts? um, there are only six signatures, i think, of william of stratford, and they're barely legible. yes. and why? um...if he were the greatest writer, why did he keep his children illiterate? and if you had been involved, would you have had in your will-- surely
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you'd have mentioned something to do with a theater or books. there's not a mention at all. no, there's nothing, absolutely nothing. it's an amazing conspiracy. jacobi: denying shakespeare the authorship of...shakespeare is, i'm well aware hugely controversial. i'm always surprised that an actor, a great actor such as sir derek, should question the idea that shakespeare's plays were written by william shakespeare the actor from stratford-upon-avon, because the plays are so full of the actor's way of looking at the world, so full of the technical knowledge of the theater. so many of the plays are collaborative. they're written for particular actors who were shakespeare's friends and colleagues. they are insider plays. the argument is how could a mere middle-class grammar-school boy from the provinces have understood about courts and kings and politics. well, of course, the answer is the actors went


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