Allow me to start unpacking this monologue by paraphrasing a quote from George Bernard Shaw. Shaw wrote that a key to good drama was to take two characters who should never meet, and figure out a way to make them meet as quickly as possible. This is certainly the case when it comes to Lady Anne and Richard the Third.
In the second scene of this play, Lady Anne confronts the demonic Richard who has caused the death of both her husband and Father-In-Law. Anne is deeply in mourning, yet she manages to summon the courage to curse Richard to his face in this daring act of courage from a character in a very politically vulnerable position.
What, do you tremble? Are you all afraid?
Alas, I blame you not; for you are mortal,
And mortal eyes cannot endure the devil.
Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell!
Thou hadst but power over his mortal body:
His soul thou canst not have; therefore begone.
Foul devil, for God’s sake, hence, and trouble us not;
For thou hast made the happy earth thy hell,
Fill’d it with cursing cries and deep exclaims.
If thou delight to view thy heinous deeds,
Behold this pattern of thy butcheries.
O gentlemen! See, see dead Henry’s wounds
Open their congeal’d mouths and bleed afresh.
Blush, Blush, thou lump of foul deformity,
For ’tis thy presence that exhales this blood
From cold and empty veins where no blood dwells:
Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural
Provokes this deluge most unnatural.
O God! Which this blood mad’st, revenge his death;
O earth! Which this blood drink’st, revenge his death;
Either heav’n with lightning strike the murderer dead,
Or earth gape open wide and eat him quick,
As thou dost swallow up this good King’s blood
Which his hell-govern’d arm hath butchered.
- Avaunt: Go away
- Heinous deeds: Anne is referring to Richard’s killing of Henry VI and Edward, his son and Anne’s husband.
- Pattern of thy butcheries: A work of Richard’s butchery, either referring to Henry’s entire body or his wounds.
- Congeal’d: Become semi-solid, especially on cooling. Anne is referring to the clotting of Henry’s wounds
- Lump of foul deformity: Richard is self-described as being physically deformed. Many characters in this play insult him for his body, as it was a belief that deformity signified a corruption of the soul.
- Deluge: A severe flood or rainfall
- Mad’st: Made
(To the men attending Henry’s corpse upon Richard’s arrival to the scene)
What, are you trembling? Are you all afraid?
I don’t blame you, for you are only mortal,
And mortal eyes cannot endure the devil.
Get out of here you awful servant of hell.
You had power over Henry’s mortal body;
but you can’t have his soul.
So get lost.
(Richard tells her not to be so angry)
You evil devil: leave, and don’t trouble us!
You have made this happy earth your hell,
You’ve filled it with cursed and deep cries.
If you take pleasure in seeing your terrible acts,
Look upon this image of your butchery.
(She points to the corpse)
You men around me, look and see dead Henry’s wounds
open once again and bleed afresh!
Shame on you, you deformed lump,
It’s your presence that draws out blood from Henry’s empty veins.
Your deeds, inhuman and unnatural,
provokes this unnatural bleeding.
Oh God, who made this blood, revenge Henry’s death!
O earth, which drinks this blood, revenge Henry’s death!
Either heaven (with a bolt of lightning) strike Richard dead,
Or earth open up beneath Richard and swallow him whole,
as you now are swallowing the King’s blood
which this demon has murdered.
I, personally, find this scene quite challenging to digest as a modern audience member. Undoubtedly this scene is masterful in its use of literary techniques such as stichomythia and antithesis, and the wordplay and wit shared between Anne and Richard are wonderful to behold. Yet, I think the transformation of Lady Anne’s character within this scene is highly problematic for us in this day and age. Taking the scene as it is written, it is hard to find justification for Anne’s revolution in opinion for Richard, and how she is so rapidly convinced of Richard’s innocence, especially seeing as Richard’s primary tactic in this scene is to commend her for her beauty. Anne can easily come off as seeming vain or simplistic.
It is thus the actors job to attempt to mine Anne’s character for justification of her ark in this scene. Reasons such as political preservation (given the fact that she is now widowed and without the protection of the King) or other motivations and objectives should be explored and considered, as these may offer up solutions for ways to bring the scene into the 21st century.
Irrespective of where this scene ends up, there is no question about Anne’s position in this speech. It’s worth noting that this is a speech directed towards another character on stage, (Richard and Anne’s attendants) rather than a soliloquy to the audience. Anne’s focus is all external. She is targeting Richard, her attendants, and Henry’s newly bleeding body, (whether this is literal or metaphorical is up to the individual). This direct targeting requires a clear and powerful objective from the actor playing Anne. The more specific and sophisticated we can make this objective, (and the tactics we use to achieve it) the better. There’s a risk inherent in this speech that it becomes one-note and general. This needs to be avoided. Using a variety of tactics to achieve the objective is necessary for creating a range and diversity throughout the performance.
This speech is rich in imagery. Anne references lightning bolts from heaven, Henry’s un-congealed wounds and images of hell, to name a few. Each of these images needs to be clear and vivid in the actor’s imagination for them to come to life in the mind’s of the audience. Pat, one of our writers, has written a fantastic article on how to effectively use images in text. Check it out at Images: The Actor’s Hidden Power.
Finally, what I’d encourage the actor tackling this scene would be to completely embrace the powerful text and language in this scene. When working on the scene, try a run through where you only speak the consonants. Follow this with a run-through only speaking the vowel sounds. Really lean into all of these sounds to see what additional strength they give you in performance. Next, combine the two to speak the text normally. Note any use of alteration, (‘cursing cries’ ‘delight…deeds’) and descriptive language (‘lump of foul deformity’) and enjoy these devices. Anne, ultimately, is vulnerable at this moment and has little she can do to truly harm Richard. What she does possess is her words, and it’s up to the actor to use them effectively.
Ever been in a confrontation with someone you really don’t get along with? Can you remember all the emotions which arose, the things you wished you had thought to say in the moment but didn’t? This scene and speech is like that on hyperdrive for Anne. This man has literally murdered her family and has escaped justice for it. All Anne can do now is condemn Richard to hell, and aim to harm him however she may with her words. It is a momentous standoff between two powerful characters, and I hope you enjoy the challenge!