King Richard III
“An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told. ” This quote from William Shakespeare’s King Richard III is a seed from which Al Pacino’s docu-drama Looking For Richard grows, both texts demonstrating the intrinsic relationship between contexts and the composition of texts. As 21st century students, we see Pacino’s creative reshaping emphasise inherent values within the original text, from dynamic perspectives to interpretational understandings, presented in an ‘honest’ and ‘plainly told’ composition.
The parallels drawn between the texts stem from the contextual challenge to the responders inherent within each text, along with equivalence to the dynamic perspectives and differing interpretations of the creative reshaping. King Richard III and Looking For Richard are compositional products that directly correlate to historical and social contexts respectively, the latter drawing on the former’s challenge to the context in which it was written.
Shakespeare’s late sixteenth century play was crafted in a turbulent time of rigid political and religious adherence, and written under the weight of sectarian distrust and forced political alignment to the reigning Tudors. Thus, Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard as a Yorkist focus’s on his devilish and Machiavellian nature. Written eight decades earlier, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince asserts that an effective ruler should abandon traditional Christian virtues and morality to grow in power at any cost: ‘Politics have no relation to morals. ’ This view of power and politics indicates a shift to a secular notion of leadership.
Richard is, to a degree, a Machiavel; he calls himself a devil, ‘Thus like the formal Vice, Iniquity, I moralise two meanings in one word. ’ (III. iii. 82–83) This play is weighted with rigid historical context, but also challenges the notion of providentialism through Richard’s determination to ‘prove a villain. ’ There is also a challenge in Pacino’s Looking for Richard for the modern audience, and the responder can see the creative reshaping of Shakespeare’s challenge. Set in New York in the mid 1990’s, Pacino attempts to ‘communicate how [he] feel[s] about Shakespeare to others.
This is achieved through a one hundred and twelve minute carefully orchestrated pastiche of Pacino’s process of discourse in evaluating the work and directing a consensus. Pacino values the process of discussing, learning and evaluating the work and coming to a consensus. Critic James Bowman has accused Pacino of making a documentary ‘based on the by-now old-fashioned notion that Shakespeare can be made ‘relevant’ to the happening youth of the nineties… but I doubt the efficiency of slicing and dicing Shakespeare and serving him up in quick cuts to pander to a bunch of no-mind slackers.
His reshaped intent of reaching a modern audience results in heavy social and cultural influences that have been established through interviews with people, called vox pops, which revealed the lack of interest in Shakespeare’s works. However, an African American man’s responses are used strategically throughout the documentary, and he offers an ideology that Shakespeare’s plays are about morality, and convey significant values everyone should study.
Shakespeare ‘did more than help us; He instructed us. The use of the hand-held camera reinforces Pacino’s purpose to bring Shakespeare to the general public, and the level of importance of the reaction is represented by the close ups and titled camera angles on their faces as they respond to Pacino and Kimble’s questions. Pacino’s attempt to reshape King Richard III to reach the modern audience sees retain some aspects – the film is contextually valuable as its structure sequentially follows the narrative of King Richard III, establishing Shakespeare’s nuances of plot through non-Diegetic voice-overs by Pacino.
This continually brings the audience back to the original text and its inherent value. The connections of both texts reach beyond their literal connections; the intrinsic value of context consumes both compositions, emphasising the value of contextual influences for the responder. The dynamic perspectives connecting both works accentuate their values and demonstrate literal connections in Pacino’s creative reshaping. Shakespeare’s play is at heart a history lesson, an educational journey made as entertaining for the student audience as it can be.
Pacino’s film has similar aspirations – Pacino reshapes this notion by positioning Shakespeare himself, not the battles between the houses of York and Lancaster, as the remote and difficult subject. Both works offer one overarching perspective, supplemented by a range of contrasting others. In King Richard III that overarching perspective is Richard’s; in the twenty-eight scenes of the play he appears in fifteen, and casts an ominous shadow over the remainder.
In Looking For Richard it is Pacino who is hardly ever out of camera shot; ccording to critic Peter Fitzpatrick, they are ‘shameless egotists,’ drawing in the responders with their charm. This element of connection demonstrates the importance Pacino placed on including an overarching figure, reshaping Richard’s artifice by maneuvering the film to his own design. The other perspectives of the compositions fall into two camps – using terms coined by Fitzpatrick, they are the ‘in-group’ and the ‘plebs. ’ In Shakespeare’s play, the ‘in-group’ consists of the members of the royal family, and in Pacino’s film they are the actors who share his vision.
As writer, director and leading actor, Pacino values his interpretation over others. Pacino, like Richard, desires total power and control over the ‘in-group’ and ‘plebs’ alike. In the opening of the film, Pacino states, speaking of the in-group, ‘We can communicate both our passion for [Shakespeare] and our understanding that we’ve come to. ’ Juxtaposed to this saccharine guise, in the final scenes only Pacino’s understanding is espoused. This demonstrates Pacino created the facade of working in a team, however only his personal opinion prevailed. The ‘plebs’ are also important in both projects.
In Shakespeare’s play they are the citizens in Act II, reminding us that the tragedies are not just ‘brutal collisions of convoluted family dramas, but matters of state in which everything Richard does will have a rippling effect on the nation,’ as Fitzpatrick states. The citizens have limited knowledge but reliable instincts, the third citizen exclaiming ‘O, full of danger is the Duke of Gloucester,’ (II. iii. 29) and importance is placed on their exchange. This is reshaped in Pacino’s text, where he claims ordinary people don’t just matter but are the primary reason for him venturing into this arduous task.
Like Shakespeare’s citizens, Fitzpatrick explains, ‘Pacino implies the ignorance of the masses is more valuable than the pseudo knowledge of the minor experts. Just as Shakespeare shows public officials like the Mayor and the Archbishop of Canterbury pathetically caving into Richard, so Pacino shows Professor Emrace Jones at a loss for words when posed with their question on characterisation. ’ The similar influence of the in-groups and plebs in both Shakespeare’s and Pacino’s compositions demonstrate a deepening connection and thus enhance the values of dynamic perspectives.
The re-contextualisation of Shakespeare over time results in a vast variety of interpretations. In Looking For Richard, Pacino’s interpretation of King Richard III consumes the film. Shakespeare’s modality and costuming has been retained, yet various elements of the text have been manipulated to allow an uncomplicated understanding for the modern responder. This manipulation includes the character of Richard, who, in Pacino’s film, holds shared values to the original text in his deformity (which mirrors his soul’s corruption), and in the soliloquized ironic humor through Pacino’s strong eye contact with the camera.
However, Pacino painfully exaggerates the physical hump and withered arm, and alludes to Richard originally setting out for the crown. Pacino oversimplifies Richard by implying that he is determined to be king, whereas in Shakespeare’s play Richard delights in treachery, setting plans in motion, and determines to prove a ‘villain,’ not a king. Another reshaping by Pacino is in the character of Anne. In Act I, Scene II Richard woos the weeping Anne and coerces her from screaming curses to this ‘vouchsafe, defused infection of a man,’ to accepting a ring of engagement, ‘I’ll take the ring. They part quietly, with no physical contact indicated.
Their new affection is evident in the subtleties of language, Anne exclaiming, ‘With all my heart, and much it joys me too to see that you are become so penitent. ’ However, in Pacino’s interpretation this affection propels to passionate kissing and embracing. This is seemingly done to emphasise to the modern responder of their affection in case they missed this through the complex language. Pacino shows the unnatural closeness if his sexual energy is mastering her.
In Shakespeare’s text, Anne is a smart articulate woman. The smart articulate woman in Pacino’s interpretation becomes lost for words through the sexual energy and unnatural sympathy. Along with this reshaping by Pacino is the manipulation of Richard’s opening monologue where, originally, Shakespeare skillfully crafted the subtleties of language so the responder discovers Richard has conjured a ‘prophesy that says that G of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be. The irony is inherent in the notion of the value of names, knowing Richard’s true name is Gloucester and Clarence’s true name is George. This irony, along with the inherent rhyme, was almost lost when Kimble suggested changing G to C in the beginning stages of discussion. These shared and individual values enrich the responders understanding of both texts, and allows them to delve into their own values and ideologies of villainy, power and conscience.
The intrinsic relationship between contexts and the composition of texts is demonstrated in Shakespeare’s King Richard III and Pacino’s Looking For Richard, the connections stemming from Pacino’s attempt to creatively reshape the core values of context, dynamic perspectives and different interpretation, exploring such notions of the Machiavelli, characterisation and the role of women. Pacino successfully reshapes the core values by reinterpreting and recontextualising them for the modern audience. Students of literature see revealed ‘plainly’ their ‘honest tales,’ through the emphasised values reshaped by Pacino.