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Scene by Scene, line by line

Rereading the play with an eye to Buckingham, Your Humble Blogger noticed that the part is structured very oddly. It starts out as a small supporting part, which becomes a very big part in the middle, and then, just as the play is coming to a climax, he is cut off, and makes just a couple of small appearances in the second half.

I'm going to go through the scenes, as they are in the full (Penguin) text. First of all, there are a lot of scenes. 25 scenes in the five acts altogether, with no act having fewer than four. Some are short, and some are immense, and the whole division into scenes is a bit suspect from the start, but still: lots of scenes. And Buckingham is in eleven of those 25 scenes, a bit less than half. In the first act, I have only a few lines, and again in the last act, but I am in five of the seven scenes in act three. Well, I'm going to go through them one by one, which you knew anyway, so here we go.

I'm not in either I,i or I,ii. The first scene is the monologue and the scenes with Clarence and Hastings, which set up the politics of the factions; Buckingham isn't even mentioned. The second is the seduction of Lady Anne, which doesn't touch on Buckingham at all, so that's all right. Those scenes, by the way, total about 430 lines of verse (if you do them all, which nobody does). The third scene is all politics. It starts with the Queen's faction, and Buckingham and Stanley come in quickly. It's established that Stanley's wife is not in the Queen's faction, although it isn't clear whether Stanley himself has chosen sides, and Buckingham stands aside and is ignored. Then Richard and Hastings come in and squabble with the Queen's faction, to which Stanley and Buckingham stand apart, and then the old banished Queen comes in and everybody joins together in vilifying her. Buckingham is actually pulled aside by the old Queen to make two points: first, that Buckingham and his family were neutral in the civil war just concluded, and then that Buckingham should not trust Richard. Buckingham dismisses the idea, and is cursed for it. I enter on line 17 and exit on line 323 but have only a dozen lines of verse of my own in between. At the end of the scene Richard is left behind to arrange Clarence's murder, in a sort of after-scene; the whole scene is 356 lines. And then there's Clarence's murder itself, of course, a long, long scene of 286 lines, and Buckinham isn't in that or mentioned at all.

So. The first act is between eleven hundred and twelve hundred lines, of which Buckingham delivers twelve. He is on stage for three hundred or so, perhaps a quarter of the act, but most of that is spent in the background. And in the real business of the act for everyone other than Richard, which is finding out who is in which faction, Buckingham is oddly unidentified. There is no reason for the audience to suspect that Buckingham will be important. Certainly Rivers, Hastings and Stanley are placed more obviously in the plot. But things are about to change.

Act Two opens with what I think of as Edward's deathbed scene, although really it's just the dying King's final scene, where he demands reconciliation between the factions. Buckingham is singled out and gives a short speech in which it is revealed that foreshadowing is a legitimate literary device. 140 lines in the scene, Buckingham has a dozen of them but is singled out more than once. Still a minor character, but gaining. Then there's an inevitably cut scene with Clarence's children (I came across a great quote from Brian Blessed, in reference to cuts in this play, who claims that nobody in the history of the English Theater has ever even known that Clarence had any kids) which leads into a bit arranging for the arrival of the Young Prince. Buckingham takes the front as arranging everything. It's only 24 lines out of 154 in the whole scene, but it's a key plot mover, particularly as it's the first moment where we see a relationship between Buckingham and Richard. Buckingham refers to us two: it's not clear whether he has already started to conspire with Richard or if he is now proposing to begin, but either way, the audience is now alerted to a change.

The third scene is between three unnamed citizens, worrying about the realm in the aftermath of Edward's death; it's 48 lines that have probably never been performed, unless the leads need time to change costumes. The fourth is another short and often-cut one, 73 lines between Edward's widow, his mother and his younger son. And that's the end of Act Two, a bit over 400 lines of dialogue, of which Buckingham still has only thirty or so, but (and this is crucial) spends less time being ignored.

And now Act Three, in which Buckingham has the first line, as he greets the doomed Prince. We are now suddenly seeing a Buckingham/Richard double act, dishonesty and subtle mockery and plans within plans. That scene is 200 lines; Buckingham has more than fifty, almost the same as Richard himself. Then there's a short scene with Stanley and Hastings and a lot of politics. It's 123 lines, and Buckingham comes for the last eleven and delivers six and a half of them—when he comes in, he dominates the scene for the moment (and in the absence of Richard). The third scene is the death of the Queen's faction, 26 lines and not necessarily performed. And the fourth is the immediate power-grab, orchestrated by Buckingham and Richard together: the scene is only 107 lines (I think if it as longer) and Buckingham has only eleven, but spends a portion of the scene in private (unheard) conversation with Richard, clearly at the center of attention. The fifth scene is the scene of Hasting's Head, where Richard and Buckingham play-act that Hastings attacked them first&8212;it begins with a wonderful, wonderful exchange between them about their ability to lie and be believed. It's also short: 109 lines, but Buckingham has 39 of them, and much of the rest are addressed to him directly. It's still Richard's scene and Richard's play, mind you, but Buckingham has stepped up to a major supporting part. The Act ends (after a 14-line comic bit with a Scrivener) with another scene cooked up between the two of them, where Buckingham persuades the oh-so-reluctant Richard to accept the kingship, all put on of course for the benefit of the Lord Mayor. It's a longish scene and Buckingham spends most of it talking, 155 lines out of 247 total. And that's the end of the act: 800 or so lines, and Buckingham has 250 of them, about a third of all the lines in the Act Three. Act Four, and Richard is King, and Buckingham wants to be paid but finds his buddy is not in the giving vein. He is only in IV,ii, which is a great scene. Buckingham has 30 lines or so in that 124-line scene and then flees. The act is five scenes and something around 850 lines or so, most of which take place rather conspicuously in Buckingham's absence.

And then Buckingham is executed in V,v. It's a nice little scene, 29 lines and of course all but two of them are his. And we move on. The play is moving very quickly now toward its end; The second scene is only 24 lines long. The third is the center of things, 351 lines covering the whole night and dawn, and including the appearances of the Ghosts, including Buckingham's Ghost, who gets another bonus lines. The fourth scene is all of thirteen lines and ends in Richard's death, followed by another forty lines in the last scene of all. That's 467 lines (if I've counted right), and Buckingham or his ghost get to deliver 36 of them.

So, you see: 350 lines or so, of which 250 are in Act Three. The whole play is around 3700 lines, if I'm not confused. So Buckingham is a third of Act Three, and a thirtieth of the rest of the play. That's not so unusual—after all, Clarence dies in Act One and has very little to do for the rest of the night, and Lady Anne gets one huge and important scene at the very beginning and then kind of wanders through the play for a bit before being forgotten entirely. Richmond doesn't poke his nose onstage until the fifth act and then pretends to be a major part through the end. There a hundred million characters in the play, and only Richard is consistently important throughout. But it does lead to questions for me as an actor preparing the role: should we clue the audience somehow that Buckingham will become important later, or should he surprise the audience by coming out of nowhere (and surprise them again by disappearing as quickly as he came)? Should we play that Buckingham and Richard are old buddies who seize on the chance to work together, or are they comparative strangers who find they have like souls? Or do they have like souls—is Buckingham a dupe all along and only deceives himself into thinking he is a partner? Is he betrayed or just discarded?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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