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Who you are, and who you stand with, my gracious lord

One of the things about this last week before we open is that we are running the show from front to back, you know, in order. While it’s true that I originally read it in order, I had, over the course of the rehearsal process, lost the order of it in my head. This is very common and perfectly proper, and we properly and correctly are readjusting our heads to the show as a whole. This usually gives us new insights on character arcs and pacing, which is happening, but for YHB and the Duke of Buckingham, there was something else I hadn’t noticed.

So. The Duke first enters in I,iii with Stanley, and is immediately confronted with the factionalism in the court: The Queen says to Stanley that she doesn’t blame him for his wife being in the anti-Queen faction. The words are conciliating, but there is steel behind them; he is immediately wrong-footed at the very beginning of the scene. And I am standing right next to him.

I have been playing this by taking a half-step away from him during the Queen’s speech, without looking at him, just a tiny separation, as if to say we are here, together, but we aren’t here-together, if you know what I mean. Then I take the Queen aside to tell her privately about the King’s plan to make peace between the factions—you see, by coming in with Stanley, I may have already compromised my position as a neutral arbiter. Then, when I am speaking privately with the Queen, Richard comes in. So I have again compromised my position.

The second time I come onstage is for the grand reconciliation scene, and while it is implied that I am not in the Queen’s faction (as I am reconciling with her, and why would I need to do that if I were in her faction), at the moment that Richard comes in, I am in fact shaking hands with her brother. So the first two times that Richard sees me (on stage, of course) I am in close conversation with the Queen’s faction. And at the end of that second scene, I declare myself on Richard’s side.

The point, here, is that I think of myself (or rather, the Duke’s self) as neutral at the beginning of the play, successfully avoiding committing myself until I see that (a) Clarence is dead, and (2) Edward is dying, at which point the choice is between Richard and Young-Edward-as-a-proxy-for-the-Queen-his-mother, and I quickly make that choice, throwing the balance decisively in Richard’s favor (a show more focused on the politics could do something with the fact that Hastings is on Young Edward’s side but very much not on the Queen’s side, which leaves the young prince with two champions at odds, which is worse than having one champion and certainly worse than having two in partnership). But my studied neutrality may well be a figment of my imagination; Richard, certainly, has every reason to think of me as in the Queen’s faction. So my declaration in the second act has a different meaning, perhaps, to Richard than it does to Buckingham.

And to the audience? I wonder.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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