Article Title

Profane Icon: The Throne Scene of Shakespeare's Richard III


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The English drama critic John Trewin first began to review Shakespeare's plays on the London stage in 1930. In 1978, when he was seventy years old, this dean of theater critics looked back over a lifetime of what he called "going to Shakespeare" and recalled an extraordinary moment at the Old Vic in London in 1944. Remembering Laurence Olivier enthroned as Richard III in Act IV, scene ii, of Shakespeare's play, Trewin writes, "One must always judge [Oliver's] famous portrait from its first presentation with the Old Vic company, and not from the film...Richard distilled his own darkness; and I cannot return to the play now without picturing Olivier, a cauldron-figure, crowned and sceptred, as he brooded on the throne."1 What Trewin evokes here is a stage image so potent and so compelling that it has impressed itself on his mind's eye for almost thirty years despite some element of resistance. Thus his negative formulation: "I cannot return to the play now without picturing...a cauldron-figure...brooding on the throne." Trewin is responding to Richard III primarily as a playgoer, a spectator in the theater; and he represents all those spectators who have found in Shakespeare's picture of Richard darkly brooding on the throne a dramatic icon that is at once memorable, powerful, and complex.

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