onsdag 18 februari 2015

Glum, good Richard vs fun, bad Richard

Well, at least one of my New Year's resolutions proved easier to keep than expected. There was, mercifully, only one episode left of The White Queen. It was very much like the others: relentlessly earnest, at its best when women were taking a bite out of each other and containing an innovative but very far-fetched historic theory.

The bitey women in this case were Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor's mum, and Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's daughter. Margaret calls Elizabeth a whore (I'll come back to why) and claims that her perfect son will never marry the girl. Elizabeth, humble so far, suddenly hits back. She points out that Henry has no chance of getting his "backside on the throne" if he doesn't marry her, and so, according to her, she will be Queen of England whatever happens, "and this will be the last time you sit in my presence".

"Whatever happens?"Ah, yes. Here's where the unlikely theory comes in. At this time - as also related by Shakespeare - there was a rumour flying about that King Richard III was planning to marry his own niece, Elizabeth. You'd think, wouldn't you, that any rumours concerning Richard and Elizabeth would be put about by his enemies? Well, according to the inventive Gregory, it's Richard himself who pays special attention to his niece and strings her along - she's smitten by him - so as to make people believe they're having an affair and make Henry Tudor, whose betrothed Elizabeth is supposed to be, look ridiculous.

Come again? The rumours will make Henry look bad? Surely, no-one can be more damaged by them than the man supposedly carrying on with his brother's child? And how could Elizabeth, or anyone, believe for a moment that she could marry Richard? He is her uncle. The Pope would have a fit. Their offspring could have two heads. The only reason to circulate such a rumour would be to blacken Richard's name, yet in The White Queen the Tudors, who must be behind the rumour-mongering in the first place, seem to believe in it themselves, as does Elizabeth. Sorry, but I don't buy it for a second.

Apart from, according to this storyline, dealing shabbily with his niece, Richard gets a good press in The White Queen. Sort of. The only problem is, while he is shown to be innocent of at least most of the dastardly deeds he's accused of by Shakespeare and Co., he is also a little dull. That is something you could never call Shakespeare's unhistoric Richard, bloodthirsty though he is. It's hard for me as part of the pro-Richard team to accept, but the witty, charismatic personality of Shakespeare's Richard is probably just as much an invention as the rest of the play. Gregory's glum Richard may be a great deal closer to the truth, though nothing is going to make me believe that he ever even came close to boning his niece.

Alias Grace is proving a harder resolution. At least Grace has now reached the household where the murders will take place. Her narrative, with its mixture of naïvety and cunning, is convincing, but the problem is I still don't like her. I lost the book on the bus the other week - not by design, I promise! - but I dutifully collected it from the buses' Lost and Found department in the middle of nowhere. Plus I'm on page 278, so now I do feel I should finish it. However, I will have to take breaks, and when I'm done there will be only self-indulgence reading for a considerable time.