Sunday, 30 May 2010

Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.

So a while ago I explained the narcissic personality disorder theory of why women read, write and generally get excited about slash. Let's do a little recap for anyone who was hiding their eyes and had their fingers in their ears while humming and thinking about their happy place...
Basically, we read and write dirty little homoerotic episodes about the people who we desire – but we desire them because they are mirrors of ourselves – or at least of the aspects of ourselves we most like/admire/get a bit warm and fuzzy about.
So I want to read about Captain Mal banging the doctor not because I am secretly a gay man...but rather because I see myself in Mal – ruthless, emotionally retarded and not getting, wait – I see the best bits of myself – brave, loyal, still not getting any...never mind.
Now I'd like to extend this theory to a broader discussion of that most profound of topics – why we fancy the people we fancy – most specifically the imaginary or otherwise unattainable – because they are my favourite kind of people.
Currently I am obsessed with Richard III – or more precisely Ewen Leslie as Richard III in the MTC's fantastic production. Is it the floppy dark hair; those bizzarely piercing eyes; maybe its the limp and the hunchback; I don't know – but I'm won as surely as poor Lady Ann.
The unfortunate friends who escorted me to my second viewing of the show were treated afterwards to a long treatise on exactly how exciting I'd found it – a little unnaturally exciting. They both declared after what must have seemed like a very long monologue (I'm personally sure no more than ten or fifteen minutes had elapsed) that it was clearly not the charming Mr Leslie that I was so hot for – no it was the character of Richard himself. They may have said this with just the slightest twinge of disgust in their collectively raised voices.
The problem is Richard is sexy. Bill wants him to be sexy. There he is in the first Act, courting the lovely Ann over the body of the husband he's just stabbed. And he's telling her the one place she's fit for is his bed. Not romantic, but to the point. And sexy. Very sexy.
Of course Leslie plays this up nicely. Once Ann has left; the spittle covered ring he has just given her clasped in her hand; Leslie's Richard bends over to lick, yes that's right folks, lick the face of his vanquished and now cuckolded foe. Its not the licking that gets us though – its the way Leslie looks up, tongue still out his mouth, and breaking the fourth wall, stares us in the eye and asks “What?”. Less than half an hour in and I'm already a quivering wreck of a woman, barely resisting the urge to throw myself on the stage shouting “Forget Ann, take me!”.
Of course its the verbal interplay of the scene which is where the sex is really located. Ann and Richard jostle and shout – exchanging flattery for insults – and she falls for him like every girl who has had her pigtails dipped in ink falls for the naughty boy who did it. Of course most boys don't have to go quite as far as murdering half your family before you notice them...but Richard is a man of extremes.
By the time Richard is offering to bury Elizabeth's sons (who he has also murdered) in the womb of her barely legal daughter; I'm slumped in my theatre seat gasping. The rest of the audience is too – but its more that collective gag of disgust than the rather base gagging happening at my end of the row. The scene finishes with Richard beseeching Elizabeth to take her daughter his true love's kiss – Leslie's Richard takes this literally and Elizabeth gets his tongue way down her throat. Nice!
Of course this second wooing scene is supposed to show us Richard's now waning power – his power over women, his power over England - and by the end of Act V he's sitting pathetically in his underwear crying because no creature loves him perhaps not even himself. But the line which makes me want to cry with him, hold him against me; is the simplest – he declares “I am I”. He is the self-actualised person, fully himself, fully self-aware; facing the abyss that later we'll call existential angst.
I think Mr Leslie is superb – he has the most extraordinary face, he delivers Bill's lines with wit and intelligence; you will not see a funnier, drier Richard for a very long time. But its not him I'm currently obsessed with – its Richard himself – bloody, treacherous villain that he is.
And its narcissism – I'm not so proud as I cannot admit it. I want him because some nasty, dark corner of my soul wants to be like him. Clever, ruthless, fiercely certain about who and what he is and willing to do whatever he needs to in order to be that person. Aren't those the kind of things we all want to be?

1 comment:

  1. Many aeons ago when I was doing an undergraduate degree, a friend of mine who was an English major and I joined a whacko society called something like the Richard III Rehabilitation League. The woman who was the eccentric brain behind the American branch lived in Massachusetts (where else?) and had garnered evidence that Richard had not done all the nasty things Bill and other historians and writers claimed he had. I wrote her a letter (remember the days of snail mail?), in which I sat on the fence where the princes in the tower were concerned, and she wrote back, in heavy black ink, twelve pages of rebuttal. I just did a Google search and I think the Richard III Society is the same or similar group:
    I think I would have found Leslie's interpretation disgusting but fascinating. I wouldn't identify and hence desire him, but instead with anyone who was co-dependently and earnestly trying to rescue him...

    About a decade later I saw a poster for the society in Sydney.