Infused with self and vain conceit

December 17, 2013

Yesterday was entirely encompassed by travel starting with an early morning flight from Seattle to New York and ending with an overnight to London after a six hour layover.   The security line at Seattle was briefly held up when the TSA official decided to engage me in a conversation about weight loss, having looked at my passport photograph and then at me.  She then moved on to chat about her time in London to the frustration of those behind me.  It was a very human interaction and I had a bounce in my step as a result.

The flight to London was my last chance at relaxation with a frantic few days before Christmas.  It started with quick shower followed by a meeting with Anne about our new 360º service.  She had flown into Heathrow for the meeting and we made good progress; watch this space in the new year for more details.  From there it was a frantic drive through traffic to pick Huw up from Euston station and then a pre-theatre dinner before a performance of Richard II at the Barbican.  Originally it was a family trip but Eleanor was ill so Peter substituted at the last minute.

Richard II is the start of the History Plays that see us through the War of Roses until, with a perverse symmetry we arrive at the much maligned Richard III.  For us it was a reverse flow as we had  seen Richard III at the RSC last year.  I am still trying to hunt down that 1970's play at the Duke of York Theatre in Lancaster by the way if anyone can help.  Now I should be honest and say that I have always favoured the House of York in the various disputes which saw out the Plantagenets and saw in the disaster which was the Tudor dynasty.  They did of course have one of the best propaganda writers ever in Shakespeare, and that has informed the common view of history thereafter.  But despite the distortion it produces one of the great sequences of theatre.  It also won us a television back in the 60s.  My mother had refused to allow us one, confining us to radio so I had to sneak around to friends to watch the early episodes of Doctor Who.  Then the BBC produced a television version of the full cannon and we had our lever.  So they have an additional historical resonance for me.

Richard was of course a childhood king who inherited at the age of ten and was consumed by his teenage success in dealing with the Peasant's Revolt.  The cycle of accusation and pardon, private armies and tyranny dressed up in the guise of Kingship is at the heart of the period and of the play itself.  Bolingbroke on the other hand, schooled by John of Gaunt who could have been a greater King had Richard not been born, is more prepared for kingship and also for the consequences of his unmanning the sacred authority of the King and enabling if not planning his final murder.  The contrast between Nigel Lindsay's brutal Bollingbroke and Dvid Tennant's fey performance in the title role made for a memorable evening.  Mind you the outstanding performance was from Oliver Ford Davies (who seems ever present in any RSC production) as York.  Of course with Doctor Who in the lead there was no question as to who would get the greater applause!

The concept of the sacred is not linked to monarchy alone and is ever present in modern society.  We invest celebrity with status and authority that it has not yet earned producing the vain conceit that forms one of the more famous quotations from the play.  Isolating any leader from reality will produce vanity and it is all too frequent with industrial leaders and the various sacred cows of common morality.



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