Richard the Third, Act One Scene Two

John Lydon -- a.k.a. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols – wrote in his autobiography No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs that his favorite Shakespeare plays when he was growing up were “Richard the Third” and “Macbeth.”

When I was an adolescent, those were my favorite Shakespeare plays too -- perhaps this should be explained in terms of evolutionary psychology? Aren't they the Shakespeare plays containing the information most essential to the survival of adolescent males? The starkest depictions of how power worked in our ancestral environment?

The scene that frightened me most in “Richard the Third” was always Act One Scene Two, because I couldn't understand why it was so convincing. How could a man, having killed a woman's husband, go on to seduce her in so few lines?

Yet even in a comparatively civilized society, there's abundant evidence that a woman will accept an abusive partner, if she feels her alternative is to receive no protection at all. Seen in a context of tribal warfare, in the absence of the judicial protections we take for granted, Lady Anne's predicament wouldn't seem at all surprising.

Still, I doubt anyone but Shakespeare could have made the scene work -- just because something's essentially true, doesn't mean you don't have to be a genius to write it down. Maybe it means you have to be even more of a genius...

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