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An interview with a Queen Margaret

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Part 3 is really just Richard coming out.

Yeah, “I can smile and murder while I do.” Yeah. People are more familiar with Richard III than they are the Henrys, but it’s nice to remember that [at the end of] Henry VI, however right or wrong Edward is—because he is wrong—but he’s like, “Everything’s going to be great now, it’s joyful; look, I’ve got a son, everything’s wonderful.” Not if your brother has any say so. [Laughs]

I think the Henry VI plays certainly give you more appreciation of Richard in Richard III.

And Margaret, too. I believe that they should be standard reading, or viewing if at all possible, for anyone who goes to see Richard III, especially from Margaret’s perspective, to get a sense of what many of these characters have already been through—and that's a hell of a lot. Margaret is not just some crazed bitch walking around court cursing people. She has a lot of reasons why she is the way that she is. This is a woman who had everything and has lost it all. I think it’s hard to get the full effect of what she has been through if you don't know or haven’t seen what she has already been through over the course of three plays.

In Part 3, you say that Henry is "the sole possessor of my love."

Yes. Yep, to the King of France.

Is it true?

I think at this point, besides her son, absolutely. I don’t think Margaret has anything else going on.

She’s buried Suffolk?

I think so. When we were talking earlier about her sort of losing it, I think that there’s a part of Margaret that we lose when Suffolk goes away, at least with what Shakespeare’s written, because he doesn’t give her an outlet for any of that ever again. So I think there’s a part of her that gets buried with Suffolk. And I think that Henry has to be her only love at that point. It’s a different kind of love, obviously, than what she had with Suffolk, but I do think she’s more in love with her son, protecting power, protecting the line of the throne, and all of those things come from loving Henry and being Henry’s queen. Where it’s not the love that Sarah would define as love [laughs], but all of that is wrapped up together for her. That has been her sole purpose since Suffolk has gone, to maintain power and to hold onto that and to be a mother.

But when Ned dies, her reason for existence goes away?

Yeah.

Did that play into your reading of that speech, because, as you and I both realize, this is forecasting Margaret in Richard III? Or did she cross into a whole other plane?

I think she’s starting to. We’ve not seen Margaret beg to be killed before, and she’s begging for these men who have weapons to kill her. Now, why doesn’t she kill herself? Well, she doesn’t have a weapon in that scene. And why doesn’t she kill herself later? Well, it’s probably just sort of the Christian belief that, if you do that, your soul won’t be saved. But I don’t know. I know that Shakespeare probably found her extremely interesting, and it’s way more interesting to have Margaret alive than dead. But when she says, “Oh, kill me, too,” Richard goes for it and Edward says, “No, we’ve done too much.” Oh really? The three of you killing a boy, that’s where you draw the line? Oh, sorry, that’s where we draw the line, three grown men with weapons killing a young boy in front of the mother. But no, no, no, you’re asking to be killed, we’re not going to do that. That’s too much. That’s too much. Really? OK.

But I do think that’s the turning point, absolutely. Henry’s been taken to the Tower, things aren’t looking good for him. Being as smart and political as she is, she probably knows that he’s not long for the world. Everything that she has is lost, every claim to the throne, every access to power, it’s all gone. She is just starting to realize that in the desperation and devastation of losing her son at that moment. There’s nothing left for her.

Is that part of her thinking, then, or is it really just the loss of her son?

Umm, hmmmm.

Forgive me if I’m having you overthink it.

No, that’s OK. I actually haven’t thought about it in that way. I think that at least the first three-quarters of the speech is just devastation over her son. And I think where it turns something else is starting to kick in: maybe a different reason for existence. Because she comes back in Richard III to curse, and that’s how she ends this part. So, maybe the reason for existence is starting to shift.

A lot of it at first is really just coming from a place of devastation and hurt. She says, “What’s worse than murderer that I may name it? No, no, no, my heart will burst, and if I speak—and I will speak, so my heart may burst.” I mean, she’s making these decisions [snaps her fingers] in snap time until that curse. I think the beginning of that, she’s really just dealing with the bloodshed that’s in front of her and how that is possible.

Great scene, by the way.

Thanks. I loved doing it. I love every scene that she’s in.

[The next two questions and their answers came in follow-up e-mails.] Going back to the scene of taunting York with Rutland’s bloody napkin, where you are specifically described as the tiger and, I think, she-wolf, it has its counterpart in Ned's death scene. Did that influence your performance in any way? Especially, did Margaret realize at the moment of mourning Ned's killing that her behavior toward York over Rutland’s death had come back to haunt her?  You have to admit, while three adult men killing a 15-year-old boy is pretty bad, Margaret's behavior with York is ugly to watch. Seems to me that the audience would have a hard time rooting for her after that.

I don't think that Margaret is thinking of anything else in the moment of Ned's death other than the fact that he is dead and that it is at the hands of Edward, Clarence, and Richard. Any correlation to Rutland or the she-wolf scene where she kills York would be completely lost on her in this moment of deep and devastating grief. I do believe that this scene is there for the audience to make those connections and correlations, though. I think Shakespeare has given us this scene so that we can see the vicious cycle that keeps on perpetuating itself as this war continues. All the death scenes in this play should be pretty tough to watch: children are dying, men are being tortured and mocked as they die, fathers are killing sons and sons are killing fathers. While some would say that Margaret gets what is coming to her in Ned's death scene, I don't think Margaret herself is aware of any karma coming back to bite her in the ass at this moment.

As for that bloody napkin scene, I remember being pretty scared of you while watching that. What was your motivation—or Margaret’s—in behaving so cruelly toward York with Rutland's handkerchief? How did you tackle that pivotal moment in Margaret’s history?

This scene is so pivotal. It’s so great to play. As for the motivation for behaving so cruelly, well, it’s absolutely in the text. Shakespeare has yet again given the character exactly what she needs to play this scene. Clearly, she has the bloody napkin on her; clearly, she wants York to look at it. Those things are all Shakespeare’s gifts to the actor provided by the words.

Now, shoving the napkin in York’s mouth, that was an actor choice, and it is cruel. But I truly believe this scene demands cruelty. I don’t think it would work without it. York calls her a she-wolf: I think he has very good reasons for doing so. She is a woman willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. In case anyone in the audience was new to the plays and the character of Margaret, if they had doubts about the lengths that she is willing to go or how seriously she takes holding on to power after only seeing her in the first scene of this play, they should be clear by the end of Act One, Scene Four.

This scene, along with Ned’s death scene were extraordinary to play. I can’t really explain what it felt like to be in them. I am an actor who relies heavily on my work ethic and I always strive to be professional: to know my lines, to not "go up" onstage in front of an audience. Even though we have a prompter in the Ren Season, I hate using it. In fact, I have only called prithee once after a show has officially opened. In Act One, Scene Four of Henry VI, Part 3, I called prithee on preview night. So, it doesn’t count against me in my official count—we weren't open yet. I knew those lines, but I was overcome with the moment. Being an actor is a really strange thing. You have multiple levels of consciousness all at the same time. You are aware of the words coming out of your mouth, where you are supposed to move to next on stage, your fellow actors’ responses, the audience responses, whatever motivations you might have in your brain—the list goes on and on; it’s crazy, multifaceted stuff. And all the while, you are trying to sell that this is the first time you have ever spoken these words and that they are just coming out of a character’s brain on the fly. Something else took over in this scene; I felt out of control, not in a scary bad way, but the rage I was channeling, the fierceness I felt had to be there, was overwhelming. And on preview night, I asked to be fed a line. After that, I never called for a line, but a couple of times in performance I wasn’t word perfect; I kept talking, but it wasn’t what Shakespeare had written exactly.

Every time I came offstage after the bloody napkin scene I was red in the face, sweating, and taking huge heaving breaths. Miriam would look at me many times after that scene and say, “You are such a badass. You were fierce.” I hoped that I had been, because that means I did my job. If Margaret is anything at all, she is fierce.

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