The power of seduction in ‘Richard III’

All 23 students in professor Joseph Roach’s seminar will participate in a production of “Rich- ard III,” opening tonight at the Whitney Humanities Center.
All 23 students in professor Joseph Roach’s seminar will participate in a production of “Rich- ard III,” opening tonight at the Whitney Humanities Center. Photo by Brianna Loo.

Though Shakespearean plays often depict the concept of power through military and political conflicts, students in a seminar co-taught by theater studies and English professor Joseph Roach and postdoctoral associate Lynda Paul are aiming to emphasize the power of seduction in their upcoming performance.

All students in Roach and Paul’s production seminar will participate in their own production of Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” which opens tonight at the Whitney Humanities Center. The play focuses on Richard’s violent ascension to the throne of England and his subsequent manipulation of those around him as he persuades them to fulfill his wishes.

“This production is a display of what happens when you submit to a power-seeking individual,” said Cambrian Thomas-Adams ’13, who plays Richard.

Thomas-Adams added that the class’s production aims to bring out different manifestations of power in the play, emphasizing the sexual power that Richard acquires through his seductive abilities. Clio Contogenis ’14, who plays Lady Anne Neville, called the entire play “a seduction,” and Otis Blum ’15, who plays the Duke of Clarence, explained that the sexual elements in the production are oftentimes used to represent the dominance and submission involved in other themes, such as the struggle for political power.

“[This production] is different in that it puts the struggle — sexual struggle — between Richard and other women in the forefront of play,” Roach said.

Five students involved with the production said its BDSM component has given greater significance to the play’s female roles, particularly when compared to most other productions of “Richard III.” Contogenis said that although other productions tend to cut every female role except for Anne, shortening even her part by half, Roach’s production does not omit any of these roles.

Thomas-Adams explained that aside from Richard and the Duke of Clarence, the female characters are by far the most interesting ones in the production. Citing a literary paper that deems the consensual exchange of power a source of arousal, Contogenis described a scene in which Anne initially hates Richard for killing her husband and father-in-law, but ultimately consents to marrying him after he deliberately gives her the option of killing him.

“Richard has abused Anne as much as he possibly could, and yet she still comes back to him,” Thomas-Adams said.

Charles Margossian ’15, who plays the Earl of Richmond, said this weekend’s production also emphasizes women’s strength in fighting against tragedy, noting that the play’s female characters are much stronger than expected. He pointed to the character Margaret, who was widowed when Richard killed her husband, and how the fulfillment of the prophecies she makes renders Richard unable to defeat her. Contogenis added that Margaret is the only character that Richard never fully conquers.

“Physically, she is powerless and left alive to suffer, but she still has a sort of power through her words, her curses and her prophecies,” Margossian said.

Three cast members interviewed declined to reveal their interpretation of the play’s ending, but said it will highlight the timeless nature of Richard’s personality traits.

“What’s scary is that he’s not that different from people we know,” Contogenis said. “You can see qualities of Richard in everyone.”

The last performance of “Richard III” will be on April 13.

Correction: April 8 

A previous version of this article mistakenly attributed a quote by Clio Contogenis ’14 to Cambrian Thomas-Adams ’13. Thomas-Adams was also misquoted as referencing the character “Anna,” when in fact the character’s name is “Anne.” In addition, the article suggested that the character Richard ordered the arrest of the character Clarence when in fact it was ordered by another character named Edward.

Correction: April 17 

The article also mistakenly stated that only theater studies and English professor Joseph Roach is teaching the seminar, when it fact it is being co-taught by Roach and postdoctoral associate Lynda Paul. 

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