“O TIGER’S heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!” the Duke of York roars at Queen Margaret in Shakespeare’s “Henry VI Part III.”
It’s a ferocious image of Margaret of Anjou, widow of the weak Lancastrian King Henry VI and one of the most unforgettable characters in “Richard 3”, coming to The Playhouse soon in Bell Shakespeare’s latest iteration of this murky political melodrama.
If you dismiss the ageing Queen Margaret as “Mad Meg” or in Richard’s words, a “withered hag”, don’t expect much sympathy from veteran performer Sandy Gore, who gets to play the part in Peter Evans’ production.
And, as for critic Harold Bloom’s assertion that she should be cut entirely from the play, Gore can only growl: “I heartily disagree”.
For one thing Margaret, who was the real-life Queen of England from 1445 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471, provides the historical perspective in this piece of Tudor propaganda that shows Richard as a Machiavellian anti-hero.
For another, she proves to be the only character in the play to be a match for Richard, verbally attacking him with an onslaught of insults unsurpassed in the whole Shakespearean repertoire.
“Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog… The slave of nature and the son of hell,” she proclaims as she accuses him of killing her husband and her only son.
“The real Margaret actually went to battle,” Gore tells me. “I’m not playing her as Mad Meg, I don’t see it that way at all, it’s a very easy road to take.”
Naturally enough, Gore is largely on Margaret’s side.
“She’s not mad, she’s just driven by this unutterable grief so that, rather than be banished to France, she likes to stick around and see if what she hopes for will come true – her grief has torn her apart, that is my notion,” says Gore.
Each of the curses she pronounces on Richard do come true and she achieves her ambition of living long enough to say: “The dog is dead.”
“She is actually Richard’s match, they are absolute equals and they understand each other extremely well,” Gore says.
“He wouldn’t dare have her beheaded because it would put him in such a bad light.”
Occasionally Richard catches her out.
“Yes,” Gore agrees. “He says ‘come on don’t pull that one on me after what you did to my father’ [she had him beheaded].
“But she’s so full of fire, and can someone be blamed for the loss of her only child and being so ostracised after having been a queen… she is not a lunatic.”
It doesn’t concern Gore in the least bit that she’s playing a woman historically regarded as manlike, facing up in this production to a female performer, Kate Mulvany, playing Richard in a bravura performance – “my goodness does she tear up the carpet!”
“As far as I’m concerned, she is Richard, not Kate playing Richard, I don’t even think I’m a woman and she’s a woman playing a man – she’s him.”
“Richard 3”, Bell Shakespeare at The Playhouse, April 6-15. Bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.