The Tragical History Of King Richard Iii, Alter'd From Shakespeare "Off With His Head. So Much For Buckingham"

Colley Cibber

"Off With His Head. So Much For Buckingham"

Context: Colley Cibber was an unusual man. As an actor, he created a role for himself, in which he specialized. This part was a new type of fop–not merely the usual overdressed, effeminate dandy but a vacuous or foolish ass as well. He played this type so well that people thought he was really the sort of creature he portrayed. He was a popular and successful playwright as well, producing comedies, ballad operas, and other works throughout the first half of the eighteenth century. From 1710 to 1733 he managed Drury Lane Theatre, doing so with shrewdness and in some cases with courage. He lacked great facility with words, and his efforts to write tragedy were unsuccessful; nor was he particularly witty. His plays were successful because he devised plots and situations cleverly, introduced some new comic styles, kept his action moving effectively and rapidly. His works were invariably well staged, and marked by sprightliness and individuality. He was able, too, to create effective roles for the actors who worked under him. The language used by Cibber is that which was in common use, and it no doubt contributed to the popularity of his work. This lack of profundity led to declarations by his critics that he murdered English; Pope was especially critical of him, making Cibber the central character in The Dunciad, a monumental satire celebrating dullness. Cibber was not above rewriting a play by Shakespeare–transforming it into common speech, shortening and rearranging it for the popular stage of his time. The result is of course an entirely different play: there is still a compelling story, but beauty and poetry are gone; only the blood and thunder remain. Such practice caused the most violent criticism of all, but Cibber took it good-naturedly. He was named Poet Laureate in 1730. An excerpt from his version of Richard III provides an interesting contrast with the original. Shakespeare used the expression, "Off with his head," but it is used by Gloucester when he consigns the unfortunate Hastings to oblivion. In Cibber's play, the fiendish Richard has done to death in the Tower of London those children who present a barrier to his ambition but his problems are not over; the Duke of Buckingham has stirred up an insurrection. Then word comes that the duke is taken:

My lord, the Army of Great Buckingham
By sudden Floods, and fall of Waters,
Is half lost and scatter'd,
And he himself wander'd away alone;
No man knows whither.
Has any careful officer proclaim'd
Reward to him that brings the traytor in?
Such Proclamation has been made, my Lord.
My Liege, the Duke of Buckingham is taken.
Off with his head. So much for Buckingham.
My Lord, I am sorry I must tell more News.
Out with it.
The Earl of Richmond with a mighty power,
Is landed, Sir, at Milford;
And, to confirm the News, Lord Marquess Dorset,
And Sir Thomas Lovell, are up in Yorkshire.
Why ay, this looks Rebellion. Ho! my Horse!