Richard & Josef

A lesson from history

NOTE: This is the concluding scene from the last play in a series of epic dramas about the life and death of Stalin. In this final play, Stalin is delirious and dying, visited in his delirium by the victims of the revolution. But this final visitant is not from Stalin’s own life, but from five centuries before he was born.

(Enter RICHARD, DUKE OF GLOUCESTER. He wears Plantagenet dress.)

Who the devil are you? Why are you dressed up like that, like some Shakespearian actor?
An apt comparison, my brother. I fear you will be served as ill as I, when your successors come to write the history of your times. Uncle Joe will mutate into the Red Tsar, mark my words. But who will be your Shakespeare?
Why do you call me brother? You seem to be English.
Were we not both leaders of men, my brother? And as I was treacherously murdered on Bosworth field, so are you dying in ambiguous circumstances. We did the best for our people, but history does not serve us well. Already the vultures are gathering around your bed. Trust me, they will dance with joy when you are gone.
And there is yet another circumstance that makes us brothers. Stretch out your right hand, Josef.
Why, why?
See how I stretch out mine. I think we suffered the same sickness as a child. The arm is withered somewhat. Mark me, Josef, they will make you out to be deformed, a devilish dwarf, limping through oceans of blood to this, your deathbed.

(They both stretch out their hands. Richard grips Stalin’s and raises it, as if in a circle dance. He capers on the spot.)

Yet when I was young, I was so fair that the ladies lined up to dance with me. Does a crippled hunchback dance, Josef my brother? I think you are a poet.
It is true, I scribbled verses once.
And wooed many a maid with them, I’ll warrant.
I was no voluptuary.

(He pauses, thinking of past times, and smiles.)

Yes, I was loved. But it was the love of the people that was most precious to me.
As it was with me, my brother. That damned scribbler, that Tudor propagandist, our Shakespeare, made me out to be hated in my lifetime.
But he was a man of the people, after all, and he knew full well that the groundlings would not tolerate a travesty of my life and times, unless it were indeed a travesty, meet to be performed by a circus clown.
So he made me out to be such an embodiment of evil, such a loveable rogue that no one could take it seriously. Perhaps this is what he thought, to please his Tudor masters and also at the same time the commoners in the pit, who knew the facts.
But you cannot please God and mammon. So his travesty became received truth, with time. As it shall be with you.
Has the past played itself before you as it did for me on the eve of Bosworth?
(He nods, shuddering.)
The deaths of so many are on my conscience. Those whose death warrants I counter-signed, and those whom I ought to have saved, but I could not.
Death happens, brother. It is the only certainty in this world. I shall see you in the next.

(Exit Richard.)

Die in terror. Recall your guilt.
Dream on, dream on, of bloody deeds and death:
Fainting, despair; despairing, yield up your breath!

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