Richard & Anne

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Richard and Anne

A Verse Play In Two Acts by Maxwell Anderson


by Roxane Murph

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 1990 issue of The Ricardian Register. Since then, Murph has edited an edition of the play for Greenwood Press. HTML coding of this article by Elizabeth Linstrom.


Maxwell Anderson dominated the American theater for more than two decades, and when he died on February 28, 1959, he left behind a large body of work which included more than thirty published plays, a volume of poetry, two collections of essays, and twenty unfinished or unpublished plays. One of these completed but unpublished works wasRichard and Anne, a two act verse play about Richard III.

Despite his avid interest in English and European history, as evidenced by several of his best known plays, Anderson was the quintessential American playwright, both by upbringing and philosophy. Although he lived in New York for most of his creative writing career, his roots and his heart were in middle America. He was born in Atlantic, Pennsylvania on December 15, 1888, the son of a peripatetic Baptist minister who moved his family frequently during the years of Maxwell’s childhood. Young Anderson attended schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and North Dakota, and graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1911. He received an M.A. degree from Stanford in 1914, and taught there and at Whittier College in California, a Quaker institution from which he was fired for his pacifist views. Anderson got his revenge in Valley Forge andKnickerbocker Holiday, two plays in which he satirized this supposedly pacifist sect.

Anderson’s political views continued to get him into trouble after he had left teaching and gone into editorial writing. He was fired from one newspaper for questioning, in an editorial, Germany’s ability to pay reparations after the First World War, but he continued to work for several New York papers in the years following the war.

Anderson had started writing plays in college, and these early works pre-figured his later history plays which used Elizabethan devices of verse dialogue and songs. His great love of music, the result of early family influence, is evident in plays like Truckline Cafe, for which he composed one of the songs, and in the fact that he composed the libretti forKnickerbocker HolidayLost in the Stars, and several other plays he wrote with Kurt Weill.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the years of Anderson’s greatest productivity, a string of successful plays came from his pen, including Elizabeth the Queen (1930), Mary of Scotland (1933), Valley Forge (1934), Winterset (1935), The Wingless Victory (1936), High Tor (1937), Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), Key Largo (1939), Joan of Lorraine (1946), Anne of the Thousand Days (1948), and Lost in the Stars (1950). These were just some of his hits; he had misses as well, not surprising in view of his enormous output during this period. The long dry spell which followed these prolific years ended in 1954 when Anderson had great success with his adaptation of The Bad Seed, a novel by William Marsh, but this was his last hit.

Maxwell Anderson was a poet and a noted critic, as well as a playwright, but it is obvious that poetry was his first love. In a letter to a friend dated May 4, 1927, he wrote:

I quit teaching because I could make more money in journalism and I quit writing editorials because I could make more in the theater. The only work of mine for which I have much respect is my one volume of verse. What I want more than anything is to successfully put poetry into plays. What the theater needs more than anything else is poetry, and what poetry needs more than anything else is an audience.[1]

Anderson believed passionately that poetry was the proper language for the theater, and that none of the works of even the great modern playwrights could compare with the great verse dramas of the past. “Our modern dramatists are not poets,” he wrote, “and the best prose in the world is inferior on the stage to the best poetry… To me it is inescapable that prose is the language of information and poetry the language of emotion.” [2]

Anderson’s use of poetry in his works implemented his philosophy of the theater which he explained in his essay “Off Broadway.”

The theatrical profession may protest as much as it likes, the theologians may protest, and the majority of those who see our plays would probably be amazed to hear it, but the theater is a religious institution devoted entirely to the exaltation of the spirit of man. It has no formal religion. It is a church without creed, but there is no doubt in my mind that our theater, instead of being, as the evangelical ministers used to believe, the gateway to hell, is as much a worship as the theater of the Greeks, and has exactly the same meaning in our lives.

“The plays that please the most,” he added further on in this essay, ” and run the longest … are representitive of human loyalty, courage, love that purges the soul, grief that enobles.”[3]

Anderson’s first play, in verse, was White Desert, and it, like his second play, Holy Terror, which he wrote with George Abbott, was a failure. His next play, What Price Glory, was a huge success when it opened in 1924, and enabled him to quit the newspaper business and devote full time to writing for the theater. During the following years he used historical and social themes in many of his plays, and wrote as well a collection of poems entitled You Who Have Dreams. In 1939 he published The Essence of Tragedy, the first systematic theory of tragedy by an American playwright, written originally as a paper to be read at a session of the Modern Language Association meeting in New York in January, 1938, and included in Off Broadway, a collection of essays about the theater. In this work he discusses, as one of the most important elements of tragedy, that of discovery, which he calls the mainspring in the mechanism of a modern play, in which the hero discovers

some element in his environment or in his own soul of which he has not been aware – or which he has not taken sufficiently into account … A play should lead up to and away from a central crisis, and this crisis should consist in a discovery by the leading character which has an indelible effect on his thought and emotion, completely alters his course of action… it must affect him emotionally, and it must alter his direction in the play. [4]

Richard’s actions and emotions in Richard and Anne, as we shall see, are deeply affected by his realization of how history has portrayed him, and much of the action of this play hinges on this discovery.

Although few people have seen or read Richard and Anne, its existence has been known to Ricardians for many years. On August 19, 1955, Sam Zolotow reported in The New York Times that “everything has been hush hush regarding Maxwell Anderson’s theme in the forthcoming play. Although it could not be verified from official sources yesterday, it was learned that the central character is Richard III. Instead of depicting him as the bloody king of popular conception, he emerges in the untitled script as a maligned hero.” Zolotow noted further that I. Stanley Kahn, a member of the New York Stock Exchange, had spent three years doing research in the British Museum and elsewhere in England about Richard III, and had placed his findings at Anderson’s disposal, with the Playwrights’ Company and Mr. Kahn to produce the resulting play. The stockbroker had announced the previous march that he planned to put on a dramatization of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time and would put “the wealth of material on the historical doubts” about Richard III at the disposal of whomever wrote the adaptation.

Inspired by Tey’s Daughter of Time, Anderson had begun writing Richard and Anne in January 1955, intending to have it produced by the Playwrights’ Company. Although he was one of the founding members, the company turned down Richard and Anne and in a letter to the members of the company dated April 1956, he announced his intention of resigning, since the disadvantages to playwrights of membership far outweighed the advantages. He noted that it had become a general producing company, rather than an organization of playwrights, and was producing plays which members don’t choose, finance, control, and often don’t like, while member playwrights, who don’t have the option of offering their works to any producer except Playwrights’ Company, are made to feel that any of their plays turned down by the company are not worth producing, “which is not always true.” In his disappointment at having not only Richard and Anne, but his 1953 play Devil’s Hornpipe, turned down, Anderson suggested that the Playwrights’ Company, although it had produced some good plays, was not fitted to be a producer, and that the production end should be put into business hands, and the playwrights should be free to offer their works to other producers.[5]

Apparently Anderson did not offer Richard and Anne to another producer, since no further mention is made of it in his letters, and the script, handwritten on 70 legal size sheets, including revisions, is now with the author’s other papers in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Access to the work is hedged in by a great many restrictions, including one against quoting from the play, although several copies have circulated in the past. The only documented production of the play was at the October 3, 1981 AGM, which was held at the Explorers Club in New York City. With the permission of Mrs. Maxwell Anderson, a member of the Society, and Anderson’s literary executors Brandt and Brandt, a reading of the play was given by Stefan Rudnicki, a playwright and chairman of the Theater and Film Department of C. W. Post College on Long Island, New York, with professional actors and members of the college theater company.

Anderson’s interest in English history is evident in some of his best known plays, including Elizabeth the QueenMary of Scotland, and Anne of the Thousand Days, sometimes referred to as the Tudor Trilogy, but he wrote with many contemporary settings as well. In two of his earlier plays we see some of the devices which he employed in Richard and Anne. In Joan of Lorraine we have a play within a play in which the actors portraying historical characters are affected or influenced by the characters they play, as are the writer and director of the show. Richard and Anne, however, can be said to have two plays within a play, one of them Shakespeare’s Richard III, and the other the true story of Richard and Anne, who influence to some extent both the actors portraying them on the stage and others involved in the production.

The device of having contemporary characters interacting with long-dead historical or imaginary characters was used very effectively in one of Maxwell Anderson’s masterpieces,High Tor, and later with equal effect in Richard and Anne. In High Tor, a verse play written and produced in 1936 and published in January 1937, all the characters are imaginary, whereas in Richard and Anne the contemporary characters and one of the ‘ghosts’ are fictional, and Richard and the rest of his contemporaries in the play are, of course, all historical. Although there are some minor inaccuracies and anachronisms, Anderson sticks fairly close to the known facts.

Richard and Anne opens on the first night of a New York production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, just before the curtain rises. The actor playing the lead, who is referred to throughout as the Player King, objects to the presence on stage of a jester, visible only to him at this point. The curtain rises, and as the Player King begins to speak the opening lines a jester in the costume of the time of Richard III begins to appear in the background, so disconcerting the actor that he forgets his lines. He breaks off, and demands the expulsion of the ghostly figure. The stage manager, who still cannot see him, orders the jester off the stage, but when he tries to enforce the order the apparition, now visible to all, fades away.

Now the ropes which control the curtains become tangled, and they cannot be lowered. The problems continue to plague the company as the jester reappears, and Kent, the director, demands an explanation. Dag, the jester, explains that he, who has lain for centuries in his grave, has grown tired of the venom poured on the bones of his beloved master, and has decided to set the record straight. The Player King cannot speak his lines because they are lies. Richard III will not be performed. When Kent reminds him that since it had played 10,000 times without his interference, what could one time more matter, but Dag remarks sadly that the lies become less bearable with the passing years. He wants the company to present the real Richard, but Kent, who still believes that Dag is some sort of nut, argues that the company has rehearsed Shakespeare’s play and the audience expects to see it. Even if Dag could prevent its performance all over the English-speaking world, it would still be read. The jester admits defeat and fades.

The performance continues and Dag reappears with another figure, the Richard III of the portraits, described in the stage directions as a handsome man with a somewhat stern and sad face, and a slight, but vigorous frame. When the Player King again forgets his lines Richard remarks to Dag that they seem to be in the way. Although he is astonished when Dag informs him that the actors are portraying him and Anne, he politely asks them to continue, and the scene in which Richard woos Anne over the corpse of Henry VI is resumed. Richard views the play merely as a tale of a murderous king whose name happens to be the same as his, but Dag finally convinces him of the truth. Incredulous, Richard wonders who could have an interest in writing such lies, and when Dag tells him it is Tudor, he is unconvinced that he could, or should, do anything about it. He agrees to the stage manager’s demand that they leave, but Dag and the director get into an argument. Kent accuses the two of being a part of a group of ‘displaced paranoids’ who go around trying to clear Richard’s name, and defends Shakespeare’s version as true to history. A policeman arrives and tries to capture the pair, but in a farcical scene they elude capture, and the frustrated policeman leaves to get reinforcements. Until they arrive Kent agrees to allow Richard and Dag to tell their story to the audience.

Dag tells Richard that he can call anyone from his past, but he may not speak any words not spoken before. Richard agrees to play the game, and he chooses the day he and Anne met again at Middleham after Warwick’s death. He wants desperately to tell her something she had died not knowing, but when he tries to do this she fades away, and Dag reminds him that he cannot change what was. Who would want an unchanged life, the king cries, but Dag, unrelenting, reminds him that their purpose in being there is to show the way it really was. Richard, however, cares little for what the audience thinks; he doesn’t know them, they can’t hurt him. What matters is that Anne left a letter when she died, telling him that he must marry again and have an heir, and since his niece Elizabeth loved him, he would be happier with her than he was with Anne, who had failed him, though she had loved him deeply. Richard is heartbroken that she should have thought this, and bemoans the fact that he had spent so much time away from her trying to keep the peace, that he had not known that she was unhappy. Now he must tell her the truth.

Only the living can change, Dag tells him, and the errors of those long dead cannot be rescinded. Richard agrees to go on, and asks Dag to call Henry Tudor, who appears as a rat-like creature who snarls and squeaks and clicks his teeth. As he gains confidence, however, he draws himself up to his full height and his voice becomes human, but he refuses to take part in the exercise which Dag explains to him, and taunts Richard with accusations of murder. Anderson portrays Henry as a music-master in the court of Edward IV, who plots with Clarence and Morton to prevent Anne and Richard from marrying so that Clarence can keep the entire Warwick inheritance, and eventually claim the throne.

The first part of the scheme is successful for a time, as Clarence kidnaps Anne and hides her in his London house, where she is forced to serve as a scullery maid, until Richard rescues her and marries her.

Bishop Stillington is then brought back to defend himself for speaking out after, rather than before Edward’s death. He would have lost his head, he explains, and the queen and her sons would have kept their places. Neither Richard nor Anne wants to wear a crown, but Stillington reminds them that parliament has ruled against Edward’s sons and given the crown to Richard, and that he is sure that he will rule well.

As the scene fades Richard tells Dag that Anne never enjoyed her role as queen, but that she was happy until their son died, and then everything went wrong. He asks the jester to bring on the scene of their son’s last Christmas at Middleham, and we see a boy of 9 or 10 singing and entertaining his parents with jokes and riddles. As the scene fades Richard remembers that it was Anne’s last Christmas as well, and although life was empty and their son’s death, he can’t understand how she came to believe he loved another woman. Dag tells him that while he was away Henry and Morton sent a woman to care for Anne in her last illness, and he brings on the scene in which Anne, lying pale and ill, is told by the woman sitting beside her that she must not die, for husbands view sickness and death as human choices; illness is failure, death departure, and both are perfidy to the husband. If she dies, the woman says, Richard will love another, for he must have an heir. Richard appears in the doorway, and tells Anne that Henry Tudor has made a claim to the throne, and though she begs him to stay through the winter, he must leave to raise money and troops to fight off the pretender. Nearly hysterical with fear for her husband, Anne nevertheless persuades him to go, and not to worry about her. As the scene fades Richard remembers that on his return he found that Anne died believing that he had loved Elizabeth, and he cannot return to his grave without telling her of his love for her.

The next scene takes place after Richard’s death at Bosworth. Henry and his nobles appear in formal court costume, and he tells them that now that the tyrant is dead justice, truth, and gentleness will reign, instead of murder, falsehood, and rape. He promises to marry Elizabeth of York, and to give her mother an honored place at court. He asks young Elizabeth to marry him, but her mother demands to know first where her sons are. Henry tells her that Richard murdered them, but she insists that they were alive after Richard’s death, and accuses Henry of killing them. He tells her they will talk later, and alone with Morton and Polydore Vergil, the furious king orders the bishop to take care of the queen mother, but to keep her alive in case he needs her at some future time. He does not want to marry Elizabeth, but she will strengthen his claim to the throne. Since he had to declare her legitimate, however, and her brothers as well, they became the true heirs to the throne, and so he had to destroy them. He wants their mother put somewhere where she can’t make trouble, but Morton convinces him that more is needed. A more elaborate story, with names, dates, and witnesses must be devised if people are to be convinced that Richard murdered the boys, or future chroniclers, remembering that the Tudors had no claim to the throne, will print the truth. They must, therefore, blacken his predecessor’s name, make him so foul that no one will look at Henry’s antecedents and find them wanting, and stir people up to rebellion. They must expunge the records of parliament and make it appear that Richard usurped the throne, write the official history of his reign, and blame everything that Edward or Henry ever did on him. Morton suggests Vergil as the ideal person to write this history, for if he is paid enough he will be trustworthy, since “he has no honor, piety, or truth.” Vergil agrees to do the job, and the three set out to destroy Richard’s reputation, cataloguing the crimes with which he will be charged, and inventing the physical defects that make him a monster of deformity.

At this point Richard moves in the shadows, and Henry, seeing him, cries out that he and Morton have been tricked into admitting their guilt. Vergil and Morton fade, but Henry cannot escape, and Richard accuses him of having planned from the beginning to seize the throne, first seducing and then destroying Clarence, Hastings, and Stanley. Unable to escape, Henry arrogantly stands his ground, declaring that Richard can’t change anything, for the histories have stood for hundreds of years, and men think of Richard as a hunchbacked murderer of children. History is written by the survivors, but Richard argues that truth is stronger than error, and that people today would rather believe the truth than Henry’s lies.

Al, the stage manager, interrupts and tells Richard that he was out in the lobby after the first act, listening to the audience, and the feeling was that, although they found it interesting to see the true account, they liked the old version better, with the hump-backed usurper, and though it might be fiction, they’d rather see it again because it seemed more real. Perhaps, Richard muses, when a great poet takes over history, whether true or false, and writes his version of it in such blazing words, it is reality, and what really happened has no chance against it. Beware of great poets, he says, for they have the final word. Let it go then. Let Henry lie down among his stolen purple. The poet wins because his world is more real than theirs. Dag and Richard both admit defeat as the director comes on to tell them they have had their chance, and they fade as several policemen come onstage. The play continues with the scene in which the Player King, as Richard, admits to Elizabeth Woodville that he killed the princes, but still intends to marry her daughter.

In the shadows Dag tells Richard to call Anne, and she appears, calling his name. As Richard tells her of his love, she begins to fade, but they recall their happy Christmas with their son and she is convinced at last that she was his only love. As they swear their undying love Dag lifts his arm and the curtain begins to descend. Kent announces to the audience that the following night they will perform Richard III.

This ending, like so many of Anderson’s, is pessimistic, but not hopeless; Shakespeare’s Richard III will indeed be performed on the next night and many nights to come, and although many people will continue to think of it as historical truth, there will always be some to challenge the accepted version. In time. perhaps, though they may not prevail, they will make a difference. For Maxwell Anderson, the romantic realist, the lover of lost causes, this may have been enough.


[1] Laurence G. Avery, ed., Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958, (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pp.29-30.

[2] Maxwell Anderson, “Poetry in the Theater,” in Off Broadway (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1947), p.50.

[3] Maxwell Anderson, “Off Broadway,” in Ibid., p.28.

[4] Maxwell Anderson, “The Essence of Tragedy,” in Ibid., pp.58-59.

[5] Avery, Op.Cit., pp.278-279.

Selected Bibliography

Anderson, Maxwell. Eleven Verse Plays. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1940.

Anderson, Maxwell. Joan of Lorraine. Washington, D.C.: Anderson House, 1947.

Anderson, Maxwell. Off Broadway. New York: William Sloan Associates, 1947.

Avery, Laurence G., ed., Dramatists in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958, Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.

Bailey, Mabel Driscoll. Maxwell Anderson: The Playwright as Prophet. London: Abelard-Schuman Limited, 1957.

Shivers, Alfred S. Maxwell Anderson. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1976.

About the Author:
Roxane C. Murph is a past chairman of the American Branch of the Richard III Society. She is also the author of Richard III: The Making of a Legend, (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1977, reprinted 1984), The Wars of the Roses in Fiction (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995) and the editor of Richard and Anne: A Play in Two Acts by Maxwell Anderson (Jefferson NC and London: McFarland Publishing, 1995). A portion of the royalties from this latter project are helping to build the Maxwell Anderson Scholarship in Medieval and Renaissance Literature.