Shakespeare High: Richard III vanquishes the captain of the football team
Richard is a high-school pariah, with a crooked spine and an innate arrogance. But he's got his eye on the fair Anne, girlfriend of Henry, and he's determined to win her heart—even if he proves a villain in doing so. In his high-school take on Shakespeare's Richard III, young-adult author Arthur Slade depicts a teenage Richard as an outsider with the gift of a golden tongue.
“The Discontent” by Arthur Slade
My fencing class is finished. Two football players carry the corpse of their dear captain Henry down the school hall, his wounds open to the eyes of the world. The cheerleaders along the wall weep, their pom poms rustling. My rival is dead. I feel nothing. That’s not new. I’ve never felt something. Or anything. I’ve always felt nothing.
Anne does feel. She trails behind and wails about his wounds, her flaxen hair wild. Henry was handsome. Yes. He was her boyfriend. Yes. He bled. Yes. Yes. Yes.
I step out with a hand on my fencing sword.
“Set the corpse down,” I say. “Or I’ll corpse you up.”
The footballers drop the body and back away. They are taller, but my spine is stronger, bent as it is. Do they fear my deformities?
Anne, red-eyed with tears, points a finger. “You—you stabbed him.”
“My foil foiled him.” I wait for laughter, but this pun launches itself above their tiny intellects. “I stabbed him, yes. It was a duel.”
“It was practice. But you killed him. You animal.”
“I’m not an animal. Nor am I man. I’m Richard.”
No one calls me Richard. Not in these hallowed halls of schooldumb. They have other names for me: cripple, loser, hedgehog face. But my name is my banner. I wave it in front of their faces.
“You’re like like sick in the head. A totally sick murderer.”
“I did not kill sweet Henry.”
She grabs his lifeless arm and drops it to the floor. “Oh, this is a joke? Wake up, Henry!”
“He’s dead, yes. He’s in heaven now.”
She snorts. “Go to hell. That’s where you belong.”
The fluorescent light above us flickers, then grows bright. A football player raises his hand to block the light. But it gives me inspiration.
“I belong somewhere else,” I whisper.
“Inside your heart.” I touch my own chest as if touched by emotion.
“Your beauty killed sweet Henry. Your eyes. Your face. It made me strike him.”
“You’re totally sick.”
“Each blow I struck was struck for love. No has loved you as much as me.”
She spits at me. The spit lands on my face, dribbles down. “I wish I was spitting poison,” she says. “Really gross poison.”
“Poison from a mouth so sweet? Not possible.”
She pulls at her hair. “I can’t stand to look at you. To hear you.”
“You’ve infected me. I see your eyes day and night. Your beauty ruled my arm. So I struck him dead.”
She’s struck wordless, so I continue. “I, who have never felt a thing, have felt this love for you. I couldn’t control myself.” I draw my sword and hand it to her. “Stab me through my heart if I lie: your face made me turn to murder.”
“Lies,” she whispers. But she drops the foil. It clatters on the floor. “I can’t kill you.”
“Then tell me to kill myself.”
“No.” Now she’s removing some of the hair from her face as if to see me more clearly. “I wish I knew if you were telling the truth.”
“Each word on my tongue is as real as the air we breathe.” I fumble in my pocket. “Take this bracelet.” I had made it from green and black twist ties. “I’ll be yours to command.”
I slide it on before she can move her hand. But she doesn't take it off.
“Bid me farewell,” I say. “Please.”
She walks away without a goodbye. But my bracelet is on her wrist. With words I had wormed myself into the heart of this girl: poor Henry still cold and dead beside her. Almost too easy.
Watch me, Dear Reader: it will not be long before I become class president.
Arthur Slade was raised on a ranch in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan. He is the author of seventeen novels for young readers, including The Hunchback Assignments, which won the prestigious TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, and Dust, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. He lives in Saskatoon, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @arthurslade.
Photo credit: Black Box Images
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Original illustrations: Graham Roumieu