Honestly speaking, the only thing that is stopping me from recapping MBC’s latest Friday-Saturday drama The Red Sleeve is that I am afraid I cannot commit myself to finishing the recaps until the final episode. I have so many things to talk about (or ramble?) about the drama, so instead of spamming people with tweets or posts, I think I will just update this post with random tidbits about the drama and the related historical facts every week. Feel free to ask anything and as usual, consider yourself warned since this post will be chock full of spoilers 😉
EP 1 – 2 afterthought:
- We are not informed about the year in which the characters are currently living in the drama, but if The Red Sleeve is to follow the timeline of the real history, then Royal Noble Consort Yeong or Yeongbin’s death suggests that the year is 1764 in the drama. It has been two years since the tragedy befalling San’s father Crown Prince Sado in 1762, yet it is apparent how the event looms around like a shadow on San’s path towards becoming the Heir. In order to ensure the legitimacy of his grandson towards the succession of the throne and silencing the talks of Yi San being the son of a criminal, King Yeongjo made Yi San, then the Grand Heir, as an adopted son of his eldest son who died before Crown Prince Sado’s birth, Crown Prince Hyojang. This means that Yi San was considered unrelated to Yeongbin (who was his birth grandmother) and even his birth mother, Lady Hong.
- I realize that there are way too many parallels than what I mentioned in my first impression (which was written in a flurry of excitement), from Yeongbin and Deok-im, to San and Crown Prince Sado, and even San and Yeongjo.
- Yeongbin used to serve as a palace maid and received the king’s grace quite late at the age of 31, giving birth to princesses before the much waited birth of Crown Prince Sado. She rose through the ranks – from sukui and gwiin before becoming the senior 1st rank bin with the title Yeong. Although she lived a long life until the age of 68, she had to witness most of her children dying before her, except for Princess Hwawan. Uibin, the historical figure who is the basis of Deok-im’s character, had rejected Jeongjo’s intention of making her his concubine twice before she gave in and granted the title soyong, right after she gave birth to Crown Prince Munhyo. Her rose to the rank of bin with the title Ui was faster, probably due to the fact that she bore the royal heir at that time. However, the consecutive deaths of her children, particularly Crown Prince Munhyo, led to her falling sick before her death at the age of 34 while she was heavily pregnant.
- Both San and his father Crown Prince Sado witness the death of their grandmothers, but it is clear how different they react from the event. At the time of Queen Inwon’s death, Crown Prince Sado was already fragile from the strained relationship between him and King Yeongjo, and the passing of his grandmother drove him into a corner as he lost a person who was like a shield against Yeongjo’s continuous wrath towards him. The death also marked the further decline of Sado’s condition, which led to his eventual demise. As for San, living post Sado’s death makes him studious, aspiring to live up to his grandfather’s expectation. Even at the moment of Yeongbin’s passing, he can only sneak out secretly to see her grandmother for the last time. When San visits her, his formal greeting shows how matured and composed the young heir is. Perhaps, the death of Yeongbin becomes another reason for San to strive to be the perfect heir to the throne, in order for him to correct the wrong things he witnessed all his life.
- I find it interesting that the drama chooses to highlight Yeongjo’s complex regarding his birth mother’s low status. It might be too early to draw the parallel, but I just can’t help but to be reminded of Lady Hong’s records, Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong, which retells the lengths Jeongjo went to honour the late Crown Prince Sado (please read it if you have time!). King Yeongjo also did something similar with regard to his mother, Lady Choi Sukbin. The low status of his birth mother became the point people used against him in his whole life up until he became the Crown Brother and the King, hence it turned into a complex he had to overcome. Yeongjo’s effort to lift Lady Choi’s status continued years after her death, from raising the status of her shrine and her residence, to the status of her tomb.
- The book Deok-im is holding when she (literally) runs into San is the same novel she transcribes together with Princess Cheongseon and Princess Cheongyeon, San’s sisters. The work was recorded to be completed in 1773, so the current timeline of the drama is probably a year or two earlier than that. The two princesses’ hold the title Gunju 군주(郡主), a senior 2nd rank reserved for the legitimate daughters of a Crown Prince (more on the princess title here). The holder of the title would be upgraded to the title Gongju 공주(公主) once the father becomes the king, but in the princesses’ case, since their father passed away before becoming the king, then their title remains as a Gunju.
- Deok-im is still a saenggaksi or a trainee court maid at the moment, hence the reason why the court maids of the Eastern Palace keeps giving her wrong direction when she is trying to find San. I believe that she will undergo the coming-of-age ceremony or gyeryesik soon before she can graduate from the braided hair and don the jade topcoat reserved for court maid. I guess that is the explanation for the lack of contact between San and Deok-im all this while despite being so close in the same Eastern Palace complex, since Deok-im is still under training and not officially a gungnyeo or court maid. (An overview of the court ladies’ rank can be found here)
EP 3 – 4 afterthought:
- The antagonists made their first appearance in episode 3 and they did not wait for long to show their claws, eagerly waiting for their chance at every turn with the change in Yeongjo and San’s relationship.
- Princess Hwawan (Seo Hyo-rim) – Yeongjo’s daughter and San’s aunt. The only surviving child of Yeongjo and Lady Yi Yeongbin, she has lived receiving all the attention from the king himself. Although her marriage suffers a setback with the early death of her husband, her adopted son continues to serve her and play an important role in her attempts to be at odds with San. At least there’s the Queen to control her a bit for now.
- Jeong Baek-ik (Kwon Hyun-bin) – real name Jeong Hu-gyeom. Hwawan’s adopted son. Another person who would later be strongly against Yi San and exiled after Jeongjo was enthroned.
- Hong Jeong-yeo (Jo Hee-bong) – real name Hong In-han. If you are familiar with Sado’s family, then you will find his real name familiar. That is because Hong In-han is the step-brother of Sado’s father-in-law Hong Bong-han, which makes him San’s step maternal uncle. Despite the family ties he has with San, he’s person who would be strongly against Yi San’s regency later.
- So, so glad we get to see more of Deok-ro’s menacing and ice cold side. There’s also the mention of his younger sister during his conversation with his distant relative Hong Jeong-yeo, which is just a small hint at what will happen in the near future in the drama (probably?). In real history, Hong Guk-young’s sister would be made Jeongjo’s concubine Lady Hong Wonbin. Deok-ro is ambitious and calculating; despite his seemingly strong support towards San in order to see the latter rising to the throne, the two will ultimately have a fallout after Jeongjo becomes the king.
- I finally get to hear clearly what Deok-im addresses the two Princesses Cheongseon and Cheongyeon with. She used Igung jaga (이궁 자가). Igung (이궁) was generally used to refer to a palace of lower status than the royal palace where the King resides, Beopgung (법궁). It could also refer to secondary palace used instead of the main palace, or the palace of the Crown Prince. I think that since the two princesses are staying outside the palace, there is no way to refer to them using their residence inside the palace (which was a common practice towards late Joseon), hence they are regarded as part of their mother’s residence.
- Yeongjo’s mood plays an important role in how he deals with people, and I love to see another detail from the memoirs being referenced in the drama. The King was said to be sensitive and moody, and his actions clearly dictated whether he was having a good or bad mood; Yeongjo was known to wash his ears when he hears something unlucky. When Deok-im asks Bok-yeon about the King’s mood, Bok-yeon hears from the court maid who just leaves the King’s quarters that the King washed his ears, which is a sign that his mood is not good.
- I don’t know why, but the sight of San kneeling in front of the throne hall gives me flashback of the too familiar sight of Crown Prince Sado prostrating so many times on my screen. The scene with Lady Hong is just…heartbreaking. The way she reminisces about her late husband and then holding San preciously as she vows to protect her son is just bittersweet. When San is surrounded by the dragon screens, that reminds me of the claustrophobic view of Sado in the rice chest. Luckily the scene turns out to mark the end of San’s setback for now, but that dragon screen also reminds me of a part in Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong, where she told about the drawing of a dragon by Sado when she was pregnant with Jeongjo. The movie The Throne also had a scene of Crown Prince Sado drawing the dragon, and the painting was made into a paper fan.
- The style manora (마노라) is used when Deok-im’s brother calls Lady Hong. The style used to be on the same level as mama, but became exclusively used to refer to the Crown Prince’s consort and regarded as one step lower in rank as compared to mama. Notice how Lady Hong used to be referred to as manora while she was still the consort to the successor to the throne, but now that her husband has passed away, the style used for her is another step lower than manora, which is jaga.
- I think it’s kinda funny to have the ‘suspicion’ Lady Hong has about San’s nightly escapades is referencing the memoirs, where she regards the Princesses’ husbands (who are a part of San’s secret meeting) as bad influence in her son’s early years. In history, she also had bad impression on Deok-ro despite being relatives, but we shall see how she treats him in later episodes, right?
EP 5 – 6 afterthought:
- The coming-of-age ceremony or Gyeryesik (계례식) is an important milestone in a court maid’s life, where she dons the green ceremonial jacket wonsam and puts her hair up in a bun while wearing a coronet called jokduri. While in normal setting, the ceremony would be symbolizing her new beginning as an adult, it’s like a wedding ceremony for the court maid; she officially becomes one of the king’s women, since all court maids and court ladies belong to the king. I find it quite funny and sad at the same time to have San mistaking Deok-im for being made a concubine; the hairdo is quite a stretch for a court maid, but on the other hand, if it really happens, he has no power to stop it from happening. I’m also reminded of what Yeongjo said about Yeongbin in the first episode…
- Yeongjo’s suggestion about regency makes it clear that the drama is around the year of 1775. While it is normal for a grandpa to dotes on his grandson with endless praises, it is scary to have a king talking about handing over his throne to his successor while he is still alive. Yeongjo was known to be temperamental and used to threaten to abdicate his throne so many times over the years. In this situation, the court and the Crown Prince would have to plead for him to retract his decision. Although Yeongjo is merely talking about making San a Prince Regent through the Prince Regency (대리청정), that is enough to make the court tense as the last time someone became the Prince Regent, it didn’t end well. In history, Jeongjo did carry out the regency in the year before Yeongjo’s passing…so that probably leaves us a step closer to see San in his red dragon robe.
- I am excited to find out that they are going to show another important ceremony in the Inner Palace, which is Chinjamrye (친잠례) or Sericulture Ceremony since there’s a chance to see another interpretation of the robe worn by the Queen in the ceremony. But then, the drama probably decides to follow the practice of the late Joseon, where the women participating in the ceremony would be wearing their wonsam and the Queen her jeokui, instead of the yellow and blue gukui.
- Court Lady Jo’s intention is revealed in this week’s episode and it is now clear that she is not on San’s side; the reason being San having the possibility of going crazy like how his father did and harming the lives of the court maids and eunuchs. Is that why she is planning to push Deok-im into San’s embrace so that the anti-San movement can get a new justification? That the heir to the throne is idling around with a concubine instead of putting his mind and soul into grooming himself to become a good ruler in the future? Well, that kid has gritted his teeth for so long without stirring much trouble that I bet he won’t be shaken…or maybe, it’s Deok-im who will keep her promise of protecting San.
- The questions asked by the Queen (Jang Hee-jin) to Deok-im are among the actual questions said to be used during the queen’s selection, and Queen Jeongsun was chosen because Yeongjo liked her answers. However, it is clear that she also finds Deok-im’s answers intriguing, from how she reacts afterwards.
- The dog painting San looks at as he muses over the memorial during the anniversary of his father’s death belongs to Crown Prince Sado.
- In my opinion, Deok-ro and Princess Hwawan might be best friends if not for their conflicting interests; one wants to see San sitting on the throne, while the other isn’t going to let that happen. Both of them are so insecure and afraid of having another person stealing their limelight in front of the person they serve. Still, I am happy to see Deok-ro being so good at what he is doing in order to achieve his goal, but one question remains: what happens once San becomes the king? Is Deok-ro going to support his king with all his heart, or will his ambition pushes him to dream of becoming someone above the king?
- I didn’t expect to see Deok-ro’s sister quite early, but it is just a proof that the inevitable is coming soon. The girl Deok-im helps to enter the palace will later be selected as San’s concubine per Deok-ro’s plan, and for him to warn Deok-im against being close to his sister is quite sly and crafty of him. Is he a fortune teller, or is it simply because he is quick-witted?