The Red Sleeve – Notes and Historical Stuff

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:

  • 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:

  • 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 Ilgung jaga (일궁 자가) and Igung jaga (이궁 자가) for them respectively. 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. However, in this context, I think that Deok-im was just referring to them as the ‘first princess’ and ‘second princess’ (since ‘il‘ means one and ‘i‘ means two) instead of referring to them using their residence inside the palace.
  • 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:

  • 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?

EP 7 – 8:

  • The King is really getting older. The onset of dementia – one of the many, many signs shown by Yeongjo during his final years. He was known as the longest reigned king of Joseon Dynasty and said to never miss taking concoctions, which might be the reason for his longevity. However, he was also experiencing symptoms linked to various illnesses throughout his life, with forgetting things being more apparent four months before his death.
  • San’s vow to protect the person he loves instead of following his grandfather’s cold choices for Yeongbin makes me feel down. Ah, if only you know San…fate won’t be that kind either with you. No matter how much you try to protect the person you love, San, by not killing your own son like what your grandfather did, fate is cruel….
  • The more I watch the tangerine scene, the more bittersweet it feels. It might be a symbolism of the first rejection made by Uibin in history towards Jeongjo, then the Grand Heir. Never thought that it would be this painful to watch two characters who clearly like each other but the situation is just not right for them to reciprocate each other’s feelings. Ah, tragedy…
  • Deok-ro is always acting bold and mighty and I forget that he is still lower-ranked than some people, for instance, Tae-ho, San’s bodyguard. It’s so satisfying to see Tae-ho giving advice (akin to a warning) to Deok-ro for going against San’s order since there is no one there to put him under control. Still, with the recent turn of events in the drama, nothing will be able to stop him from trying to get everything under his control. I pity his sister Hong Dan so much for the future that awaits her…
  • The time has come for San’s regency, but not before the fierce opposition coming from the antagonists. San and Lady Hong are basically reciting what the future has in store for the antagonists from the historical records. She might not be able to become a Queen Dowager in her lifetime, but Lady Hong sure did receive all the deserved respect for a King’s birth mother during Jeongjo’s reign. As for Princess Hwawan, her playtime is almost over.
  • The story of the heavenly maids living on the Moon Palace (廣寒宮) according to Court Lady Jo’s version is like a combination of the original version (with the maids going down to the King’s palace on Earth) and the history of King Seonjo abandoning the palace to seek refuge during the Imjin War. While the story presents a connection between the instilled fear in court ladies (enough for them to make a secret alliance among themselves to protect each other) and Court Lady Jo’s reason why she is so fixated on going against San, there is this slight feeling of disconnection I have when I see the gathering of the alliance. Still, it does help to explain why she continuously pushes Deok-im towards San..and seems like this isn’t her first rodeo in guiding (or goading?) court maids to vie for the King’s grace.
  • I thought that the kites in the remote palace is just San’s way of asking Deok-im of a kite-flying session…but it’s not that romantic. Their designs were similar with the signal kites used by Admiral Yi Sun-shin in the battles against the Japanese navy during Imjin War. But then, the one Deok-im touches has the sign that reads “wrestle and fight!” and the arrow…is it telling her to fight against all odds and move straight to where her heart lies?

EP 9 – 10

  • It is almost surreal that we have passed the halfway mark this week! San is attacked by the assassins of the secret alliance under Court Lady Jo’s order. The assassination attempt depicted in the drama is probably a nod to the attempt made by the opposition to his regency in history. The one who blocked the attempt was no other than Hong Guk-young, or our resident ambitious Deok-ro. It was said that Yeongjo himself was aware of the strong opposition against his grandson that he gave him the wooden tablet to mobilize the troop in case anything happened.
  • Deok-ro playing the role of a clingy consort is something I have never imagined, but it totally works in this situation for the drama. In reality, San would have been married to the future Queen Hyoui at his current age in the drama..but his consort is nowhere to be seen until now, so it might be safe to assume that he is still single. Still, it kinda works (albeit in a very ambiguous way) since Lady Seong rejected Jeongjo’s first advance because of his consort while in this drama, Deok-im wants San to put the throne as his priority…which is what Deok-ro wants.
  • Persimmon and marinated crab. I have never thought that Court Lady Jo would resort to this, but she did..and oh dear, she has invoked the king’s wrath. Yeongjo was the longest reigned king of Joseon, yet he was the king with so many complexes and issues surrounding him even before he became one; from his mother’s humble status to his sudden rise to the successor’s seat when his brother Gyeongjong failed to produce an heir, there was also the suspicion regarding him poisoning his brother in order for him to sit on the throne. Gyeongjong had always been sickly ever since he was young, but his ailment grew worse after he supposedly ate the persimmon and marinated crab prepared by Yeongjo. The death of Gyeongjong opened the path for Yeongjo to rule as a king, but not without the rumour of him poisoning his own brother following him like a dark cloud throughout his reign.
  • If you have watched Sungkyunkwan Scandal, then you might be familiar with the phrase uttered by Deok-im in the preview for episode 11: Geumdeungjisa. Yes, it is the same thing. It was said that greatly saddened with the death of Crown Prince Sado and burdened with the realization that it was political conspiracy by his court which drove him to send his own son to death, Yeongjo wrote the details in a document known as Geumdeungjisa (금등지사, 金縢之詞). In other words, the document was a proof of the conspiracy behind Crown Prince Sado’s death. Although Jeongjo himself spent his lifetime searching for the whereabout of the document, it was nowhere to be found, hence disputing its existence in the first place.

EP 11 – 12

  • Never thought that I would be crying over Yeongjo-Sado again, but here I am…one can only imagine what San feels when he is continuously being doubted by his grandfather, yet he is still keeping himself under control. Yeongjo’s mind is probably befuddled with regret, so much that he mistakes San as the son he got rid of himself. The death of Sado is forever a mark which cannot be erased in both Yeongjo and San’s life, but in the end, Yeongjo’s final words remain, “I did so many wrongs, but I did my best.” Not everything he did was right, but maybe, it was the best decision he could come up as the king.
  • The way Deok-ro using the analogy of Taejong-Taejo for San-Yeongjo reminded me of the time when Yeongjo himself viewed as Taejong who hid all Sejong’s books like how he did to San. Taejong, the king who killed his own half-brother and caused his father Taejo to give up the throne. He was also the king who deposed his own son from the Crown Prince’s position and chose his third son as the next king, killing his in-laws in the process in order to prepare a smooth ground for the reign of Sejong. Almost 400 years difference, yet some things hardly change.
  • Although we seldom see Sado himself in this drama, his presence is as strong as ever, hovering in the background when it comes to the relationship between San and Yeongjo. The usage of geumdeungjisa here is not as a confession, but as a guarantee letter in securing San’s safety and future. Oh, one can only imagine how suffocating it is to have such an unfortunate family history….
  • Who wouldn’t miss a chance to show her presence and influence? Certainly not the Queen, who has been living without any real power due to lack of child or political influence surrounding her. Deok-im sure knows how to ruffle her feathers, enticing the Queen into taking the position of being San’s saviour. It is certainly worth anticipating to see what kind of Dowager she will become after San becomes the king.
  • Court Lady Jo’s end leaves me wondering how will everything be different should Yeongjo did choose her instead. Perhaps, she might not be as bitter as she is in the present and the secret group might not be as active as it is. But then, there will always be someone who is there to protect their interest, despite not being directly associated with the king like she was. How will her successor fare? Wol-hye, my eyes are on you…
  • Despite the focus on the throne this week, we get to see Deok-im pouring her heart out and talking about her real feelings. She puts herself as the top priority, but at heart, there is also her sincere feeling of carrying out her duties as a court maid, including supporting her master in whatever way she can. San’s change in status – from being in the most unstable position as the heir to the king’s throne – will also stir a change in Deok-im’s life goal; now that San is a king who has the power in his hands, how will Deok-im’s presence be of any help to him? Will she get to live in peace now that San has everything? And the most important question: will her own heart be at ease? Loving a king is indeed a difficult path to walk on; there is no way he will belong solely to her, for he is a king and father of the whole nation first before her partner in life.
  • All hail to the new king, who has endured everything under the sun to become the sun himself.

EP 13, 14, 15

  • Deok-im said that she wishes that everything will stay the same even after what happens in episode 12 and Kyung-hee’s words, while sounding like a sharp knife stabbing through her simple wish, have already proved that everything is changing and will only continue to change. We don’t really see much of Deok-im’s friends over the years, but the sight of Bok-yeon in her common clothes doing menial work at the tavern is like a wake up call for us to realize that Deok-im’s safe space is already changing. Bok-yeon – who has to leave the palace since she was a court lady of the late King’s quarters and her master has passed away – is given a chance to return to the palace per Deok-im’s request and victory. Even in history, a court maid would have to leave the palace once her master dies, but per special request or approval, she will get to return to the palace to serve under a new master. Life inside the palace was certainly more comfortable than outside, since they would get regular stipends instead of having to live without marrying anyone outside the palace and working to fend for herself with no guarantee of stability.
  • I thought that the assassination part is going to be covered quite extensively, but considering that they have pushed the event to two years later than the real historical timeline, the importance of is diminishes as well. I take it that the assassination is based on the Treason Case of 1777 or 정유역변, with Deok-ro being the hero capturing the assassins and people behind the plan. The movie The King’s Wrath is a story based on this event.
  • Everything around Deok-im is changing rapidly; from Wol-hye’s departure to San’s status, which might contribute to Deok-im’s even stronger will to protect her belief in order not to lose the balance in her life. The person who treats her like a little sister turns out to be an accomplice in the assassination, and her words come off as harsh when she talks about dealing with the people behind the attempt, without realizing that it turns to be San’s half-brother Prince Eunjeon. But then, even if she is making every effort to not change and stay at one place, she is like a tree that is bound to be shaken by wind despite being deeply rooted. Although she wants to avoid losing herself, she is more like a leaf that will be blown away if the typhoon comes.
  • The world is like a wheel for those living in it. People like Hong Jeong-yeo and Princess Hwawan (now Madam Jung), who used to strut in high air during Yeongjo’s reign, are now being pushed to the bottom, while Queen Dowager is rising, exerting her influence through the concubine selection as her way of getting back at San for sending her brother to exile. It is interesting how Kim Kwi-ju is only mentioned in passing, yet his presence is huge enough to push for not only one, but two concubine selections here.
  • Like what the Queen Dowager said, San’s early reign is marked with intense house cleaning through the effective Deok-ro. Jeong Baek-ik and Hong Jeong-yeo are among the casualties of said house cleaning whom we have seen onscreen, but there were more in history, including those whose deaths were indirectly implicated by it like Lady Hyegyeong’s own father, Hong Bong-han.
  • Deok-ro is sure meticulous with the plan of making his sister the first royal concubine of San, to the point of gaining the support from the Queen Dowager and Lady Hyegyeong. Still, it is heartbreaking to see someone so young like Lady Hong Wonbin being pushed into the position, thinking that it might be of help to her brother, only to end up dying because she is worried sick about her inability to be of any help. It is such an irony to see how the plan Deok-ro thought would be a stepping stone for him to rise to the highest point in his life, ends up lining the path to his doom. His back door dealings are being brought to light one by one, leaving San with no other choice but to face the end of their long-term relationship.
  • Hearing Deok-im say herself that the King is not to be trusted, it seems that Court Lady Jo’s words do have some truth to it. I can see why she feels inclined to ask for the Dowager’s help instead of directly reporting it to San, since she knows that San will have even bigger things at stake should she confront him about Deok-ro. Unbeknownst to her, the Dowager herself is laden with politically charged motive that is huge enough to put a dent in San’s reign. Knowing that her friends mean the world to her, Deok-im takes matter into her own hands and put her life on the line.
  • Everything is following the history quite closely, including Deok-ro’s activity of torturing the Queen’s court ladies and maids under the suspicion of having their master instigating his sister’s death through poisoning and his mysterious reason of resignation and early retirement, for him to be called the black-haired retired official. However, Hong Guk-young was actively involved in the activities of Gujanggak (unlike Deok-ro who was left behind) but had records in Gyujanggak documents related to him erased after the fallout between him and Jeongjo. It is expected for Deok-ro to have his wings clipped, but it sure hurts to see San grieving over the lost comradeship and Deok-ro over the realization that he has never been San’s person, after all.
  • Deok-im leaving the palace is similar to the original novel, although her master is different in the drama; here, she becomes a member of Princess Cheongyeon’s household. I initially think that it is the Queen Dowager who brings her back to the palace just to spite San, but if she really has a hand in it and wants to annoy San, she would have make Deok-im her own court maid, turning Deok-im into something San can never dream of having (out of filial piety, since it was considered unfilial even for a King to take in his superior’s court maid as his concubine).
  • Isn’t it funny that we never (will we ever?) get to see San’s Queen on the screen, yet Lady Yoon Hwabin is featured just to give a nudge to San and Deok-im’s relationship. And Deok-ro’s passing too! His interaction with Deok-im is still fiery until the end, which makes me even sadder to send him away. Still, if only he knows that his death has become a spark in pushing San and Deok-im to the next chapter in their lives…would he be happy? Or sad? Or jealous? Maybe it is also his way of atoning for his sin of winning San’s favour through deception all this time.

Honestly, it is suffocating to see Deok-im being driven into a corner by people who cherish her. Indeed, Wol-hye’s last words are true: being likable might sometimes turn into a poison for that person. She is afraid of losing herself, yet people around her are already changing and losing that familiar facets she used to know. No matter how much she tries to resist the change, she is visibly shaken. I want to keep watching, wanting to see how on Earth is this drama going to convince me that someone who loves herself so dearly is suddenly willing to give away a piece of her affection, knowing the risk that she might lose herself in the process. Or perhaps, Deok-im herself is already changing and losing herself bit by bit, with the death of Deok-ro becoming a wake-up call for her to face her feelings, instead of losing herself should she lose something dear to her as well. This might sound foreboding, but there is also the possibility of the drama not addressing her inner thought once she becomes a royal concubine; she would be even more careful than she is now, keeping everything bottled to herself instead of sharing it with her close friends. Wait, she is already doing that for quite a while now, so the change that she is afraid of is already making her lose her own facets. San assures her that changes can be undone for there is still a chance to do so in one’s lifetime; still, what if the chance is something denied to her? Something that she can never attain, be it in life or death?

EP 16 – 17

  • Hwabin’s plan to get rid of Deok-im totally backfires…and serves as another proof of how tactless and thoughtless she is as a person. Everyone has started to notice when she starts blabbering about being a criminal’s child, and then she has the guts to argue about Sado being a criminal in front of the family of the criminal themselves? Such a thoughtless and short-sighted thing to say, and I can’t help but to be reminded of San musing over Deok-im’s thoughtfulness after the rice cake/King’s path incident.
  • I am so, so glad we get to see lots of things from Deok-im’s point of view. After watching episode 15, I did say that I wanted to see how they are going to convince me about her choice. And I think they did. Deok-im again made her choice, but just like all the countless choices we have made in this life, there are bound to be moments when we rethink of the choices; the things we gain and lose among everything else. I really, really love the scene where Lady Seong is saying goodbye to Seong Deok-im. A very bittersweet gesture indeed from the director ❤
  • Yeong-hee’s words also linger in my mind. (Seriously..this drama is just chock full of lines that will linger on and make you ponder on everything.) The thing about life is there are things you cannot run away from, things that will just happen. Maybe some call it fate, maybe some call it luck, maybe some call it bad luck. But then, when it is something you cannot run away from, maybe acceptance is a good start to come in terms with it, instead of avoidance. Living while giving your best in whatever it is might also become a small source of happiness itself.
  • Life is indeed a mixed bag of happiness and sadness, but in this drama’s case, the bliss feels so short-lived. Only sadness, pain, and deafening silence surround them afterwards, peppered with small blasts into the past. The words of reassurance San keeps getting from people around him is a proof of his achievement as a king, yet he never heard the word he wants to hear the most from that one person. That one person, Deok-im; the person who is good with words, yet her choice is to refrain from expressing her real feelings towards him and instead show it through her actions…just like what she has been doing from the very beginning.

Hands down the best scene:

  • The story in the first episode narrated by Deok-im is The Tale of Janghwa and Hongryeon (장화홍련전), a famous Korean folklore about two sisters who died a wrong death. It was also adapted into modern Korean movie, A Tale of Two Sisters, starring Im Soo-jung and Moon Geun-young, released in 2003.
  • Yeongbin’s book which is given to Deok-im by Yeongjo in the first episode (also the reason behind Deok-im’s problem in episode 8) is Moral Norms of Women (여범, 女範), a collection of exemplary historical women’s biographies compiled and penned by the royal concubine herself. It was considered another text for standards of women, the other one being Instructions for Women (내훈, 內訓) written by Queen Sohye, widely known by her another title, Queen Dowager Insu.
  • Records of the Grand Historian (사기, 史記) is the banned book with the phrase “your mother is a servant (이모비야, 爾母婢也). In history, the book was not a banned book and Yeongjo even enjoyed discussing about it.
  • 곽장양문록 (sub-translated as The Tale of Gwak and Jang) is the novel transcribed by Deok-im and Co. with the princesses. The novel is a classic novel with 10 volumes, with the one in real history bearing the footnote ‘Uibin’s handwriting’. Yeongjo was someone who was known to enjoy reading folktale novels while Jeongjo despised them.
  • Supplement to the Exposition of the Great Learning (대학연의보, 大學衍義補) is the book Deok-im transcribes in the second episode and also the book San is studying with his tutors. The book, written by Ming Dynasty’s Qiu Jun, was also recorded being Jeongjo’s favourite book.
  • The book Court Lady Jo wants Deok-im to transcribe in episode 2 (with the norigae as the advance payment) is The Great Compendium of Works by Zhu Xi (주자대전, 朱子大全), a collection of works by Zhu Xi, a renowned Confucian scholar during Song Dynasty.
  • Classic of Poetry (시경, 詩經) is the book Deok-im reads to San while the latter is being confined in episode 5. The book is a collection of poetry said to be compiled by Confucius. The part Deok-im reads is an ode entitled North Wind (北風) in the Odes of Bei (41). Another poem from the anthology also makes an appearance in during San’s studying/daydreaming session in episode 7, entitled Reed (蒹葭) in the Odes of Qin (129).

128 thoughts on “The Red Sleeve – Notes and Historical Stuff

  1. I wonder why the Princesses and concubines are addressed as “자가”… in older dramas I have watched both the princesses and concubines are addressed with their name/title and the style “mama”. Could it be that other titles started to be used in the later Joseon dynasty or was it simply another way to refer to the female royal family members?~

    1. Not sure if they wanted to keep it simple, but dramas did use the style ‘mama’ for everyone from the king down to the prince and even the low-ranking concubines. ‘Mama’ was actually reserved for those of higher status, from Crown Prince to the Queen, the King, and the Dowagers. Even Crown Princess was not referred to using ‘mama’ (they used the style ‘manora’) until the transition period between Joseon Dynasty and Korean Empire. I need to do further reading regarding the origin of the styles, but I assume that it started to be used around the time the National Code of Joseon was finished since various titles and ranks in Joseon were included in the code.

      1. Thanks for your answer! 😉

        I am also curious about the social class Ui-bin came from.. Is there any information in the Annals of Jeongo or any other historical Joseon record about it?~~

  2. Am I the only one wondering what the gender of Uibin’s unborn child was?.. And did Uibin went into labor first, lost the child and died afterwards or did she never go into labor and died and as a result of her death, the baby died? (in korean wikipedia it is stated that she had symptoms of preeclampsia)
    I know that there are not many, if any, possibilities for it to be stated in the Annals, but think about it.. if Uibin went into labor (since she was in her 9th month of pregnancy, meaning that the baby was fully developed), gave birth and the baby was a boy and it survived through childhood and teens, he would ultimately become crown prince! (I can say that for sure, judging from King Jeongjo’s love for Crown Prince Munhyo and appointing him Crown Prince at the age of two!!). How wonderful things would be if Uibin survived this labor, too!~~ They would, obviously, be deeply sad for the loss of Crown Prince Munhyo, but time would gradually heal the pain and they would also have their new family member (be it a girl or a boy)! And it wouldn’t be necessary for Queen Dowager Yesun to organise a concubine selection in order for King Jeongjo to produce an heir through his selected concubine! He would have his love of his life beside him and they would grow their children together!~❤️

    Or…if Crown Prince Munhyo hadn’t contracted measles or any other deadly illness when he was still a child or teen, he would eventually succeed his father as the king!~~

    Just imagine that…history would be completely different that how it actually turned to be..I bet King Jeongjo would educate his son really well in order for him to be ready to reign Joseon. And if his mother lived long enough to see him becoming king, I think she would be so moved and happy!~ And possibly, the royal lineage would come from Munhyo..but then, all of this, is only in theory, as history is now written and we can only assume what could happen if Munhyo got to reign as a king..

    One thing is for sure; King Jeongo’ s love for Uibin was deep, he praised her caring personality and her frugal behaviour, he personally attended to her when she was ill, checked her medicines and was every day beside her and he even handcrafted her tombstone name and wrote her eulogy😭~~~ A true love indeed~~~

  3. Isn’t it strange the fact that some months after Uibin’s passing (🥺), a new concubine selection was held because Jeongjo was heirless? I mean..there was Yun Hwa-bin! At that time, she was only 21 years old and possibly able to conceive a child. Considering Queen Hyoui”s infertility (correct me Mimi if I’m wrong) and Uibin’s passing, Jeongjo could have his heir through Yun Hwa bin. Why was it necessary for a new selection to be organised since a young selected concubine was there? And it was only her 6th year in the palace at that time of Uibin’s passing..

    1. It seems that Hwabin’s family was quite problematic with so many issues around them, the phantom pregnancy and the Delivery Office issues among them. After the mention of her Delivery Office in the Veritable Records of Jeongjo, there was no more record of her until the mention of her death.

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