The Progressive Isolation of Richard III
From the very opening of William Shakespeare’s tragic historical drama Richard III, the isolation of the main protagonist is made quite clear, for Richard progressively separates himself from the other main characters and gradually breaks the natural bonds between man and society through his at times well-conceived plan to gain the power of the English throne via the extermination of all those who stand in his way.The first scene in Richard III begins with a soliloquy which emphasizes Richard’s physical isolation as he addresses the audience. This idea of isolation is then heightened by his references to his deformities, such as “rudely stamp’d. . . cheated of feature by dissembling Nature. . . ,” an outward indication to the audience of his disharmony from society and the viciousness of his inner spirit. As he despises “the idle pleasures of these days” and speaks of his plots to set brother against brother, Richard separates himself from those in his orbit who perhaps view him as an outsider due to his physical deformities. His separation from his family is emphasized with “Dive, thought’s down to my soul” when he observes his brother approaching. Thus, Richard provides hints of his physical, social and spiritual isolation which is progressive throughout the play. But despite these hints, Richard still refers to himself as part of the House of York, as shown in his repeated use of “Our.”The concept of Richard’s physical isolation is reinforced in his dealings with Anne in Act One, Scene II, where she calls him “thou lump of foul deformity” and “fouler toad” during their verbal exchanges. Yet Anne still takes the time to speak to Richard and by the end of their exchange she had taken his ring and been “woo’d” by him. In Act IV, Scene II, when Richard has successfully gained the throne, he isolates himself again when he orders the crowd to “stand all apart,” and later, during a dream, Richard ends up completely alone, yet his physical deformities manage to win sympathy from the audience as they pity his condition. But Richard utilizes his deformities “as a tool against the other characters via his portrayal of them as victimizers” (Cheetham 146). Thus, the sense of tragedy is lessened by his actions, even though his isolation becomes greater as the play progresses.Richard’s psychological isolation is conveyed through his lack of conscience via his murderous acts. Nowhere does he feel remorse for his actions, until in Act V, Scene III when he exclaims “Have mercy, Jesu!” and “O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!” With this, Richard’s division from his self is evident, especially when he declares “Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am!” The audience and the reader, however, never is allowed to see into the true mind of Richard, for he is always playing some kind of a role, a loving brother to Clarence, a lover to Anne or a victim of the others in his orbit. The audience feels sympathy for him as he realizes his vulnerable position and for the first time acknowledges the evil which he has done. But since Richard only reveals his feelings of guilt in the last act of the play, the audience/reader is not privy to his internal turmoil and thus the sense of psychological tragedy cannot be built upon.Socially, Richard is isolated from both the upper and lower classes of English society, for in Act I, Scene III, Richard sarcastically calls Elizabeth “sister” and she contemptuously calls him “brother of Gloucester,” a swipe of mockery at his familial bonds. Margaret refers to him as “cacodemon” and “devil,” which highlights that any unity between the characters is temporary and superficial. In Act III, the citizens are said to be “mum” and “deadly pale” which reflects a sense of quiet opposition to Richard’s dastardly activities. Thus, Richard is separated from all those around him, yet temporarily, we see Richard and Buckingham share a kind of bond as Richard denotes him as “My other self,” “My Oracle” and “My prophet.” But they part when Buckingham hesitates to kill the young princes as a result of Richard saying “I wish the bastards dead.” This is the only time that the audience/reader sees Richard truly interact with any other man, but the realization soon comes that this interaction is for purely political purposes and that the union only exists while Buckingham remains useful to Richard. Our sympathy for Richard is limited as we discover he has no true friends and does not genuinely care for his family. Yet even with this increasing isolation, the sense of tragedy upon Richard’s death is not truly saddening to the audience/reader, due to feeling no sense of waste at his loss.Richard also isolates himself from God as he claims to be above the laws of God and utilizes religion as another tool in order to appear holy and just before he becomes king. As the murders accumulate, so does Richard’s separation from God and the need for his death increases. But ironically, being closer to death brings him closer to being in the presence of God.However, Richard does not increasingly isolate himself from the audience/reader, for from their omniscient position, they share in “Richard’s wit, sarcasm and the dramatic irony brought about when the other characters are not fully aware of the implications of his words” (Cheetham 256). Richard also shares his feelings with the audience/reader, although they are not always reliable. But the fact that he enjoys his villainy to such a great extent and feels no remorse for his murders, reduces him to a figure of vice and corruption which detracts from a tragic figure of great proportions.The most poignant part of the play occurs when we see the young princes talking of happy things to their uncle and “Lord Protector.” York says “I shall not sleep quiet in the tower,” and we pity them as they are young and frightened and are forced to occupy the Bloody Tower because “My Lord Protector needs will have is so.” This appears to be the greatest tragic loss in the play which is heightened by the youth and innocence of the two princes. The true tragedy of Richard, at least to the audience/reader, is gained via his attractiveness of a villain who is not constrained by the rules of proper society. In essence, Richard’s isolation appears to increase throughout the play via his villainy and tyranny, but in reality, it is firmly based upon his own inner demons which control his twisted mind and lead him inexorably towards the grave.BIBLIOGRAPHYCheetham, Anthony. The Life and Times of Richard III. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972.Shakespeare, William. King Richard III. New York: Routledge, Kegan and Paul, 1988.
Angels of Wrath – The Women of Richard III
And lived with looking on his images;But now two mirrors of his princely semblanceAre cracked in pieces by malignant death,And I for comfort have but one false glassThat grieves me when I see my shame in him.Thus does the Duchess of York lament the birth of her own son, Richard III, perhaps Shakespeare’s most evil creation. A machiavellian who delights in governing with fear and force, his evil is only offset by his ready and cunning wit. As his talents lead others to self-destruction, the audience too succumbs to Richard’s wit and egoism until finally his cruelty appears repulsive and destructive. Yet Shakespeare does provide a counterpoint, a sharp contrast, to Richard’s villainy. The women of Richard III function as voices of protest and morality. They often see through Richard’s intrigues and predict the dire consequences of his acts. Shakespeare uses the women to point out moral truths and emphasize general principles of the Elizabethan worldview of “moral and political order” (Tillyard 108). Whereas Shakespeare’s Richard III pursues his malevolent intentions wielding a disarming wit and a bloody, conscience-less sword, the women of the play derive what power they have from sincere verbal poison and from raw, unbridled sentiment. Lady Anne, the Duchess of York, Margaret and Elizabeth, subverted in their roles as queens, mothers and wives, each contribute to the furthering of Shakespeare’s moral themes in several ways—through their roles as victims as expressed in their intense lamentations, in their cries for revenge through divine retribution, and in “alluding to a higher moral order that transcends the actions of the men” (Tillyard 107). In each of these ways, the women of Richard III help illustrate how destruction comes about when order, both political and moral, is violated, either by the weakness of a reigning king, or through the machinations of those who cause civil war by wanting to take the king’s place. Such instability and chaos devastates the individual, the family, and the nation, resulting in moral decay, treachery, anarchy and a profound level of human suffering.”The world that Shakespeare portrays in Richard III is a man’s world” (Asimov 313). The women are presented as sideline characters that function only to grieve, complain, or bury the dead. Richard himself views women as tools, as shown by his various asides to the audience when he announces his plots, in which the marrying of Anne or Elizabeth are only moves in his elaborate games of intrigue and power. Shakespeare further emphasizes the woman’s inferior role as Richard invariably “allocates his own guilt along sexual lines so that women are the root his evil” (Tillyard 111). He declares to his condemned brother Clarence that “this it is when men are ruled by women,” implying that it was Queen Elizabeth who “tempted” her husband into the “harsh extremity” of executing his own brother, thereby deflecting blame from himself, the true perpetrator of the plot. “Simply, plain Clarence,” laughs Richard. I do love thee so that I will shortly send thy soul to heaven.”Overwhelmingly, the women are victims of such political machinations, and though their vulnerability allows their manipulation, the eloquent expressions of their grief shows not only that Richard’s schemes are played out on people whose agony of body and spirit can be intensely real, but also shows that the state of civil turmoil, disorder, and treachery that has prevailed since the War of the Roses began leaves no one untouched by suffering.Anne, the first woman we are introduced to, is grief stricken by the deaths of her husband Edward and his father King Henry VI, both slain by the hand of Richard. “Poor key-cold figure of a holy king, / Pale ashes of the house of Lancaster,” she cries. “Be it lawful that I invocate thy ghost / To hear the lamentations of poor Anne.” In portraying this genuine heartbreak, Shakespeare gives the audience its first taste of the despair wrought by his villain-hero’s handiwork. At the same time, the “allocation of guilt” is further evident. When Anne charges him with the bloody murders of her loved ones, Richard initially scrambles for a surrogate, blaming Edward IV and Margaret) before hitting upon a far more effective line, accusing Anne as the primary “causer” of the deaths (Tillyard 111). “Your beauty was the cause of that effect! / Your beauty that did haunt me in my sleep! / To undertake the death of all the world, / So I might live one hour in your sweet bosom. Shakespeare expands scope of the grief in the second scene of Act II, in which both Elizabeth and the Duchess lament and enumerate similar losses of loved ones. The Duchess cries in agony, “Was never mother had so dear a loss. / Alas! I am the mother of these griefs! / …Alas! You three on me, threefold distressed, / Pour all your tears! I am your sorrow’s nurse, / and I will pamper it with lamentation.” The Duchess here laments that Richard, her “false glass” of comfort, “has plucked my two crutches from my feeble hands,” the crutches being her sons Clarence and Edward. She calls for the former Queen Margaret, who has lost her husband and son, for the Queen Elizabeth who has lost her husband, and for the orphaned children of Clarence, to pour their collective grief onto her, for she is the mother of the fiend that wrought this avalanche of distress.Act IV contains some of the play’s most poignant lines when Elizabeth looks back on the Tower, suspecting she may never see her imprisoned sons again. “Ah my, poor princes! / If yet your gentle souls fly in the air, hover about me with your airy wings / And hear your mother’s lamentation.” It is in this moment, as Richard condemns the young and innocent princes to die, that the audience finally finds Richard’s cruelty to be repulsive, and thus turn their sympathy toward the victim’s of his villainy. In the same scene, the Duchess sums up the state of despair all the women find themselves in when she says, “I to my grave, where peace and rest lie with me! / Eighty odd years of sorrow have I seen, and each hour’s joy wracked with a week of teen.” Though one can call the Duchess and the former Queen Margaret monotones of complaint, the point is made that this individual devastation is the result of the disaster that has befallen the nation as a whole. Everyone is tainted–even the women are not entirely guiltless in the struggle between the warring houses. Through their passive acceptance, as in Anne’s acceptance of Richard’s proposal, to Margaret’s very active part as a soldier in the battlefield, the blood and barbarities of civil strife have reduced everyone, but especially the women, to helpless creatures who can only recite psalms of grief, guilt, and sorrow.Finally, in the fourth scene of Act IV, “the wailing queens” Margaret, the Duchess, and Elizabeth unite in their mournings. Again, Shakespeare uses the women to emphasize the woeful state of the nation. Elizabeth asks Margaret to teach her how to curse, cursing being the only outlet for these women, powerful in title but impotent in reality, incapable of stemming the tide of sorrow and suffering the disorder of the times has wrought. “Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days / Compare dead happiness with living woe… / Bett’ring thy loss makes the bad causer worse; / Revolving this will teach thee how to curse,” replies Margaret to Elizabeth’s plea. As the women lament their loss, the audience is once again made aware of how destructive Richard’s vengeful crimes against the world have been. Shakespeare uses their sorrow to finally illuminate Richard as the villain that he is.In considerations of the way women employs women as scapegoats and currency, younger females have received the most attention (Succio 51). However, when we consider how Richard uses women as ciphers, three older women—Queen Elizabeth, Margaret and the Duchess of York—step reluctantly into the foreground. All of these women suffer, on one level, a loss of definition at the hand of Richard. “Not only does Richard subvert the role of queen, he also undermines the roles of mother and wife” (Tillyard 117). For example while the death of Edward robs Elizabeth of a husband, it robs the Duchess of York of a son. Her “stock” now depleted by two-thirds, the Duchess turns to Elizabeth commenting that unlike her, “Thou art a widow, yet thou art a mother / And hast the comfort of thy children left. In addressing Elizabeth’s yet current claim to motherhood, the Duchess appears to abjure her own; it is as if she no longer wants to assume the title of mother if Richard is the son who grants her this right; accepting “motherhood” means accepting responsibility for “all these griefs,” for the losses sustained by Elizabeth and by Clarence’s Children. It is not enough for one mother to abandon her claim to the title of mother; Richard pursues a course of action that eventually forces Elizabeth to relinquish her claim also. As this process is set in motion, the “Protector” refuses to grant Elizabeth her status as mother, refusing to admit her to the Tower to see her children. Elizabeth cries in protest, “Hath he set bounds between their love and me? / I am their mother; who shall bar me from them?” Yet after the deaths of young Edward and Richard, Elizabeth is forced to perform an about-face in order to protect her remaining child. Because of Richard’s manipulations, a “mother’s name is ominous to children”; hence, she must deny her title of mother in order to express her genuine identity a mother concerned for her children’s welfare. She dispatches her son Dorset to France—“O Dorset, speak not to me, get thee gone!”—and expresses her willingness to deny the legitimacy of young Elizabeth’s birth to save her marriage from Richard. “I’ll corrupt her manners, stain her beauty, / Slander myself as false to Edward’s bed …/ I will confess she was not Edward’s daughter.” It is the love of a mother for her daughter, which prompts Elizabeth’s offer; she willingly renounces her titles of both wife and legitimate mother (Tillyard 118). In these examples, Richard’s general course of action is such to encourage women to abandon traditional titles, to de-identify themselves. Both the womens’ resistance and passivity to this desire endures them to the audience as victims undeserving of Richard’s seemingly interminable malice.When the women are not grieving, they are often venting their hate. The expressions of Margaret’s thirst for revenge are her curses, and she levels them generously on all who contributed to her personal losses: while she also evokes the mechanical aspect of justice when she prophesizes their destruction. “Can curses pierce clouds, and enter heaven?” she cries. “Why then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses.” After foretelling the fates of all the “lords, ladies, queens, princes and kings” that she feels have perpetrated her downfall, she turns her wrath on Richard (Succio42). “On thee, the troubler of the poor world’s peace! / The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul! / Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou livest, / And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends! / No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine, / Unless it be while some tormenting dream.” Here the audience first glimpses the scope of the destruction that vengeful hate will cause. The already damned former queen will watch with only a tempered satisfaction as all of her curses are fulfilled with startling clarity. Each of the women join Margaret in cursing Richard, the most concentrated representation of the evil and illness that pervades the country, but it is interesting to note how often the curse reverses on the curser. Anne acknowledges this, thus admitting to her own duplicity in the mess everyone finds themselves in. As she stands before the corpse of her murdered father-in-law, she condemns herself unknowingly. “If he ever have a wife, let her be made / More miserable by the death of him / Than I am made by my young lord and thee!” Of course, as she succumbs to the sweetened words of Richard and accepts his offer of marriage, the curse she has made falls upon her. “Within so small a time, my woman’s ear / Grossly grew captive to his honeyed words / And proved the subject of mine own soul’s curse.” Richard loses any shred of sympathy or support when his own mother curses herself for hatching a “cockatrice” whose “unavoided eye is murderous.” Thus, Shakespeare once again demonstrates that even to the perpetrator, revenge is ultimately destructive in its very nature. This theme is constantly apparent, as by the end of the play, the description “alive—but neither mother, wife nor England’s queen” applies to Margaret, Elizabeth and the Duchess. All the scenes of female lamentation are riddled with curses, “calling for justice when all are guilty” (Succio 45). Shakespeare uses the women to illustrate how England itself is under a curse of “civil dissension and moral ill” (Tillyard 113). The ring of curses and the cries for justice directly reflect how deep the morass of blood, treachery, and disorder has become, and how urgently rightful order needs to be restored.But does vengeance belong to man or God? Shakespeare uses the tension created by Margaret’s curses and cries for personal revenge to answer this question in the person of Richmond. Throughout the play a “moral order that transcends men’s actions” is eluded to but never given full expression until the last act. It is to this moral order, this “immutable form of divine justice,” that all the women are appealing when they cry to the heavens for their wrongs to be righted, especially poignant in the “wailing queens'” scene (Tillyard 113). In this scene, Margaret points out to Elizabeth how temporal life is: “For happy wife, a most distressed widow;; / For joyful mother, one that wails the name; …/ Thus hath the course of justice whirled about / And left thee but a very prey to time.”However, though Margaret uses this allusion to temporality to emphasize the maxim “what goes around comes around,” she confuses the fulfillment of her wishes with divine justice. “Her curses come true because they should have, not because she wants them to” (Succio 45). She, like the other women, tend to be morally myopic in their cries for justice, unable, or unwilling, to recognize their own guilt. Shakespeare makes Margaret the incarnation of the wrong sort of justice, derived from the Old Testament style of retributive justice, but he contrasts her with Richmond who submits himself to a higher order and incorporates forgiveness into his idea of justice (Succio 48). “In God’s name, cheerly on, courageous friends,” Richmond humbly says to his army. “Reap the harvest of perpetual peace, / By this one trial of bloody war.” Here it is clear that Richmond is not fighting a war for the sake of personal gain. He is fighting in order to rid England of Richard, that “wretched, bloody, usurping boar.” The fact that Shakespeare portrays Richmond as the nation’s savior, not bringing him into the play until the last scene and making plain that Richmond alone is untainted by the treachery that has gone before, endorses the fact that Shakespeare himself felt that vengeance belonged to God, made plain when Richmond submits himself to this higher order (Tillyard 141).In the last scene when Richard and Richmond present their soliloquies, the contrast between submission to order and extreme individualism is very clearly the contrast between good and evil. Here Shakespeare makes it clear that “there is an existence beyond the realm of men that nevertheless has a profound effect on human life and experience” (Succio 51). Margaret and the other women of the play serve to bring about this realization, through their lamentations and cries for revenge, that something over and above the world of men is needed to right the state of the country. They cry to this higher order and bring the need for its intervention to our attention, and this is their greatest contribution. Only their own participation in furthering the state of disorder prevents them from benefiting significantly from order’s restoration in the form of Richmond’s victory.Cicero once said, “Justice is the essential virtue and moral right is the basis of action.” In Richard III, Shakespeare shows how the existing order of England has been violated and presents the conflict and turmoil that results on both the individual and national levels. Order is restored only by the eradication of the forces that originally violated it and Shakespeare shows that these forces were essentially immoral in nature. The female characters are the major vehicles of this view, by voicing the sorrow that results from the disruption of moral order, through their cries for retributive justice, and through their appeals for this justice from a divine realm. They are the essential contrast to Richard’s evil, and through their struggles against his dominance they serve not only to illustrate the necessity of the restoration of order, but also to bring about that restoration. In moral terms, the women of the play thus serve to mitigate the natural destructiveness inherent in a male dominated world.Works CitedAsimov, Isaac. Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. New York: Avenel Books, 1958.Succio, Peter. “Manipulations of Curses in Richard III.” Meanings of Shakespeare. Ed. Richard S. Sylvester. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968. 39-48.Shakespeare, William. Richard III. New York: Washington Square Press, 1960.Tillyard, E.M.W. “The Personal Dramas of Richard III” William Shakespeare: The Histories. London: Greenhaven Press, 1971.
Deformity of the Mind: Richard’s Source of Villainy
In William Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard opens the play by informing the audience that, since he is “not shap’d for sportive tricks ” (I.i.16) that are expected in the peacetime following the York’s victory, he can only prove a spiteful, scheming villain. He goes on to describe his incompatibility with the leisure of peacetime in terms of his deformity his hunched back and shriveled, weak arm naming this as the source of his wickedness. Like Joe Christmas in Faulkner’s Light In August, Richard struggles with his mental and emotional identity in terms of his physical identity; Is Richard’s physical condition a manifestation of his evil nature which further emphasizes the depravity already present in Richard’s mind, or is his evil behavior a result of years with a physical deformity in a superstitious, intolerant society? After carefully reading and analyzing of the play, it becomes evident that the latter is true. In a sense, Richard’s deformity is the cause of his vile nature; Richard’s villainy is derived from his belief that his physical deformity and the effects of that deformity prevent him from being a good person. In this respect, Richard’s condition limits him and leads to his ultimate emotional break down in the final act. By carefully analyzing Richard’s opening soliloquy and his much later battlefield soliloquy, the effects of his physical deformity are evident.Richard’s opening soliloquy establishes Richard’s character and status as a villain for the entirety of the play “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, / To entertain these fair well-spoken days, / I am determined to prove a villain” (I.i.30-32). Through this speech, he acknowledges the audience as his confidant, so that his schemes are always communicated and it is clear when he is being false to other characters. This is also the moment when he reveals his motives for his evil deeds, which he attributes wholly to his physical deformity, “Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, / Have no delight to pass away the time, / Unless to see my shadow in the sun/ And descant on mine own deformity” (I.i.26-29).Since Richard needs to establish his antagonist status in light of the recent tranquility that has settled over England, it leads us, the audience, to assume that he neither considered himself nor was considered by others to be a villain during the former period of hostilities. Bearing in mind that he was the warrior who is given the credit for King Henry’s death and that of his son’s, thereby placing Richard’s brother on the throne and winning the war for his family, Richard in fact may have been considered a hero. Margaret, the former regime’s queen, echoes Lady Anne in the previous scene as she names Richard the murderer of her husband and son, “Thou kill’dst my husband Henry in the Tower, / And Edward, my poor son, at Tewksbury.” (I.iii.124-125).This indicates that his actions were not always malicious, indicating a different “Richard” A Richard compatible to some degree with his surroundings. This “other Richard” surfaces again in his interactions with Lady Anne in the second scene. Although Richard has convinced the audience that he is merely acting for Anne, his performance contradicts his previous conviction that he is unable to “prove a lover” (I.i.30). Richard proves to be a very convincing “lover” as he successfully woos her to his own surprise, over the body of her dead husband, whom he killed, “Was ever woman in this humour woo’d? / Was ever woman in this humour won?” (I.ii.241-242). Richard wears the lover’s facade as easily as he wore that of the villain in the first scene. He is also shown to be a very convincing, supportive brother, uncle, and politician in later parts of the play. In fact, the more that the play progresses, and the more roles that Richard plays, the less credible his opening convictions seem to be. Obviously, Richard has the capability to be anything he wishes, so why does his physicality dominate his idea of what he should be?Returning to the concept of Richard as a Yorkist war hero and being his family’s champion, one might naturally ask why he developed the homicidal attitude toward them. The source of his state of mine may lie in the attitude of his mother, who never shows Richard any maternal love or affection, even in the beginning of the play before he has committed any atrocities. Without stepping outside the fictional realm of the play, it is safe to theorize that Richard’s mental perversity may be an indirect result of his mother’s and perhaps other characters’ treatment of his physical deformity. Through her later speeches, the audience discovers that the Duchess has abhorred Richard since his birth, “Thou cam’st on earth to make the earth my hell. / A grievous burden was thy birth to me” (IV.iv.172-173). The audience may assume that Richard was taught to consider himself evil through his mother’s attitude. During this time period it was superstitiously believed that one’s body mirrored the soul. In this way, Richard’s crooked and hideous form consigns him to being thought of as “evil” or at least treated as such whether or not this is his true nature. Without having a violent outlet like the war, Richard falls into a deeper isolation from his family than he had experienced before. If he cannot win acceptance through success in battle, Richard chooses to embrace his isolation and strike out against them. The combination of his alienation and years of being treated as a deformed devil convince Richard of his own maliciousness and indicate vile behavior as his expected and natural disposition.If there is any question concerning Richard’s identity crisis, it is confirmed by his soliloquy the Act five, Scene three. Here, Richard awakens from a nightmare, in which all of his victims curse him. Shakespeare indicates Richard’s heightened anxiety through the short exclamatory statements in this speech, which contrast with the long, grand sentences exhibited in his earlier soliloquy (I.i.1-43). These statements confirm that Richard is loosening his grip on his sense of self. After playing so many diverse roles in his climb to the throne, Richard is unable to come to terms with his actions and his identity. He addresses himself in the third person and names himself a murderer; the resulting confusion of the audience on the level of language signifies his own psychological turmoil, “Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I. / Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I amO! no: alas! I rather hate myself / For hateful deeds committed by myself,” (V.iii.202-209). This speech indicates that he finally realizes the consequences of his murders and his treacheries; none love him and none will mourn his death, “Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself / Find in myself no pity to myself?” (V.iii.221-222).The audience sees Richard’s self-depreciation exposed as he admits to the immorality of his crimes. He describes himself as being “condemned” as a villain (V.iii.214), which is a stark contrast to his embracing attitude toward the antagonist distinction in his soliloquy in the first act. This is also an example of Richard’s crumbling resolve and dulled cunning, revealing a more awkward and more anxious Richard than had existed in the first act. This soliloquy indicates that Richard’s villainous facade is unraveling. Moreover, the audience sees that this façade was just another role in Richard’s search for identity. As he reaches his goal his family dead and his allies traitorous all that remains is himself, a man who he never understood and a role that is finally deserting him.Richard’s villainous character crumbles in Act Five, scene three. It is now obvious that his villainy was merely a role, which he adopted from the beginning of the play. The source of his villainy, as he claims, is his deformity, which prevents him from being anything else. However, this claim is shown to be false when Richard proves himself to be a dashing lover, a loyal brother, a compassionate uncle, and the many other roles that he assumes in subsequent scenes. Richard’s physical circumstances, therefore, only hinder him mentally, controlling what he thinks he is, instead of what he actually could be. Shakespeare indicates that this idea may theoretically spring from his mother’s verbal abuse of him in later scenes. Therefore, the combination of Richard’s first soliloquy, his mother’s treatment, and his final soliloquy support the argument that Richard’s villainous tendencies originate from his physical deformity. This identity crisis is immediately addressed and finally answered, framing the play and becoming one of the play’s most dynamic and subtle conflicts.
Speculation on Richard III’s Malignity
‘Distortum vultum sequitur distortio morum.'[Distortion of character follows a distorted countenance.] –Thomas MoreShakespeare’s Richard III from the so-titled play shares the unsettling characteristic of being expressly “determined to prove a villain” (I.i.30) with other Shakespeare creations, most notably, Iago of Othello, and Aaron the Moor of Titus Andronicus, who, like Richard is quite obviously a physical outsider. Richard’s statement, which Shakespeare includes in the first scene, carries an ambiguous, double-edged meaning. First, Richard is saying by this that he is resolved to “prove” himself “a villain.” This interpretation requires that the reader imbue Richard with free will. The OED’s definition of “resolving” as the act of “making up one’s mind” shows why. If life is pre-ordained then a man can never make up his own mind, only destiny can. Being resolved is the subject’s demonstration of free will. The second possible interpretation directly contradicts the first. That is, Richard might be saying that he is “determined” as by fate (or perhaps his author, Shakespeare) to “prove a villain.” In this case, he has no choice, no freedom. When we examine the most obvious question that Richard III raises — ‘What motivates Richard to be evil?’ — we must remember that the question, as revealed in Richard’s opening soliloquy, might not be applicable. In a world of fate, personal motivation doesn’t exist.This said, Richard’s dense line only half suggests that the tragedy takes place in a universe controlled by fate. And, there are some interesting methods of trying to understand Richard without immediately resorting to describing him, as Granville Barker reductively described Richard’s descendent, Iago, as “only a poisoned and poisonous ganglion of cravings after evil” (Spivack 3). Firstly, most easily, Richard himself gives a reason from the start for acting as he does. He characterizes himself as “deformed,” “unfinished,” “unfashionable,” and this ugliness, he claims, keeps him from being a “lover,” keeps him “want[ing] loves majesty.” So, he justifies, “to entertain these fair well-spoken days,” he is “determined to prove a villain” (I.i.20-30). Superficially this makes sense until, in the very next scene, he successfully seduces the single woman, Lady Anne, who is (or, at least, should be) the absolutely most difficult one for him to get. If her last match counts for anything, she is presumably very pretty, but, more importantly, she is the widow and daughter-in-law of two men whom Richard himself murdered. If this doesn’t yet prove that, while his physique leaves something to be desired, his charisma is overwhelming and makes being a “lover” potentially easy for him, we see him sexually attract the only other woman who should be as difficult as Anne for him to get in a later scene. This is the “Queen,” his dead brother’s widow, whose sons, brothers, and brother-in-law Richard himself has killed. After a witty banter between the two, Richard and the Queen, wherein he convinces her to marry her own daughter to him, he bestows on her a “true love’s kiss” (IV.iv.349). She too succumbs to him as a lover, despite his known evil and his physical deformity. Additionally, when Lady Anne has the opportunity to bewail her marital conditions, she complains that “never yet one hour in his bed have I enjoyed the golden dew of sleep… Besides, he hates me” (IV.ii.78-81). She specifically doesn’t complain about his prowess in bed while awake, and doesn’t even say that she has fallen out of love with him, rather, she only notes that he is not in love with her. It seems, if anything, that Richard is a fantastic lover (insofar as being such classically requires none of the true emotion). Through these two examples of nearly impossible, and yet successful, seductions, Shakespeare’s audience sees that Richard III’s tragic evil star is unreliable in the motives he attributes to himself. He can, if he wants, be a lover. Having dismissed the possibility that Richard himself provides us wth an answer, we come back to what we started with. Either Richard doesn’t possess any motives as such, or else, they aren’t so obvious as to be defined by him or anyone else directly. The latter of these two options leaves us open to a more intriguing answer than Richard’s own to the question of Richard’s motivation.It is a paradox — plausible in a piece of literature that employs such paradoxical lines as “Cursed be the heart that had the heart to do it” (I.ii.15). Richard, being ugly, is classically equated with being evil. Thomas More, in his History of King Richard III, the text upon which Shakespeare primarily based his play, makes the connection between appearance and reality clear, when More describes Richard as having “evil-featured limbs, crook-backed, the left shoulder much higher than the right.” As Jowett points out, “More’s vocabulary is telling in itself: the limbs are, as it were, wicked of feature rather than simply ugly; crook or crooked can mean ‘deviating from rectitude,’ and the left side of the body, here dominating, was associated with evil. (Jowett 32)”Shakespeare’s own secondary characters make similar equations. Margaret, the old Queen, curses Richard with dreams of “a hell of ugly devils” and goes on to cry, “thou elvish-marked…Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity the slave of nature and the son of hell” (I.iii.224-7). Not only does she paint her devils as ugly, thereby implying the connection between ugliness and treachery, she makes the more outright connection in the phrase, “elvish-marked,” which, as Jowett cites in his footnote to the phrase, “Refers to a belief that physical defects were left by malignant elves to mark an infant out for wicked deeds.” Margaret categorically sees Richard’s physical body as a testament to his soul’s sinfulness, and she tells him so. Likewise, Richard’s own mother draws a link, saying, “He [Richard] was the wretched’st thing when he was young” (II.iv.18). Rather than using a less powerful word than “wretched” that might refer solely to his physical being, the Duchess employs this strong one with many negative connotations. Finally, in Richmond’s last speech, he closes the play calling England a “fair land” (V.vii.39, italics mine). Like More, Richmond uses a word that simultaneously means something moral and something superficial. In this case, the single adjective brings together justice and attractiveness. Knowing, as Richard does, that the nature of someone’s true person is commonly derived from his outward appearance, and knowing, as Richard does, that he is ugly, it makes sense that he should want to undermine the equation. This conjecture would explain his will to deception. If he can trick people, he will effectively demonstrate that appearance does not reveal reality, in fact, he will prove just the opposite. Logically, this would show that his ugliness does not make him evil. One of Richard’s shining moments comes when he gives advice to his nephew, “Your Grace attended to their [your uncles] sugared words,” he says, “But looked not on the poison of their hearts” (III.i.13-14). In expressing this sentiment, he is simultaneously able to deceive magnificently by taking the Christian moral high-ground, and expounding the basic philosophy he wants to convey, that appearance does not necessarily reflect reality. His co-conspirators, Buckingham and Catesby, both recognize the importance of deception as well, “I can counterfeit the deep tragedian” (III.v.6), declares the first, while the latter states, “My heart is ten times lighter than my looks” (V.iii.3). And, Richard’s skill in deception successfully teaches his lesson to his enemies. Hastings, for instance, realizes, as he goes to his Richard-ordained death, “Who builds his hopes in air of your [worldly man’s] fair looks Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast, Ready with every nod to tumble down Into the fatal bowels of the deep” (III.v.103-6). Richard’s mother, the Duchess of York, makes a similar statement when she sees that her son has duped his nephew, her grandchild, “O that deceit should steal such gentle shapes,” she laments, “and with a virtuous visor hide foul guile!” (II.ii.26-7). Even Richard’s brother, Clarence, unwittingly has a visually powerful revelation along the same lines the night Richard incites his death. Here, he sees in a dream, “Some [jewels] lay[ing] in dead men’s skulls, and in those holes where eyes did once inhabit there were crept… reflecting gems” (I.iv.27-9). Although Clarence himself is unaware of his dream’s meaning, the audience knows it is a prophesy of his near death. It is also a clue as to what he has failed to see up to that point, that what something seems to be is the opposite of what it really is inside: the skull, impoverished of life and humanity on the outside is rich with “unvalued” items on the inside just as Richard is brimming with kindness on the outside while he is a deceiving “wretch” within.Ironically though, Richard’s method of proving the appearance / reality opposition by “seem[ing] a saint when I most play the devil” (I.iii.338) actually proves the initial assumption he was working against. That is, he shows himself to be terribly evil, and this perfectly reflects his physical deformity on the traditional level Margaret so callously outlines. As Aaron the Moor “makes his heart black like his face,” so too does Richard make his heart crooked like his body. The night before Richard’s “bloody death” on the battlefield, his mostly successful attempts to divide himself into opposing factions, one inner, the other outer, comes to haunt him in wakefulness. “Is there a murderer here?” he asks, alone, terrified, “No. — Yes, I am,” he replies, “Then fly.” he orders, “What, from myself?” he again retorts. His ability to divide himself has not only crushed those around him, it has also crushed and hurt himself. The unnatural division he inspired in himself to try make a point to those around him results in being the beginning of the end for him.This all aside though, it might be, as Bernard Spivack implies in his book, Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil, and, as Richard himself accounts for in his opening soliloquy, that looking for a motivation in Richard to account for his acting evil is unnecessary and unfounded. Spivack draws our attention to the fact that Richard compares himself to “Iniquity” (III.i.79), the popular name of for the comic character that represented vice in the old morality plays. Spivack further says that Richard draws his “unmistakable vocabulary” from “the morality play,” and this shows Richard III’s “cradle in allegory” (399). Specifically, Richard is a brilliant user of homily, albeit ironically, which is the principal technique morality plays adopted in order to achieve their aim of spiritually edifying their audiences. Spivack reminds us that “Elizabethan drama was preceded and deeply influenced by [this] popular dramatic convention that was not naturalistic” (453). Perhaps looking for Richard’s motives is simply a Freudian anachronism.Works CitedShakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Richard III. Ed. John Jowett. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Including Jowett’s Introduction and notes.Spivack, Bernard. Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil: the history of metaphor in relation to his major villains. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.
King Richard III: Historical vs. Shakespearean Versions
The Tragedy of King Richard III, a historical play written by William Shakespeare, depicts the story of a murderously scheming Machiavellian king and his rise to power, and subsequent short reign as king of England. Richard, during the play, wreaks havoc as he overthrows his brothers and nephews for the throne and eradicates all those who were against his reign. Although entertaining for both Elizabethan Era and modern audiences, and while some elements are accurate, there are numerous aspects to Shakespeare’s story that did not occur in real life. In fact, of the six major villainous acts Richard supposedly executed in Shakespeare’s recount of history, four have been disproved, while the other two cannot be proved conclusively.
The Shakespearean play begins during the brief period of rest England experienced during the Wars of the Roses, which occurred between 1455 and 1485. The Wars of the Roses was a series of English civil wars for the English throne fought between two branches of the Royal House of Plantagenet; the House of Lancaster, whose heraldic symbol was the red rose, and the House of York, whose symbol was a white rose. The play begins on a victorious note, as King Edward IV and his brothers, of the House of York, had removed King Henry VI, of the House of Lancaster, off the throne. Similar events did occur in the past, however, Richard’s infamous soliloquy which immediately follows these events seem to be fiction, intended for dramatic and entertainment purposes.
Shakespeare describes Richard as a deformed hunchback who plans to prove himself a villain because of his birth defects. In his opening soliloquy, he explains to the audience that he is “rudely stamp’d […] cheated of feature by dissembling nature, Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before [his] time, Into this breathing world, scarce half made up.” He explains his deformities to the audience, describing his hideousness in full detail, and even saying, “dogs bark at me as I halt by them.” He uses these deformities as an excuse to become a villain, saying, “I am determined to prove a villain.” However, his appearance in the play does not coincide with his appearance in real life, proving that Shakespeare’s description is false. Shakespeare most likely wanted to make him as evil physically as he supposedly was mentally. In 2014, though, when his remains were discovered, they were examined by osteoarcheologist Dr. Jo Appleby, of Leicester University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, who concluded that, although Richard did suffer from spinal scoliosis, it was not severe enough to cause any major physical deformities.
Afterward, in the Shakespearean version, Richard plans to woo Anne Neville, the widow of Edward, Prince of Wales. He admits to killing her father, king Henry VI, and her husband, “I’ll marry Warwick’s youngest daughter., What, though I kill’d her husband and her father?” However, the written accounts of Edward and king Henry VI’s death do not prove that king Richard III killed them. In fact, The Arrivall of Edward IV, the official account of the House of York’s events in1470/1471, does not detail Edward being stabbed by Richard, “… Edward, called Prince, was taken, fleigne to the towne wards, and slayne in the fielde.” Additionally, king Henry VI actually died in the Tower of London. Richard was said to be in the tower when he died, however, no official written record states that Richard killed him. Richard was most likely in the tower because, as Constable of England, it was his responsibility to deliver the official warrant to the Tower. Richard could not have killed Henry, as only another monarch, being Edward IV, could legally order a king’s death. Therefore, Richard is actually innocent of the deaths of king Henry VI and his son, Edward.
Following these events in the play, Richard then orders two murders to kill Clarence. Richard had delighted in the fact that he had arranged Clarence’s murder by tricking his other brother, Edward IV. He then sends two murderers to the tower to kill Clarence, saying ‘… Clarence hath not another day to live.” However, again there is no substantial evidence showing that Richard was behind Clarence’s death. In fact, the Crowland Chronicle recounted that, “… the execution, whatever form it took, was carried out secretly in the Tower of London”. Allegedly, Clarence and Edward’s relationship had been tense prior to 1478 ever since Edward thwarted Clarence’s plans to marry a Burgundian heiress. Clarence then began to question and ignore king Edward’s orders and authority, which caused Edward to arrange for Clarence’s execution on charges of treason. In fact, Jeremy Potter stated that, “There is no evidence … to connect Richard with the death of his brother Clarence, who was later executed on King Edward’s orders after a public slanging match.” This execution was believed by many to have upset Richard greatly, and Dominic Mancini recalled Richard was, “…so overcome with grief for his brother … that he was overheard to say he would one day avenge his brother’s death.”
Furthermore, Shakespeare wrote that Richard III killed his wife, Anne, after he acquired what he needed from her, and killed his brother’s two sons. Again, there is no substantial proof that would suggests Richard was responsible for Anne’s murder. After her death, many of his enemies spread rumors stating that she was killed by her husband, Richard III, and that he had plans to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. However, he made a public announcement quelling these rumors, stating that they were false. Also, after the princes disappeared in 1483, rumors again began to circulate with Richard as the one to blame for their deaths. Bones were found in the Tower of London, and after scientific examination, were determined to be of the same age as the princes. However, modern scientists determined that to be false, stating that the princes would have been younger.
Many theories have been created in order to understand the reasoning behind Shakespeare’s false accusations. A popular theory is that he wrote Richard III is a villain in order to perpetuate the Tudor myth. Shakespeare wrote the play around 1953, during that time that Queen Elizabeth I was in reign. Queen Elizabeth I, being a Tudor herself and the granddaughter of Richard’s replacement, king Henry VII, would not have taken light to Shakespeare writing about Richard as a valiant hero who did great things for England. Many people speculated that she and her predecessors wanted everyone to believe that the Tudor reign brought about peace and prosperity in England, and before they took the throne there was chaos, bloodshed and anarchy.
Although the play The Tragedy of King Richard III written by Shakespeare holds many false accusations regarding Richard’s crimes and villainy, the play and its characters was loved by many. Critic Katherine Blakeney even calls him a brilliant schemer and entertaining villain. However, the modern audiences who either watch or read the famous play knows that Richard’s villainous personality and the crimes he allegedly commits did not occur in the past.
A First for Everything: Richard III (1750 Production) and Shakespeare’s American Debut
Despite the fact that William Shakespeare enjoyed prominence across the pond in the 16th and 17th centuries, his influence hadn’t made its way to the American stage until the late 18th. While the information surrounding the first Shakespearean performance in America is unfortunately somewhat scattered, there still remains a plethora of dots to connect. Could we attribute this scarcity of information to the residual tenacity of religious fervor? What about the mounting tensions leading up to the Revolutionary War? In order to answer these questions among others, it’s necessary to do a little digging through some of the cultural norms and ideals that were prevalent at the time, such as the predominance of Puritanism and the fact that theatre in America began as more of an undercover affair than anything else.
The time was just before the Revolution and America wasn’t exactly America yet as we were still under the thumb of British imperialists. It would seem reasonable to assume that Shakespeare would have already been everywhere considering his infectious popularity around Europe and elsewhere, right? Wrong. Come to find out, Shakespeare didn’t take the American stage until 1750 with a performance of Richard III. Little is known about the individual performance save for that it was carried out on March 5, 1750, in New York. Noteworthy about this tale is that it is widely speculated that the members of this company were largely amateurs who had come over from London in the hopes of planting roots in America. A company formed by actors/managers Walter Murray and Thomas Kean had set up shop “a large room in a building owned by [one] Rip Van Dam and converted it into a theatre” (Hornblow 45). Early details are rife with confusion but signs tend to point to this building being known as the First Nassau Street Theatre which was situated between John Street and Maiden Lane, housing roughly 280 people making it slightly smaller than a modern cinema auditorium. Though Richard III was the debut play at the First Nassau Street Theatre, it also served as the showplace for the first documented comedy performance in New York. In A History of the New York Stage, T. Allston Brown describes the place in detail: It was a two-storied house with high gables. The stage was raised five feet from the floor. The scenes, curtains and wings were all carried by the managers in their ‘property’ trunks. A green curtain was suspended from the ceiling. A pair of paper screens were erected upon the right and left hand sides for wings. Six wax lights were in front of the stage. The orchestra consisted of a German flute, horn and drum players. Suspended from the ceiling was the chandelier, made of a barrel hoop, through which were driven half a dozen nails into which were stuck so many candles. Two drop scenes representing a castle and a wood, bits of landscape river and mountain comprised the scenery. (Brown 2)
This quaint albeit reasonably elegant illustration runs in sharp contrast to most other performance halls of the time and region, which were often composed of little more than crude wooden setups devoid of most of the accoutrements of the theater. Why is this so? An incredibly toxic intermingling of church and state may be to blame. While the South was beginning to develop a thirst for dramatic theatre, “in the North the playhouse was still considered the highway to hell and was everywhere fiercely condemned if not actually forbidden under the severest penalties” (Hornblow 24). For example, legislation was passed in 1750 by the General Court of Massachusetts that “prohibit[ed] stage plays and theatrical entertainments of any kind” with similarly authoritarian laws being passed in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Unfortunately, the First Nassau Street Theatre was eventually bought up, converted into storage space, and finally demolished to make way for a church. Theatre was treated like a vice tantamount to drugs, alcohol, and all manner of other harmful transgressions though given the time, residual Puritanism was largely to blame for the hysteria.
As Puritanism made its way from across the Atlantic into pre-Revolution America so too did its mode of thought. They believed in a literal interpretation and application of Biblical thought completely absent of even the most abstract temptations. In the time leading up to early theatre in America, these “temptations” translated into music, poetry, and you guessed it: drama. Each of these was considered at best not conducive to receiving God and at worst a pathway to a lifetime of immortality worthy of damnation. Sounds like these folks really didn’t know much about having fun. Just half a century before the conception of the First Nassau Street Theater, the number of Puritans in American colonies rose six-fold “from 17,800 in 1640 to 106,000 in 1700. Religious exclusiveness was the foremost principle of their society. The spiritual beliefs that they held were strong. This strength held over to include community laws and customs” (Kizer par 4). Puritanism was infectious as it was antiquated, much like much of our current governing body, though such a discussion would need another essay entirely if not its own book. Before going too far off the rails, one could easily ascertain the significant impact religiosity had on theatre prior to the Revolution. Church and state danced together in a waltz atop a dancefloor made of most everything we take for granted as fun. This religious permeation resulted in newspapers and journals being heavily discouraged from including writings about most anything related to the goings-on of the dramatic stage. It was even custom at the time “for the actors themselves to distribute handbills at the houses of prospective theater goers” (Hornblow 23). Much like the modern denizens of indie musicians performing without the promotion of a record label, theatre in the North was largely an underground affair. America was stuck holding onto religious strings better left to fray.[BL1] [BL2] Despite the hostility, this didn’t stop actors from performing under special permits from local authorities seeing as laws against theatre were very loosely enforced in some of the more densely populated colonies. This can be quite considerably attributed to “a large and growing class in the important centres [sic] who were burdened with no such [Puritan conviction]—people of means and leisure who had only recently crossed the Atlantic…” (Hornblow 26). People crossing over brought with them fantastic accounts of the English theater, which left many of them thirsty for a taste of home upon reaching the colonial shores. Another aspect worth considering, complimentary to the time’s prevailing religious doctrine is the glaring lack of a distinctly “American” literary and dramatic identity. This ties back into the influence of Puritanism as well as the fact that America had yet to fully unify as a country.
Digging further into colonial religiosity, the rules surrounding drama and theatre were becoming lesser and lesser as the areas grew more populous. This in turn begs the question: why was Richard III the first documented Shakespearean work performed in an American theatre? Think of the time in which the play was performed as well as the surrounding political climate. America was in a groaning, churning state of uneasiness against the British regime with the play’s performance taking place just 26 years before the start of the Revolutionary War. One of the primary themes in Richard III is usurpation. See where this is headed? It would appear as though the choice of Richard III amidst the oppressive regime and Puritanical perforation was a conscious one. Within the context of the play, Richard is an articulate, astute tyrant suffering from a deformity. In the eye of the American audience, Richard could perhaps serve as an allegorical figure for imperialist Britain. Analysis suggests “[Richard’s] ugliness is an aesthetic attribute that symbolizes his evil, but at the same time, Richard artfully crafts false appearances of goodness” (Slotkin 10). This posits the idea that the character of Richard is not merely inebriated by evil and a lust for power; he is fully conscious of the malleability of people beneath him. “In the development of [this] dramatic action, theatricality and deformity become sources of erotic attraction. Richard uses his two contradictory modes of seeming—alternately displaying his virtuous visor and his deep vice to generate two different kinds of appeal” (Slotkin 11). Richard, like the British rule over American colonies, painted a picture of greatness but was ultimately motivated from selfish intent. His charisma stemmed from instilling fear as opposed to exuding genuine swagger. Could Richard’s usurpation and demise at the end of the play represent early thoughts of rebellion and revolution on the parts of the playwrights of the First Nassau Street Theatre? Let’s take a look at the play. In the fifth act of Richard III a climactic storm is brewing between the tyrannical King Richard and one Richmond, who serves as a symbol of goodness and honorability. A duel is about to take place and in a speech to his soldiers, Richmond ejaculates: God and our good cause fight upon our side. / The prayers of holy saints and wronged souls, / Like high-reared bulwarks, stand before our faces. / Richard except, those whom we fight against / Had rather have us win than him they follow. / For what is he they follow? Truly, gentlemen, / A bloody tyrant and a homicide; / One raised in blood, and one in blood established; / One that means to come by what he hath, / And slaughtered those that were the means to help him; (5.3.240-249)
In this passage, Richmond is asserting the righteous necessity to overthrow the despotic rule enacted by King Richard by suggesting that divinity is on his side backed up by the blessing “of holy saints and wronged souls.” Quite possibly these “wronged souls” could be a reference to the people whom Richard had killed off in his lascivious pursuit of the throne of England. Further credence is lent to this concept by the text’s repetitious use of the word “blood” with each instance positing a slightly different meaning. Richard being referred to as “a bloody tyrant and a homicide” characterizes his cruelty, inaugurating him as death incarnate. Him being “raised in blood” could be read as an allusion to his deformity; Richard is marked by that the way others are marked by blood while finally him being “in blood established” insinuates that all Richard has known and will know is violence. The fact that “blood” appears three times in this specific tract could be read as an antithesis of the Holy Trinity, Richard serving as the grotesque amalgamation of the three. Conversely, Richmond is rallying himself as a Godlike figure; a savior to oppressed people. He refers to “our good cause” rather than “his” cause conceivably as an intentional contrast to the bleak and selfish conquest of Richard. Richmond’s endeavor is successful as he winds up overthrowing and killing Richard, a classic example of good overcoming evil. Nearly 300 years later and America is left under a similarly oppressive state being subject to both the rule of imperialist Britain and the influence of colonial Puritanism. It should seem as more than a mere coincidence that Richard III served as America’s Shakespearean debut.
In the years immediately following the performances at the First Nassau Street Theatre, America was starting to see perpetual upheaval. 1754 saw the start of the French and Indian War and in October of 1760, King George III took over rule of the British Empire and “favor[ed] new political leaders and advisors who follow[ed] a stricter policy toward the colonies” (“Timeline” par 5). Perhaps the decision to perform Richard III in 1750 served as a not-so-cryptic reflection of the thoughts of certain people looking for their Richmond. Years later[BL3] following the American Revolution, performances of Shakespeare began to enjoy a great deal of proliferation. “[Starting around 1800], Shakespeare accounted for one-quarter of all dramatic productions in cities up and down the Eastern Seaboard. [People] could see 21 of Shakespeare’s 37 plays” (Grimes par 2). Americans simply couldn’t get enough and the trend continues today.
With America groaning and growing like an angst-ridden teenager, one might often wonder why the works of William Shakespeare took so long to make it to the American stage. Despite a relative scarcity of available information, evidence suggests that religious zeal contributed to a lack of early understanding of literature and drama. Rather than enlighten and enrich their collective cultural palate, people of the time opted to cast off most artistic mediums as salacious temptation. Pairing America’s lack of a unified identity with a predominant religious ideology and the picture gradually becomes clearer: we simply weren’t cultured in the way England and other countries were. We didn’t have literature or dramatic art that was distinctly “American.” There’s a first for everything, whether it be a Shakespearean performance or an armed revolt that leads to unity and developing an independent identity.
Brown, Thomas A. A History of the New York Stage. Vol. 1, Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1903.
Grimes, William. “Measuring America’s Shakespearean Devotion.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Mar. 2014, www.nytimes.com/2014/03/20/books/measuring-americas-shakespearean-devotion.html.
Hornblow, Arthur. A History of the Theatre in America. J.B. Lippincott Company, 1919.
Kizer, Kay. “Puritans.” University of Notre Dame, www3.nd.edu/~rbarger/www7/puritans.html.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of King Richard the Third.” The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Ed. David Bevington. 7th ed. Pearson, 2014. 696-7. Print.
Slotkin, Joel Elliot. “Honeyed Toads: Sinister Aesthetics in Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III.’”Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, 2007, pp. 5–32. JSTOR.
“Timeline: Toward a Revolution, 1750-1783.” Timeline: Toward a Revolution, 1750-1783, The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site, www.history.org/history/teaching/study_visits/resources/timeline.cfm.
The Three “Graces”: Flattery, Treachery, and Deceit in Richard III
In Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard Gloucester is portrayed as a twisted, calculating, and conniving individual who will stop at nothing to obtain the crown. From betraying his brother George to wooing the widowed Lady Anne, Richard is highly unscrupulous in his pursuit for the throne. While his villainy is obvious, his careful scheming allows his plans to carry forth unnoticed, alluding to his intellectual grace. Although Richard often laments his physical ugliness and deformity, his skillful manipulation of those around him demonstrates a sensitivity towards their weaknesses, masked by his unwavering charisma. Richard successfully eliminates each of his political opponents, whether through flattery, treachery, or deceit, and eventually claims his spot on the throne; these are his Three “Graces”.
In Greek mythology, the Three Graces referred to a trio of sisters goddesses, known for being “the givers of charm and beauty” (“Grace”). As evidenced by the following passages selected from Scenes 1-3 in the first Act of Richard III, Richard hides his true intentions by feigning an innocuous, charming persona, slyly influencing those around him to further carry out his plot. The first iteration of “grace” occurs following Richard’s opening soliloquy, after he has divulged his plans at the closing of the civil war. In the passage, Richard hastily reminds himself to return to his honest façade as his brother, referred to as Clarence, approaches: “Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: Here Clarence comes. / Brother, good day. What means this armèd guard / That waits upon your grace?” (1.1.41-43). Within this quotation, “grace” is used “as a title of address, representing Richard’s awareness of the social expectations thrust upon him as Duke of Gloucester. The smooth transition from his bitter monologue to polite greeting, as well as the consistency of iambic pentameter, also demonstrates Richard’s astute judgement and deft mind, as he nimbly juggles two personas. By doing so, Richard not only avoids suspicion regarding his involvement in Clarence’s imprisonment, but also sets the stage for further deceit as Richard plots his brother’s eventual murder.
In the next scene, Richard utters a slightly different variation of “grace” in order to persuade Lady Anne into marrying him. The two engage in a sharp-tongued battle of the wits, as the mournful Lady Anne chastises Richard for having murdered her husband, Prince Edward, and father-in-law, the late King Henry VI. After dissipating Lady Anne’s rage with showers of compliments, Richard slips his ring onto her finger and asks her to let him complete King Henry VI’s funeral arrangements: “And if thy poor devoted servant may / But beg one favour at thy gracious hand, / Thou dost confirm his happiness for ever” (1.2.191-196). The use of “gracious” within this passage references the qualities of kindness, courtesy, and charity (“Gracious”), and serves to exemplify the full extent to which Richard’s tact and charm can sway even the most unwilling of people. In this case, Richard’s successful wooing of Lady Anne allows him to avoid the “hand” of justice and gain her “hand” in marriage, thereby showing how Richard’s silver-tongued flattery paved the way for his political goals to be met, one after another.
Finally, “grace” appears once again as Richard rails against Queen Elizabeth and her kinsmen to proclaim outrage against his damaged reputation. As Queen Elizabeth voices her observations of Richard’s spiteful behavior against herself and her family, Richard delivers his harsh rebuttal, blaming Queen Elizabeth for the recent tragedies that have occurred:Meantime, God grants that I have need of you.Our brother is imprisoned by your means,Myself disgraced, and the nobilityHeld in contempt, while great promotionsAre daily given to ennoble thoseThat scarce some two days since were worth a noble. (1.3.77-82)
In this passage, the variant “disgrace” is used to emphasize Richard’s tarnished name, conveniently placing him into the victim’s role rather than that of the perpetrator. By alluding to God’s will—the grace of God, if you will (“Grace”)—Richard brings in the highest, most unquestionable authority, further assisting his case in proving his innocence. It is undeniably a bold move, to so firmly and harshly decry the Queen amongst her followers. Yet, it enables Richard to hide in plain sight, despite Queen Elizabeth’s suspicion of his treachery.
In conclusion, even within the first three scenes of Shakespeare’s Richard III alone, Richard Gloucester has time and time again exhibited his masterful grasp of stealth and manipulation. The tripartite and varying use of his Three “Graces,” along with the rhythmic stress upon that word within the three selected iterations, are representative of the word’s significance. It not only showcases Richard’s skill in concealing his role as the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but exemplifies his tactful approach towards ascending the political ladder. It also raises questions towards whether evil can be “graceful”, and whether evil schemes can be deemed “graceful”. Regardless, Richard Gloucester’s deliberate, calculated actions portray an inherent, intellectual grace that his appearance and self-image fail to reflect. It is through this graceful behavior that he successfully eliminates his naysayers, and ultimately becomes King Richard III.
Voyeurism in Richard III
The villainous character of Richard III creates an intimate relationship with his audience by giving them a voyeuristic window into his most private moments. This sense of voyeurism is important to recognize when analyzing Richard’s character due to his lustful relationship with power and romanticization of violence. Richard Loncraine’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play heightens this sense of closeness with Richard by breaking the fourth wall between Ian McKellen’s character and the film’s audience. Loncraine’s focus on the element of voyeurism and the sexual and sadistic element of Richard III’s character create the allusion of an intimate relationship with between the actor and the individual viewer, which explains the attractiveness and likability of Richard despite his deplorable behavior.
Shakespeare invites the audience to listen in on Richard’s most private thoughts; Loncraine takes this element of the play a step further by allowing the audience to feel as if they are directly interacting with him in his film adaptation. Loncraine begins to build this relationship between the viewer and Richard in the first scene where we hear Richard’s breathing over the rest of the audio in the background (3:02). In order to clearly hear the inhale and exhale of a person’s breathing, you must be in very close proximity with that person. Loncraine uses this sound technique to create a feeling of closeness to Richard and allude to interactions the viewer will perceive to have with Richard in future scenes. Throughout the rest of the film, while Richard shares his darkest internal monologues with his audience, he often looks directly into the camera to create a private moment between him and the viewer. During his opening soliloquy, the viewer watches Richard urinate and handle his genitals while he expresses his desire for power. Then, Ian McKellen’s character breaks the fourth wall for the first time and confesses his desire in an intimate conversation with the viewer (11:40-11:54). Loncraine’s choice of setting for this first allusion of eye contact is done to heighten the intimacy between you and Richard. The assumption that his genitals are exposed, although they are not displayed in the shot, represents Richard’s lustful relationship with power and adds to the idea of the audience as voyeurs. This is where Loncraine begins to build on the attractiveness of Richard — once the viewer realizes they have a private relationship with him.
Richard becomes attractive to the audience due to his charming and sexual language and his sadistic relationship with taking the throne. In order to be an effective villain, one must be charming and attractive in order to escape defeat. In the scene where Richard catches Lady Anne mourning her dead husband, he makes a very inappropriate attempt to seduce her (16:00). The murder of Lady Anne’s husband was committed to launch Richard’s rise to power. The fact that Richard wants a sexual relationship with the spouse of the man he murdered reveals to us Richard’s lustful connection to violence and dominance. Richard asks Lady Anne to murder him if he cannot have her love and presents a knife to her (19:21). He uses intimate and romantic language while he holds the knife to himself, which is important in understanding Richard’s attraction to violence. The visual image of Richard threatening his own life in conjunction with his sexual desire for Lady Anne excites the audience in two different ways, which allows the audience to feel a sense of how Richard is aroused by violence. Immediately after this interaction, Richard breaks the fourth wall again and speaks directly to the reader (21:31). He says: “Was ever woman in this humor won?/I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long” (1.2.214-215). McKellen speaks these lines from the play directly to the audience to brag about his sexual prowess and confess his lack of commitment to Lady Anne. His seduction of Lady Anne is a tactic rather than a genuine attempt at forming a relationship with her. This confession allows the audience to build a connection between Richard’s sexuality and his rise to power. The audience is made aware of his charm and continues to be wooed by it throughout the movie due to these private interactions between actor and viewer.
It is difficult to define Richard III by one characteristic, as he has a broad set of personality traits and attributes. However, his attractiveness proves to be most significant because it blinds the viewer. The audience is confused by Richard’s desirability because, although they want to condemn him for his criminality and autocratic behavior, they have built a close relationship with him. They have been given a window into the private life of Richard and have been allowed to visualize all aspects of his enigmatic character. Loncraine makes Richard into the perfect attractive villain through his enhancement of Richard’s desirability and the level of intimacy he creates through film techniques.
Citizens’ Intuition in Shakespeare’s “Richard III”
Shakespeare’s “Richard III” mainly concerns itself with the royal court under the rule of the Yorks; however, occasionally, Shakespeare takes a break from portraying the lives of noblemen. These window scenes provide the audience with insight as to what the common people think about the drama ensuing in court, resulting in a greater perspective of the play as a whole. One of these scenes occurs in Act Two, Scene Three, where three citizens discuss the death of Edward IV and its ensuing power struggle concerning who the next king should be. After close analysis of this scenes language, it becomes apparent that this scene contributes to the idea in the play that, through their general knowledge and intuition, the citizens know that danger is imminent with the death of Edward IV and the power struggle of which Richard III is part.
The first few lines of this scene consist of the relaying of the news that Edward IV is dead. After the First Citizen tells the Second Citizen that the king is dead, the Second Citizen immediately replies with “seldom comes the better” (2.3.4). The footnote explains that this means that times are bad and are probably going to get worse. Basically, this is a premonition of bad things to come. Since this is the first thing the Second Citizen says after hearing about the death of Edward IV, the audience knows that the citizens are fully aware of the danger that is to come with the struggle for who is next in line for the throne. The Second Citizen goes on to say “I fear, I fear ‘twill prove a giddy world” (2.3.5). Not only is he elaborating on his intuition that there is peril to come, his repetition of the phrase “I fear” directly emphasizes how truly afraid he, and through representation, the other citizens, is of what is to come. Furthermore, the Third Citizen goes on to repeat the word “world,” when he states “look to see a troublous world,” emphasizing the danger that this death has for the entirety of mankind. After relaying the news of the death of the king once more, the Second Citizen goes on to appeal to God, saying “God help the while” (2.3.8). He is using this form of an apostrophe not only to provide insight as to how bad the situation may be, but also to call for help upon the only being in the universe who is left to help him and his fellow citizens in this perilous situation. This entire section of this scene illustrates that immediately upon the death of Edward IV, the citizens intuitively know that danger is coming.
As the scene unfolds, the citizens realize that the next in line to be king is Edward IV’s son, Richard, the Duke of York, referred to as York in this edition of the play. Upon this realization, the Third Citizen states, “Woe to that land that’s governed by a child,” lamenting his country because, as he sees it, York is too young to rule (2.3.11). Due to this statement, a debate about Henry XI ensues. The Second Citizen argues that the country may not be doomed, seeing as York’s council can rule until he is old enough to take over (2.3.12-15). The First Citizen agrees because “So stood the state when Henry the Sixth/ Was crowned in Paris but at nine months old” (2.3.16-17). The Third Citizen goes on to argue that this is not the only contribution to the good rule of Henry XI, but that additionally “the king/ Had virtuous uncles to protect his grace” (2.3.20-21). This historical allusion to Henry XI provides the audience with an insight of the common people. First, it shows that the common people have a vast knowledge about the world of politics. In fact, they have enough of this knowledge to think of past rulers and what made them great and apply these tactics to current or future leaders. This allows for them to formulate opinions and arguments on not only their leaders but also the state of affairs in their country. This proves that not only can the citizens know that danger is about to come to their country because of their intuition but also through their general knowledge. Additionally, this historical allusion shows how the common people view future success in court. If the ruler himself in unsuccessful, or unable to be successful yet in the case of York, the common people still have two outlets for hope that they will be ruled benevolently. The first of these hopes is the royal council, and the second of these hopes is the ruler’s family.
Despite the citizens having a little bit of hope for the future, these feelings soon disappear when they think of the eminent power struggle between York’s mother, Queen Elizabeth, and her family and Richard III and his allies. The Third Citizen emphasizes this when he states “Better it were they all came by his father,/ Or by his father there were none at all” (2.3.23-24). By this, the Third Citizen means that it would be better if all of York’s uncles were on his father’s side or if he had no uncles on his father’s side because then there would not be this intense power struggle. His use of anastrophe, or sentence inversion, emphasizes the depth and wisdom of these words, seeing as if this were true, there would not be any issue with the future rulers or the future of the country. The use of anastrophe is used again when the Third Citizen states, “O, full of danger is the Duke of Gloucester [Richard]” (2.3.27). This again emphasizes the wisdom of the common people because the Third Citizen says this from sheer intuition; however, as the audience knows, he is correct in this idea that Richard is a villain and is ill fit for the throne. The weight of this line is also emphasized through the use of an interjection, “O,” which draws attention to what is being said and stressed the impending peril that comes alongside Richard III. Much like the first part of this scene, this section demonstrates the citizens’ instinctive knowledge that peril is to come if this power struggle is to continue and if Richard III gains any power.
The citizens know there is danger to come with the death of Edward IV and the resulting power struggle not because they were told but because of their general sense of knowing and intuition. In order to prove to his fellow citizens that there is a problem at hand, the Third Citizen states: When clouds are seen, wise men put on their cloaks; When great leaves fall, then winter is at hand; When the sun sets, who doth not look for night? Untimely storms makes men expect a dearth. All may be well, but if God sort it so, ‘Tis more than we deserve or I expect. (2.3.32-37) Through this use of multiple metaphors, the Third Citizen is basically saying that when there are certain signs, men should not ignore them. This is an allusion to their intuition that their country is in danger with the eminent power struggle. If all will be well as the First Citizen states, then it is more than the people expect because, at this rate, the country will be in peril. An example of this intuition can be seen when the Second Citizen states, “Truly, the hearts of men are full of fear:/ You cannot reason almost with a man/ That looks not heavily and full of dread” (2.3.38-40). Every citizen knows that something bad is about to happen, so much so that there is not a man that one can speak to who does not look “full of dread.” The Third Citizen goes on to elaborate on this intuition by saying, “By a divine instinct men’s mind mistrust/ Ensuing danger; as by proof we see/ The water swell before a boist’rous storm” (2.3.42-44). By this he means that men have intuition that tells them when danger is approaching. Through the use of a simile, he compares this knowledge to the sea swelling when a storm is about to ensue. This last section summarizes the entire tone of this scene. It is entirely focused on the citizens’ knowledge of what is happening and intuition that something dangerous is about to occur.
Through the use of language in Act Two, Scene Three of “Richard III,” Shakespeare is able to illustrate that the common people of the country are able to sense danger approaching when Edward IV dies and Richard III begins his rise to power. They are able to sense this danger through their general knowledge and intuition. This can be seen when the citizens discuss the death of Edward IV, the possibility of York taking over the throne, and the power struggle ensuing between Queen Elizabeth and her family and Richard III and his allies. This knowledge and intuition finally culminates in an overall sense that the country will soon be in peril, which the audience knows to be true because of the impending reign of Richard III. This ability to see the impending danger much before it actually occurs proves that the common folk are underestimated and are much wiser than the court believes them to be.
The Sun and Its Shadow
Shakespeare’s Richard III is a play pervasive in figurative language, one of the most notable being the symbolic image of the sun and the shadow it casts. In an examination of a short passage from the text, it will be argued that Richard is compared to a shadow in relation to the sun, which has traditionally been held as a symbol of the king. The passage is significant not only because it speaks volumes about the plots of Richard, but also because it is relevant in understanding the overall plot of the play, which in the first few acts is almost indistinguishable from the plot of the scheming Duke of Gloucester.The comparison of Richard to a shadow is especially clear in an exchange between Richard and Queen Margaret:Richard Gloucester: Our eyrie buildeth in the cedar’s top,And dallies with the wind, and scorns the sun.Queen Margaret: And turns the sun to shade. Alas, alas!Witness my son, now in the shade of death,Whose bright outshining beams thy cloudy wrath Hath in eternal darkness folded up. (1.3.262-267)When Margaret tells Richard that he “turns the sun to shade,” this can be interpreted in different ways. Margaret is clearly referring to her son whom Richard killed, and is, therefore, now a “shade,” or a spirit. However, in light of the tradition of associating the king with the image of the sun, the phrase can also be taken to imply that Richard, by turning “the sun to shade,” is overshadowing the throne of England. Margaret’s son, who could have become king, described by his “bright outshining beams,” is fittingly “folded up” by Richard’s “cloudy wrath,” further alluding to sun imagery. “Overshadowing” the throne, in the figurative sense, is Richard’s plot, however, the plot of the play as a whole takes a different course. Once Richard has gained the throne, the sun imagery is again employed by Shakespeare, but for the purpose of showing his gradual downfall. Entirely because Richard has already convinced himself that he is destined to become a villain, he is unable to play the role of a protagonist. The sun imagery initiated in Act One is carried on throughout the play, often paralleled to Richard’s character, and is reechoed for dramatic effect in the last act. In Act Five Richmond prophetically declares that “the weary sun hath made a golden set,” which if nothing else articulates the imminent demise of Richard (5.4.1). In the sixth scene of the same act, Richard states that the sun who “should have braved the east an hour ago” “disdains to shine” but fails to understand the depth of the unrising sun’s meaning (8-9). Clearly this “weary” sun that refuses to rise on the day of the battle between Richard and Richmond marks the King’s loss of power and foreshadows his ultimate ruin. Thus, when Richard says he “scorns the sun” in the passage quoted above, he is speaking figuratively, and is implying his longing for the English throne, the attainment of which requires him to step out of King Edward’s shadow, and hence, “turn the sun to shade.” The sun imagery evident in the play continues to resonate in all the acts, and makes the reader aware of Richard’s schemes, and, it is the progression of this imagery that ultimately distinguishes Richard’s plot from the plot of Richard III.