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Richard III, explore the way Shakespeare shapes an audience's response to Richard

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Introduction

English Literature AS Coursework: explore the way Shakespeare shapes an audience's response to Richard Jess Lawson 'I am determined to prove a villain' (Act 1, Sc. 1). Spoken by Richard (Duke of Gloucester at this point in the play) only 30 lines into Shakespeare's depiction of the tragedy of Richard III, I believe that this quotation is one of the many prime examples of how Richard's words deeply affect us as his audience. Because Shakespeare gives us - unlike any of the characters - the privilege to study Richard throughout the play, we are consequently able to witness his plans and characteristics -- some evident from the moment we are introduced to him; some for only certain characters to see; and some for the audience alone to observe. Nevertheless, our everchanging relationship with Richard allows us to see him in every possible light: his conflicting, complex character is how Shakespeare shapes the audience's response. Richard III opens with Richard's first soliloquy - his first encounter with the audience. The fact that Shakespeare chose to begin the play with Richard speaking directly to the audience, and no-one else, proves how significant it is that the audience are the first to be able to react to Richard's actions and words. Our first impressions of Richard do not specifically develop during the first few lines of his speech; however, since he sets the scene for the play, we are led to believe that the character will indeed have a central role. ...read more.

Middle

It seems as if Shakespeare is preparing us for the remainder of the play to some extent, as we sense that Richard's distress may cause him to seek revenge, therefore act iniquitously. His monologue ends by revealing to us that he will stop at nothing to secure the throne for himself, including lying, hypocrisy and murder - all elements of the play we are now certain that we will encounter. Although Richard has now admitted to the audience that he is '...subtle, false and treacherous' (line 37), the adjectives ironically make us gain what we can only see as respect for Richard, as at least he is speaking honestly to us. The extremely dynamic and fast paced speech has left us confused about Richard III, yet we are now all the more certain that as he is able to change the way he behaves so rapidly, he will be able to manipulate others to succeed the throne. By the end of only Act 1, Scene 2, Richard has already ingratiated himself with Anne Neville within one conversation: not only by deftly gaining her affection as he manipulates her into thinking that the reason he killed her husband, Edward, was because he loved her (which only we know is far from the truth), but by his use of actions, too. This is represented when he explicitly holds his own sword up to his chest and threatens to kill himself if that is what Lady Anne wishes. ...read more.

Conclusion

When Richard refers to the majority of the characters as 'gulls' (line 328), meaning someone who is easily tricked, the audience perceive him as being extremely confident. With Richard's ego boosted as a result of Anne's seduction, Shakespeare shapes the speech to prepare us for Richard's actions and to emphasise the fact that Richard is openly displaying his allegiance to evil. A principal example of this is his paradoxical quote (lines 335-6): 'Tell them that God bids us do good for evil. And thus I clothe my naked villanity' Ironically, the murder is indeed carried out by two executioners sent by Richard -- the audience react to this as we simply expected Richard to carry out the murder. Yet once again, Richard cannot hold all of the guilt, and we shortly see Richard use this to his advantage as there is no way of the other characters proving that Richard was a part of it. Conveyed in Act 2, Scene 1, we are easily able to notice the dramatic irony that takes place, as Richard is the one to firstly announce the news of Clarence's death, then secondly offer his condolence. Shakespeare employs subtle language devices in his words such as line 53, 'Amongst this princely heap if any here', where 'princely heap' could be interpreted by the audience as a humourous remark that implies Richard's perpetual thought about becoming king, as well as 'heap' showing that he does not really care about the other characters. This reminds us of our relationship with Richard. ...read more.

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