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‘The tragedy of Richard III lies in the progressive isolation of its protagonist.’ Discuss.

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Introduction

'The tragedy of Richard III lies in the progressive isolation of its protagonist.' Discuss. There are many ways throughout the play that Shakespeare shows isolation in Richard Gloucester, the protagonist, but there is some debate over whether or not it is this which leads to tragedy. This partly occurs due to the dubious understanding of the term 'tragedy' itself. It is a term used widely to describe a variety of different plays and even situations: from Romeo and Juliet to Death of a Salesman, even to true-life events such as the terrorist attacks on September 11th this year. It would appear to us that tragedy is all around us, in every news bulletin and on virtually any television program but, if this is true, why is it that 'tragedy' is so hard to define? Aristotle once claimed: 'In order to be a tragic hero, you have to be important.' If this is true, then it would also be true that tragedy can be defined as a fall from power and happiness to death and destruction. Obviously, this tragedy is greatened as the person in question becomes more powerful, as they have further to fall from - as they build the metaphorical scaffolding higher, the ground becomes further away. This indeed means that if a pole secured further down the tower breaks, the scaffolding above would break too, leaving the person further to fall, and increasing the likelihood that they will break their neck on impact. If the person had spent more time securing the poles further down, and then fallen, the effects would be less catastrophic. ...read more.

Middle

Indeed even after this, the night before his big battle, Richard has a dream in which he is all alone. This is another sign of his isolation. However, although Richard's physical condition is definitely a prominent cause for his isolation, it is also a cause for the audience to feel sympathy for Richard. Richard himself uses his condition against the other characters in the play to create the idea that he is not to blame - he is actually victimised by them, not vice versa. Because of this, the tragic element of the play is reduced by Richard's actions, although his isolation may be becoming increasingly worse. In addition to Richard's physical predicament, his psychological condition plays a large part in his isolation. The first sign of any psychological problem is when he does not show any distress when murdering people, apart from in Act V scene iii, when his conscience appears to return to him for the first time in the whole play, and he shouts: 'Have mercy, Jesu! / O coward conscience how dost thou afflict me!' Indeed the only time Richard is entirely serious in the play is just before he is about to murder someone. It is about the time of the return of Richard's conscience that he realises that he has become so detached from the people around him he has forgotten who he himself is: 'Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I. / Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am' (V.iii.) ...read more.

Conclusion

However, there is one aspect of Richard's role on stage that he does not isolate: the audience. He makes them his allies right from the very beginning. The audience understand a lot more of Richard's wit, sarcasm and dramatic irony than the other characters involved do, and therefore feel in league with Richard in a detached, secretive sort of way. Richard also shares some of his feelings, real or otherwise, with the audience. However, Richard seems so evil a villain, hardly caring about all the murders and sins he commits, he does not seem a person associated with extreme tragedy. The greatest loss in the play is actually more likely to be that of the young princes, rather than that of Richard. In Act III scene i, the Princes talk happily with their trusted Uncle and 'Lord Protector', whom the Uncle know is a multiple-faced villain. The audience feels deep sympathy for the Princes, who are naively trusting but also afraid of being forced to stay in the Tower. Also, one of the Princes also manages to outwit Richard, from which the audience gains extreme respect because many fully mature adults have not been able to achieve this. The princes were happy, witty and intelligent before their murder, and their death seems multiple times worse than the death of Richard - a twisted, villainous, death-driven old man. To conclude, the tragedy of Richard III's protagonist is perceived because of Richard's attractiveness as a villain and also by the way he defied society's rules and expectations. However, the audience always recalls his wickedness - the murdering, the lying and the corruption. Therefore, despite Richard's attractiveness, we never really feel any great loss or waste when he dies. ...read more.

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