Richard III by William Shakespeare - 'How much sympathy do you have for the executed Hastings?'
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Richard III by William Shakespeare 'How much sympathy do you have for the executed Hastings?' This essay is to assess how much sympathy the naïve and harmless Hastings deserves after being fooled by the cunning Richard III and falling into his trap of trusting him. In Act I Scene I, Richard plays the loving, faithful and devoted brother when Clarence arrives at the tower, and sympathises greatly with Hastings. He pretends to be worried by the news of Edward's poor health, suggesting not simply his family loyalty, but also his concern for the nation. In his conversations with both Clarence and Hastings, Richard slanders Queen Elizabeth and her relatives, blaming them for all of the ills that have befallen both Clarence and Hastings, claiming that is was she that convinced the king to have them sent to the tower in the first place. Throughout the conversation with Hastings, Richard flatters his victim, telling him what he wants to hear and as Hastings does not like Queen Elizabeth due to previous events, he is taken in by what Richard has been telling him. 'More pity that eagles should be mew'd While kites and buzzards prey at liberty' (1.1.line132-3). In this quotation, Hastings is using a metaphor describing his opinion on the matter of being sent to the tower by claiming that the eagles are he and Clarence who are trapped, whilst the kites and buzzards are the followers of the Queen's court, who are allowed to do as they please.
We, as the audience, are those that can see all that Hastings is doing is getting more and more tangled up in Richard's web, rather than impress him, which is what he is attempting to achieve. In Act III, Scene I, Prince Edward arrives in London and Richard and Buckingham send Catesby to sound out Hastings and detect whether Hastings will support Richard in his bid for the throne. After the two young princes are led off to the tower, Richard and Buckingham discuss their plans with Catesby, who is then asked to sound out Hastings, 'sound thou Lord Hastings How he doth stand affected by our purpose' (3.1.line 171-2). Richard and Buckingham wish to know whether Hastings will support Richard when he seizes the throne, Richard tells his confidant that Hastings must die if he refuses to service him and he promises Buckingham the Earldom of Hereford when he succeeds to the throne. ' Buckingham: "Now, my Lord, what shall we do if we perceive Lord Hastings will not yield to our complots?" Richard: "Chop off his head - something he will determine. And, look when I am King, claim thou of me The earldom of Hereford and all of the movables Whereof the King my brother was possess'd"' By using Catesby, who professes to be a dear friend of Hastings, it seems appropriate that the two schemers use him as a double agent. Buckingham's self confidence is misplaced - Richard startling words confirm his brutal control of events when Buckingham ponders on how they should deal
He then remembers Margaret's curse and cries 'O Margaret, Margaret, now thy heavy curse Is lighted on poor Hastings' wretched head' (3.4.line 91-2). Hastings destruction is dwelt on in a very focused way during this act - similar to Richard's other victims, he realises the truth too late and can only make wise prophecies about the future when he is close to death. Richard's inquiry for strawberries when he enters seems laughably insignificant, but the audience recognises his methods of manipulation and he is lulling the council into a false sense of security. The fact that he succeeds in accomplishing Hastings execution displays his growing power, as does the swiftness of Hastings' downfall, and therefore great sympathy is inflicted towards the helpless Hastings. A foolish man, Hastings believed that he could choose not to support Richard and still keep his head. Unlike Richard's other adversaries, he doesn't curse, distrust or dislike the Protector, but he doesn't have the political wit to protect himself by supporting Richard's idea of becoming king. He was blind and complacent, believing that Richard 'love's me well' up to the moment when he was accused of treason. Similar to Anne, he chose to misinterpret the usurper's words, paying the price with his life, Hastings should have heeded the warnings offered to him. It is ironic that Hastings, a naïve and subtle man, should share the fate of execution, like other male victims in the play, simply because he failed to say what Richard wanted to hear. Joanna Lowe Page 1 5/8/2007
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