cynical approach to his speech, as we sense that he feels segregated from his
family yet he ironically includes himself when describing them. The inkling that
Richard feels separated from the Yorkists is additionally represented in
Shakespeare's use of antithesis. Richard speaks of these in his speech - e.g.
'stern alarums' and 'merry meetings' (line 7); 'dreadful' and 'delightful' (line 8);
'soothed' and 'wrinkled' (line 9). Both of these devices were perhaps embodied
into Richard's monologue to encourage the audience to feel that Richard is not
like the Yorkists, and as a result makes the readers feel uneasy as we are
unsure whether to perceive positively or negatively.
Richard then proceeds to tell the audience about his deformity (14-18):
'But I that am not made for sportive tricks
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass,
I that am rudely stamped, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton-ambling nymph...'
Here, Shakespeare manages to persuade us into almost feeling a little
sympathetic towards Richard. Phrases such as 'rudely stamped' expose his self-
loathing feeling, and the harsh sound of the words indicate that his physical
disabilities really trouble him. He also shows a lucid disdain for love, in particular
line 18, which Shakespeare could have wanted Richard to include in the
soliloquy because it is a feeling that many in the audience can relate to and thus
feel that they can connect with him. It is at this point that we can understand why
Richard feels rejected by the Yorkists, and we feel increasingly privileged that he
is choosing to express his feelings to us.
Only a few lines later (line 26), Richard is observing his own shadow: an outline
of his mishapened figure which we deduce is the major reason for his distress. 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. We as
the audience know that Richard will not kill himself, and as we are the only
people who have witnessed his "true" character, we feel as if he is almost
illustrating his acting ability - while in fact undermining the other characters in the
play - simply to impress and prove to us how powerful he is already. Despite the
fact that we have now established the fact that Richard is indeed living up to the
features of a 'villain', he is undoubtedly entertaining to watch. A specific
demonstration of this in the seduction of Anne is presented on lines 165-8:
'Nay, do not pause; for I did kill King Henry;
But 'twas thy beauty that provoked me.
Nay, now dispatch; 'twas I that stabb'd young Edward;
But 'twas thy heavenly face that set me on.'
Shakespeare's language here summons mixed emotions for the audience.
Firstly, we should consider that Richard is indeed pushing his power to its limits
as he encompasses subtle hints that he is lying to Anne face to face to create
tension -- e.g., on the first line he tells Anne not to pause, yet a semi-colon
implies that he himself pauses: this implicates that he has an intention to act with
no harm; but in fact he is acting this way to cause great harm. In addition, the
audience are reminded of Richard's scheming and duplicitous behaviour due to
the repetition of the words 'nay' and 'but'. Not only could this convey Richard's
two-faced character and convince the audience that he is play-acting, but it also
gives the impression that his words have an effect of falseness - as if the words
had already been planned. The audience are therefore aware that Richard finds
it astoundingly simple to switch from truthful to untruthful, and continue to be
fascinated by his character: we are the ones pinned with guilt for allowing him to
carry on with his wickedness, yet we are mesmerised by his intelligence and
want to see him carry on at the same time.
A definite venomous act which proves to us that Richard is indeed a villain is his
next move: the imprisonment and ultimately the death of his own brother,
Clarence. From his soliloquy, he has admitted to us that he would eliminate
anyone who stood in his way when attempting to secure his position on the
throne; and so now he makes it his priority to ensure that he will carry this act
through with no repentance -- he tells his two executioners 'Do not hear him
plead..' (line 347) - i.e. feel no remorse, either - which I believe was said possibly
to allow even the audience to gain a little respect for Richard's power. On the
other hand, we may interpret Richard's attitude as egotistical as it appears he is
taking advantage of his current authority and using it simply to feel more
powerful; we know however that it seems unnecessary as it is not going to help
him achieve the throne.
It is important to take note of how we react to Richard's pharisaic behaviour in
relation to Clarence's murder. Richard's small yet significant speech during lines
324-38 expresses this. 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. In addition,
religious references are recognised in his words - for instance, 'blessed' (line 52)
and 'God' (line 71). I believe that Shakespeare's decision to do this is to create a
reaction of surprise amongst the audience when they realise that Richard can get
away with murder, and feel so confident that he can challenge even the views of
religion: what is morally right.
When Richard's final monologue in Act 5 takes place, we as his audience
throughout the play are inclined to juxtapose it with his first. After being crowned
King Richard, he has not paid so much attention to the audience; but at this point
in the play, it is ironically the actions of the other characters in the play that make
Richard vocalise one more soliloquy. His sheer decline in authority does make
the audience somewhat sympathetic towards him, but I do not believe that it is to
such an extent as in his first soliloquy. I think this is because Richard could not
be held responsible for his physical deformity; whereas his words that state 'if I
die, no soul will pity me' (Act 5, Sc. 3, line 202) are a result of his character: he
has chosen to reject love and pity, and isolated himself from others. We can only
feel that Richard is also being hypocritical as he has treated others so
appallingly, yet when others (those who are ghosts of whom he has murdered
that haunt him in a nightmare) begin to frighten him he seems incredibly self-
As Richard is now observing his mind as opposed to his physical appearance -
in contrast to that of his introductory soliloquy - the audience witness that for the
first time in the play he genuinely seems afraid, perhaps of himself more than the
ghosts (lines 161-2):
'What do I fear? Myself? There's none else by.
Richard loves Richard; that is, I and I'
The above quote illustrates Richard's uncertainty of his future as King due to the
use of rhetorical questions. On top of this, Shakespeare enables the audience to
feel that Richard could even be on the verge of insanity, as he speaks of himself
in 3 person as though he seems quite distant from his thoughts. It is the shock
element of Richard's words that give the audience such a diverse range of
emotions: we did not expect for such a strong character to become so weak,
especially after he was finally King.
Later uses of hyphens and rhyming couplets (such as the one in the above
quote) amplify Richard's confusion which leads to his downfall. Foresight for his
downfall could have been added by Shakespeare to suggest to us that, despite
his unforgiving deeds, this was Richard's chance to be able to "back out" from
the battle against Richmond; nevertheless, Richard once again wants to see his
plans all the way through -- but the unchanged idea put forward that he will
always be a villain does not have the same impact as it once did, as Richard
does not seem as much of a dominant character anymore.
In conclusion, we as the audience know that Shakespeare chose to present
Richard as a character that will always be known as engaging with evil. Even
Richard himself knows how wicked his deeds are, but we are nonetheless
interested to watch him commit them anyway. Our response to his character
involves a diverse and complex range of emotions: from sympathy to
mercilessness; unease to surprise; rejection to admiration. These have all been
created by Shakespeare in three separate ways which all contribute to the
effectiveness of his character: Richard's words, - particularly in soliloquies - his
actions, and his interactions with other characters. It is clear that we immediately
have an established relationship with Richard, and he unquestionably becomes a
highly entertaining character to study. In my opinion, one thought that we are left
with as the play closes is perhaps the reason that the most evil character is also
the most attractive is the reason why Richard III is a tragedy.
- Richard III - Oxford addition
- Richard III - BBC film addition
- Richard III - York Notes (study guide)