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

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 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. The further the soliloquy

progresses, the stronger this view becomes. This is primarily due to the pace of

Richard's speech. For instance, line 9:

'Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front'

This line conveys that Richard is presumably speaking reasonably quickly, as

there is a use of iambic pentameter alongside a hyphenated word (which is also

demonstrated during the BBC video of Richard III). He seems impatient and

almost bitter when announcing that the War of Roses has come to an end.

Already, we as the audience are evoked with feelings of anticipation and wonder

-- we are encouraged by the energy of his speech to find out what he will say


As the soliloquy continues, Richard seems to speak to the audience with a

sardonic tone to his words. An example of this is shown on line 12, when the war

is personified ('He'). Because the war is metaphorically created as joyful and

dancing ('in a lady's chamber') - which we know are opposite adjectives of what it

is usually connected with - it is easy for the audience to notice that Richard is in

fact not at all content with his family, the Yorkists.

Other language techniques that Shakespeare uses as the soliloquy continues are

useful for shaping Richard's character and our feelings towards him, too. For

 example, the repetition of the word 'Our' (lines 6, 7 and 8) emphasises Richard's

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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 ...

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