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

Authors Avatar

‘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.  This essay will be based on tragedy defined as ‘something happening that is sad, although inevitable’ and ‘a powerful person falling from power due to a flaw’.

Richard’s isolation becomes apparent from the very beginning of the play when he enters the stage alone and speaks directly to the audience rather than any character on stage.  After this, he spends the entire duration of the play severing every single link that he has with any other person or object in the play in order to gain power.  His main ambition in life is to be a villain and become a king:

        ‘To entertain these fair well-spoken days, / I am determined to prove a villain…’ (I.i.)

In fulfilling this successfully, he knows that he must be heartless and not let emotions interfere with his ‘work’.

Join now!

        However, Richard does not outwardly appear to suffer emotions anyway, at least not ones that would obstruct the path to success.  He does not appear to have a conscience, as he has no qualms with the brutal murder of his immediate family, let alone people he had absolutely no connection to.  It is obvious that Richard has deep contempt for his family and the people around him.  This could be partly to do with the way they discriminate against him because of his deformity.  He obviously feels separated from them in all respects:

        ‘Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: ...

This is a preview of the whole essay