'In his depiction of Richard III Shakespeare has created much more than a simple theatrical villain.' Discuss

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Mufadal Jiwaji – 10T                 30th October 2002

Richard III

‘In his depiction of Richard Shakespeare has created much more than a simple theatrical villain.’ Discuss

Richard is a cruel, corrupt, manipulative, ruthless murderer; as well as a master of deception. However he is not just a trunk of the most evil qualities. Outwardly he appears to be a deformed monster, yet he is as cunning and determined as the cruellest of villains, his rhetoric is beautifully agile and his wit is of the darkest kind, yet he remains greatly entertaining. The manner in which he achieves his goal is quite superb, reaching the throne not purely by butchery but also exploiting the weaknesses of those around him. Richard is a tyrant brought up in a background of betrayal and civil unrest; however, what makes Shakespeare’s portrait so entertaining is Richard’s humour and wit. Richard III is a multifaceted study of political aspiration and corruption.

The majority of Shakespeare’s information about Richard III came from Holinshed’s Chronicle, first published in 1578 in it Richard is described as many things. He was described as being witty however Holinshed also described him as weak, ‘…in bodie and prowesse’. This shows where Shakespeare obtained the image of Richard being deformed. Holinshed also described Richard as being. ‘ malicious, wrathfull and enuious’. Therefore we cannot blame Shakespeare for the image that he grafts on Richard, however, it did not do Shakespeare any harm in slightly corrupting the true image of Richard.

When Shakespeare wrote Richard III Elizabeth 1st was on the throne. She was a direct descendant of Henry 7th otherwise known as Richmond in the play. Therefore Shakespeare could do no harm in saying that the monarch’s ancestor was a great, noble man who fought against evil and succeeded. In this way I believe that it is acceptable to regard Richard III as a piece of pro-Tudor propaganda.

Richard III also deals with a key political issue. It talks about, ‘the justification of men to depose a king if he proved to be a disaster for the country’. In the time the play was written it was common belief that the monarch was appointed by god and therefore would be divinely protected. This was much debated however Richard III clearly provides an answer to that question.

The Richard presented by Shakespeare has a wide range of characteristics. The main aspect of Richard’s personality to focus upon is his great wit. Richard shows extreme cunning in the creation of his plans and so we must assume he is very clever.

 Richard is also very determined, he set out to become king and in the end he achieved it, like many other of his other goals. Richard is also a great con artist. His finest piece of acting must be the scene with the Lord Mayer and Alderman. This scene will be discussed in detail later on. Richard is also an expert at using blackmail to further his cause, and of course he is a murderer with little or no conscious. The following sections will highlight the above points giving examples of these taken from the play itself.

The most famous part of Richard III if not the most famous of any Shakespeare play is the opening soliloquy. The recognized part is the opening two lines, where Richard refers to the recent war and to the peace which Edward’s victory produced,

“Now if the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York”

Richard likens the bitterness and suffering to a winter which has now been turned into ‘glorious summer’ by Edward the son of York. In 1.3Richard also likens the troubles to dark clouds looking down threateningly (lour’d) on the House of York. His side (the House of York) is now able to rejoice and be happy in victory. Similar to Romans they bind laurel wreathes to their brows. ‘Arms’ in 1.6 at first appear to be the physical limb because they are ‘bruised’, but it obvious by the end to be weapons hung up to commemorate noble deeds on the battlefield. After this follows imagery of martial music and activity in contrast with the music of love and peace-time behaviour. The ‘Dreadful marches’ have changed to become ‘delightful measures’. Richard continues on, the soldier instead of mounting horses armed for war ‘barbèd’ in order to terrify his foes, is now able to learn how to dance to the accompaniment of music. On the next two lines Richard talks about how soldiers can now frighten in the bed-chamber rather than on the battlefield,

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‘To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,

He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber’  

This also suggests that Richard is envious of this type of behaviour, this is shown by the contempt that he pours into the words: ‘caper’, ‘nimbly’ and on the next line ‘lascivious’ all suggest either effeminacy or self indulgence- not the sort of behaviour befitting a soldier at all. It is at this point, line thirteen, where the whole mood of the soliloquy changes.

In lines fourteen to fifteen the thoughts are much more personal. This ...

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