‘In his depiction of Richard III Shakespeare has created much more than a simple theatrical villain’ Discuss
In Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard is undoubtedly a monstrous villain set out to seize the throne of England for himself in any way possible. He does this by ruthlessly killing people in line for, or even anything to do with, the throne. Shakespeare, however, albeit historically inaccurate, has created a man much more than what meets the eye. Behind his physical deformities lies a man of extreme intelligence and wit, who is very shrewd and crafty. He is a villain, but much more than an average villain. He is a deeply malicious monster yet significantly wise and perceptive. He gains the throne not simply by butchery but by intelligence and exploiting the weaknesses of those around him. The play tells us lots more about him.
The opening speech made by Richard, probably one of the most famous speeches, informs us initially of the background to the play and sets the scene. It is a soliloquy – a speech delivered by a character alone on the stage to the audience. The opening four lines, containing at the start one of the two most well known lines in plays, tell us that the War of Roses between the House of Lancaster and the House of York is now over, and that Richard’s house (the House of York) has prevailed and triumphed as the ruling house of England:
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried
In these four lines, Richard’s eldest brother Edward is the ‘sun of York’ who has brought ‘glorious summer’ to the kingdom because the recently ended civil, shown by ‘the winter of our discontent’, war has brought about the House of York to the throne of England. The ‘house’ is therefore the House of York that Richard and his brothers, Edward and Clarence, belong to as opposed to the House of Lancaster, which was defeated. The last two lines refer to the fact that all evil has been annihilated and the bad things prior to the House of York winning have been removed and forgotten, according to Richard anyway. Already we have seen an example of Richard’s quick thinking and intelligence, as the word ‘sun’ can mean two things here, thus making it a pun. It can be ‘sun’ as in weather terms or ‘son’ as in family terms and the audience would have to assume which one Richard was conveying across. Another example of a pun that Richard uses appears several lines later:
Now are brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
These two lines explain how the House of York has shown off its victory. Like the Romans, they bind laurel wreaths on their brows. Here, the word ‘arms’ can mean one of three things and again the audience cannot be sure which one Richard is conveying across. Meaning either weapons, limbs or coat of arms, each which appeared in the battle, it begins to give us more evidence of Richard’s quick wittedness. One or two lines later, Richard relates war and peace to music:
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures
This is another example of Richard’s use of language in metaphors, as the words ‘marches’ and ‘measures’ relate to bars of music and transmit a vivid picture of the war that has just been won in contrast to the period subsequent to it. Also we see, in part, some alliteration because both ‘dreadful marches’ and ‘delightful measures’ begin with the letters ‘d’ then ‘m’. Even further, if we look closely, there is some assonance at the end of each syllable on ‘dreadful’ and ‘delightful’ and a bit of it at the end of each syllable on ‘marches’ and ‘measures’. Richard goes on saying more:
And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute
Richard has already painted a clear picture in which the English have put aside their weaponry (indicated by the clever pun of ‘arms’ in line six) to celebrate peace and happiness after the war, for the House of York is in power. This culminates in the god of war toning down his terrifying and brutish appearance and playing the part of the lover for the women. It is another great example of Richard’s descriptive nature but leaving us to guess what he is truly getting at. All of this, one would surmise, makes it clear that there can be no justification for him seizing the throne. England is not in tyranny by any means. That Richard intends to grasp power all for himself therefore makes him monstrously evil. He has initially given us a barrage of strong words that no one would dream to use in writing, let alone speaking. Yet there is more to Richard than meets the eye. His attractive mentality has already lured us into looking behind his physical appearance and made us his ally, something we see happen to people later on in the play. His true motivations still remain a mystery to us though and that is another one of his true assets – deceit.
The pace of the monologue changes and important elements of Richard’s character and his aims are revealed starting from line fourteen. In lines ten to thirteen, he started to criticise the soldier (although we didn’t know it until we look on further), saying that they succumb to women after war. These are the first signs of Richard’s jealousy that we are able to see ourselves:
But I – that am not shap’d for sportive tricks
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass -
Richard is envious of this behaviour and certainly shows it my using strong words such as ‘capers’, ‘nimbly’ and ‘lascivious’, all showing effeminacy, greed and passion. We can tell already Richard despises the average man and does not like them straying at all from their masculinity. However, there must be a reason for his envy. We are able to see this a few lines on. Richard is physically deformed and very ugly looking. No one likes him and we see this by the powerful language he uses to describe himself and display his bitterness towards his body:
I – that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph-
I – that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them
Words such as ‘rudely stamp’d’, ‘deform’d’ and ‘unfinished’ show that Richard does know the extent of his looks and physical deformities. He knows about his withered arm and his hunchback, and how they hinder him in life. This array of words and the way he expresses them makes us feel sorry for him. But Richard, later in the play, is physically active and his motivations are hardly reminiscent of his physical deformity. He is able to seduce women very well indeed, with evidence from him with Lady Anne later on in the play. Bitterness from his deformity also fails to explain his lust for power and desire to become the king. He conjures up plans one would not dream of thinking of and hides his tracks superbly, even cracking jokes at times one could not hold their nerve. There is much more to Richard than one can immediately grasp. He has decided to make everyone miserable and ruin these prosperous times, as he cannot dwell on his physical deformities for any longer:
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on my own physical deformity.
He goes on to say what he is planning to do, in his own unique style that only the cleverest and shrewdest of us can really come to terms with:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
This is a preview of the whole essay
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Here, he is telling us that he is not a normal person. He cannot live a normal life with women but he is a born villain – ‘determined to prove a villain’. The word ‘villain’ is understated, however. As we can see later in the play, he is much more than a simple villain. He is a graceful villain. He carries out all his deeds and crimes in a slick and shrewd way so that no one suspects what he is up to but the audience. Being extremely witty, he is more of a criminal mastermind than a simple villain. People may be suspicious of him but never fear him, as he is too devious to catch their attention to what he is actually up to. Through his various captivating talks to the audience, he is attractive, intimate and conspiratorial, telling us what is going to happen when his soon-to-be victims have very little clue indeed. However, he is a monster of evil and is determined to achieve his goal whatever the human cost. This shows he is incredibly heartless but no one knows it as yet because Richard is hiding it very well through his charisma and alluring attractive personality.
His opening monologue also, although it is full of striking metaphors, elegant phrases, vivid imagery and an exceptional overall understanding of the English language, shows us how Richard interacts deceptively with the world around him. He has one specific personality when he speaks alone, but as soon as someone comes on stage his attitude changes, depending on whom it is. He lies and manipulates these different people so convincingly that we certainly would believe the sympathy and affection that he displays towards Clarence if we had not heard his vow to destroy Clarence prior to his fake feelings. Richard is an actor within an actor, playing varying roles to the people he meets, intriguing generations of actors and audiences with his ever-changing demeanour.
More than in any other play written by Shakespeare however, we see the audience experiencing a complex, ambiguous and very unpredictable relationship with the main character - Richard. Richard is clearly a villain - he declares this in the initial speech and that he intends to never stop until he has achieved his goal. But despite this evil, he is such a charismatic and fascinating figure that, for the part where he is not king, we are likely to sympathise with him, or be impressed with him. In this way, our relationship with Richard is similar to the other characters’ relationships with him, showing the powerful force of his personality. Even characters such as Lady Anne, who have had previous knowledge of his wickedness, allow themselves to be seduced by his brilliant wordplay, his skilful arguments and his persistent pursuit of his selfish desires.
Richard’s fascinating monologues, in which he outlines his plans and acknowledges all his evil thoughts, are directed straight at the audience. Shakespeare uses these monologues brilliantly to control the audience’s impression of Richard. In the opening monologue, for example, Richard claims that his hatred towards other people stems from the fact that he is unloved and that he is unloved because of his physical deformity. This argument, which directs the other characters of the play as villains for punishing Richard for his appearance, makes it easy to sympathise with Richard during the scenes before him becoming king.
The last part of his monologue tells us the foundations to his complicated web of schemes, alliances, plots and so forth that he will eventually achieve his ultimate goal – to become king of England. The complexity and sophistication involved in it is the one big reason why Shakespeare has created such a monster of evil yet attractive to watch his plans all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Richard draws in friends when he so wishes, and just like that makes them his enemies. This is an example of his deceptive nature, previously mentioned:
Plots that I have laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams,
He realises his power when it comes to villainy. His forte is ‘inductions dangerous’, saying that people cannot resist his power of enticement and bribery, only then to fall beneath his feet. He goes on to reveal the first part of his master plan to us, involving him turning his brother, Clarence, against his other brother, Edward, who happens to be king at present:
To set my brother Clarence and the King
In deadly hate the one against the other;
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up, -
About a prophecy which says that G
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
In this, Richard relates Edward’s honesty and the way he believes everything to his own subtlety and deceit. Again, we see in the last two lines of this that Richard adds some ambiguity that only the really observant people, like him, would spot. ‘G’ stands for, one would first think, George Duke of Clarence. Everyone thought it was that but think harder and it can also stand for Richard Duke of Gloucester. Richard could have easily written out the name but, being as clever as he is, he wanted to give people a chance, albeit very small. This is another example of Richard’s use of puns, giving further evidence that his physical appearance does not match his mental one.
After the soliloquy, the play runs straight into the scene in which Richard sends Clarence to the Tower of London, having been suspected by King Edward IV. Richard’s rumour planting on Clarence going to murder Edward has worked, as Clarence enters, guarded by an armed guard. He is being led to the Tower of London, where political prisoners were traditionally executed. We all know this is Richard’s fault and the first part of his master plan, but his deceptive nature and ability to not fall under pressure in the hardest of situations completely fools Clarence. His ability to change from one role to another is used to great effect here, as his monologue to the audience runs into seeing his brother with armed guards. He pretends to very sad and surprised to see Clarence made a prisoner:
RICHARD: What means this armed guard
That waits upon your grace?
CLARENCE: His Majesty,
Tendr’ing my person’s safety, hath appointed
This conduct to convey me to th’Tower.
RICHARD: Upon what cause?
CLARENCE: Because my name is George.
RICHARD: Alack, my lord, that fault is none of yours:
Richard disgusts us at how he is indirectly killing one of his family members, yet we are intrigued and fascinated at his ability to hide his feelings and play different roles. He knows what he is doing, but still does it. In one respect he is an evil monster and in another he is an elegant swan.
Richard, later on to Clarence, tells him that the women who surround the king are the ones to blame in all of this. Being another part of his plan, he suggests to Clarence that his wife, Queen Elizabeth, or his mistress, Lady Shore, might have influenced Edward to become suspicious of him:
Why, this it is when men are rul’d by women:
‘Tis not the King that sends you to the Tower;
My Lady Grey his wife, Clarence, ‘tis she
That tempers him to this extremity.
This shows how Richard is sly and cunning, as one small part of his plan leads into another. It also shows his deep contempt for women, trying to stop both his brothers from liking them.
Another one of Richard’s traits is revealed in lines 110-112. He fakes emotions to lure people into a false sense of security. He has already shown fake emotions to Clarence, as he was both shocked and surprised at seeing armed guards escorting him to the Tower of London. These three lines underline the fact that he is ‘an actor within an actor’:
I will perform it to enfranchise you
Meantime, this deep disgrace in brotherhood
Touches me deeper than you can imagine
He continues to talk to Clarence, not giving a hint at what he is up to until the end of the scene. From line one 114 to the end of the scene, the things Richard says have ambiguity in them, meaning more than one thing. Richard is so clever in using them that he does not give himself away, making Clarence assume the thing that is most obvious from what he says, yet very attentive and clever people will notice it.
Well, your imprisonment shall not be long;
I will deliver or else lie for you
The first line is an example of both dramatic irony and ambiguity. The audience knows something the actor does not – Clarence will get out of prison swiftly, but to be killed rather than to be set free. The phrase also renders a sense of ambiguity in that the word ‘imprisonment’ can mean Clarence being in a prison and then being set free or it can mean just living and then being murdered. Clarence is sure he means the first meaning, as he is not clever to look within the words and pick out a second meaning. However, Richard means the second one. Although it isn’t technically the correct way to say the second meaning, it is still correct when we grasp the idea and shows Richard’s excellent quick wit. Richard thinks of Clarence’s life as ‘imprisonment’, as he hates Clarence in the way of him and the throne. In the second line, Richard adds ambiguity with a pun, further corroborating Richard’s intelligence in even the hardest of situations. The word ‘lie’ is the pun and can mean one of two things – go to prison instead of you (Clarence) or tell lies about you. Clarence assumes the first one, as many would do, but looking harder we see that there is more than one meaning. Richard uses the English language ‘many meanings for one word’ to great effect, reminiscent of the doubt people have today when we are speaking. For example, ‘you’ can mean many things today and sometimes it can be misinterpreted. There are many, many more examples. However, Richard finds the tough examples to place doubt in only the clever and observant minds.
The scene ends with Clarence being led off to the Tower by the guards and Richard speaking four lines to the audience afterwards:
Go tread the path that thou shalt ne’er return;
Simple, plain Clarence, I do so love thee
That I will shortly send thy soul to Heaven –
If Heaven will take the present from our hands
Richard both mocks brotherly love and religion in these four lines, giving us the impression he is a monster. However, we love the way he cracks a joke even at the worst of times. The way he sees the funny side of Heaven accepting any gift from his evil hands let alone the soul of his murdered brother shows us his wit as well as his malevolence. His humorous side captivates us, even when he knows what he is doing, and we love the idea that he can make a joke at the worst of times. On the other hand, we are disgusted by his delight at the fact he is having his brother murdered just so he can become king of England. However, we, as the audience, are drawn in by his attractive side.
Act three scene four is Richard’s council session in the Tower of London. Hastings asks the councillors why they are having the meeting, and it is to discuss the date on which Prince Edward should be crowned king. Richard arrives smiling warmly but Buckingham takes Richard aside to tell him what Catesby has construed – Hastings is loyal to the Princes and is unlikely to go along with any plans Richard is willing to offer in order to gain power. When Richard re-enters the room, his mood changes entirely. He pretends to be very angry and enraged, displaying his arm and deformity as a whole. He speaks about it in a forceful way in front of everyone, trying to use it as a tool to gain sympathy from his adversaries:
Look how I am bewitch’d; behold, mine arm
Is like blasted sapling wither’d up.
And this is Edward’s wife, that monstrous witch,
Consorted with that harlot strumpet Shore,
That by their witchcraft thus have marked me
As people in those days believed strongly in witchcraft, he is implying that Queen Elizabeth and Lady Shore must have cast a spell on him to cause his withering arm. When Hastings hesitates slightly, mainly because he simply cannot believe that is true from just hearing a few words from Richard, Richard condemns him and summons his execution:
HASTINGS: If they have done this deed, my noble lord-
GLOUCESTER: If? – thou protector of this damned strumpet,
Talk’st thou to me of ifs? Thou art a traitor.
Off with his head! Now by Saint Paul I swear
I will not dine until I see the same.
Hasting questions Richard only slightly, using the word ‘if’, but that is enough for Richard to promptly accuse him of betrayal and execute him. Hasting realises what Richard is capable of and recognises that he shouldn’t have been so confident in front of Richard. But he cannot do anything about it and feels pity for everyone who doesn’t notice Richard’s wicked nature, until he is executed.
There are a few things we can infer from this scene. Firstly, Richard’s small speech about his deformity captures all of us. We feel both rage and sympathy. The rage comes from the fact he is using his own deformity to get his own way and make people sympathise with him. It was clearly nobody’s fault and it is more evidence of his evil ways to gain power. However, for the audience anyway, the feeling of sympathy overpowers the feeling of rage in the way Richard goes about describing his arm. Words like ‘bewitch’d’, ‘blasted sapling’ and ‘marked me’ all convey a sense that Richard is sad and knows the extent of his deformity. The audience are drawn into this and understand his unhappiness yet Richard knows that it is all just a mark of his evil. We feel more for him when Hastings questions him about his deformity. Although it is truly appalling to execute someone for saying just one word wrong (‘if’), we are interested at his perceptive nature. He picked out the word ‘if’ and in an instant gave the evidence, verdict and sentence for Hastings in the first two and a half lines of what he said. We are mesmerised at his immediate intelligence to pick out things and reply ingeniously within a matter of moments. Also, the words ‘Now by Saint Paul I swear / I will not dine until I see the same’ show that Richard is so proud of his work that he wants Hastings head to be seen before he has his dinner. Yet again, we are intrigued at his uniqueness here, as no other person would want to see the head of a person he or she had just killed. It is also another sign of his pure evil.
In act three scene seven, Buckingham returns to Richard with the news that his speech to the Londoners did not go to plan. He tried to portray bad feelings about King Edward and his sons and say Richard is better to become king. It, however, was booed and only a few people liked the idea. Buckingham had to end his speech sooner than planned and leave quickly. Richard is furious on hearing this, but goes along with the plan to become king. The plan is to persuade the lord mayor to ask Richard to become king. Richard will not look as if he wants to become king and seem reluctant, constantly giving reasons why he shouldn’t become king. Richard shuts himself away with various religious objects and people, making it look as if he is a devout religious man. Buckingham resorts to pleading in an almost script written speech by the two of them, convincing people that Richard is a good man and the right one to become king. It is one of the next parts in his plan to get on the throne. In the end, the slow pleading of Buckingham to Richard in front of the Mayor pays of with Richard finally consenting to become king. Catesby, the other one of Richard’s henchmen, also plays a vital albeit small role in the plan. The scheme works, as the Lord Mayor of London and other people are fooled into thinking the best of Richard.
There are important things to consider relating to Richard’s personality within this scene. Richard uses a sense of reverse psychology on the Lord Mayor, giving more evidence that he can change his personality quite efficiently and deceivingly. This time he works with Buckingham and plays the passive role in order to get what he wants. This time, we, as the audience, are mesmerised at how well Richard is able to turn off his evil role, although the plan behind it is part of his evil plan to gain power. There are lots of references to various religious things made by Richard and Buckingham, giving a false impression of Richard, as we all know he hates religion. He plays such an excellent role as an actor within an actor here that we are influenced by his love of religion, though he is mocking religion at the same time. This is dramatic irony in place, as the Lord Mayor doesn’t know Richard’s resentment for religion. Nevertheless, even we are fooled by the great fake role he plays here. The language he uses is that of a Christian man, along with the props beside him. Catesby, Buckingham and Richard himself all make references to the (fake) religious aspect of Richard:
He is within, with two right reverend fathers,
Divinely bent to meditation;
And in no worldly suits would he be mov’d,
To draw him from his holy exercise.
Catesby is saying that Richard is deep in his religious actions and cannot be disturbed.
Buckingham praises Richard for his devout religious aspect and at the same time criticises the Princes:
Ah, ha, my lord, this prince is not an Edward!
He is not lolling on a lewd day-bed,
But on his knees at meditation;
Not dallying with a brace of courtezans,
But meditating with two deep divines;
Not sleeping, to engross his idle body,
But praying, to enrich his watchful soul:
Happy were England would this virtuous prince
Take on his grace the sovereignty thereof:
But, sure, I fear, we shall not win him to it.
Even though he is happy, the last line of Buckingham’s speech above further goes along with the main element of the plan – Richard does not want to be king. Buckingham goes on to talk more about Richard’s religious aspect, talking about the objects Richard uses in prayer:
Two props of virtue for a Christian prince,
To stay him from the fall of vanity;
And, see, a book of prayer in his hand,
True ornaments to know a holy man.
Richard pretends that both the Lord Mayor and Buckingham have come to do him harm, another part of Richard acting as if he wants to avoid even talking about becoming king let alone becoming king. He is pessimistic and negative in attitude at the arrival of these two men, since he reckons he has committed an offence.
I do suspect I have done some offence
That seems disgracious in the city’s eye,
And that you come to reprehend my ignorance.
From lines 117-140, Buckingham argues that Richard must become king to evade the threat of the country falling into the hands of the other corrupt kings. Richard counteracts the argument, again looking as if he wants to stay well away from the throne. He hypothesises by giving two reasons why he is not needed as king. The first one is admitting that he is just not cut out to be king and simply not good enough:
Yet so much is my poverty of spirit,
So mighty and so many my defects
That I would rather hide me from my greatness –
The other reason, probably the most important reason at the time is that he is not needed because there are already legal heirs to the throne – Edward’s children:
But, God be thank’d, there is no need of me –
And much I need to help you, were there need.
The royal tree hath left us royal fruit
Once more, Richard says all of this to make him look more genuine and liked. Legitimacy was very important in those days too, so Richard’s second reason was an excellent (fake) comeback against Buckingham. However, Buckingham states that the Prince of Wales is illegitimate – it is Edward’s son but not Edward’s wife’s son. Richard carries on trying to deceive the Lord Mayor by continuing on with his instinctive decision of not wanting to become king:
Alas, why would you heap this care on me?
I am unfit for state and majesty.
I do beseech you, take it not amiss:
I cannot nor I will not yield to you
Buckingham replies with an even better argument, saying that Richard is the perfect personality to rule as king, Edward’s son shall never become king and he will find another king to downgrade your house and England itself:
As well we know your tenderness of heart
And gentle, kind, effeminate remorse,
Which we have noted in you to your kindred,
And equally, indeed, to all estates -
Yet know, whe'er you accept our suit or no,
Your brother's son shall never reign our king;
But we will plant some other in the throne,
To the disgrace and downfall of your house:
Richard, in the end, unwillingly accepts, seen by these lines:
For God doth know, and you may partly see,
How far I am from the desire of this
The scene ends on the agreement of Richard’s crowning the very next day.
Richard brings up arguments as to why he should not be king all through this scene, but Buckingham effectively counters these arguments, making it seem as if Richard is being unwillingly pressured into accepting the crown. It all goes exactly to plan and the Lord Mayor suspects nothing and no one.
Act three scene four is the one in which Tyrell returns to give the news of the Princes deaths. He grieves, and so did the two murderers, Dighton and Forrest. Tyrell describes the murdering of the two princes as ‘tyrannous’ and ‘bloody’, committing a ‘piece of ruthless butchery’ and the two murderers are ‘flesh’d villains’ and ‘bloody dogs.’ However, even Dighton and Forrest were ‘melted with tenderness and mild compassion’ and they had killed ‘the most replenished sweet work of nature.’ Even the murderers, who are supposed to be highly trained and professional undercover killers who feel no remorse from killing their victims, feel shame and guilt now. They murdered two young and innocent children, who were devout and religious.
Richard is now the king of England and has achieved his objective (however, there are still obstacles in his way). We all feel very sad and there is an atmosphere of melancholy at what has been done to the Princes. Conversely, Richard is extremely happy at their deaths. He continues to ask questions about their death until we are deeply shocked when he asks, not only did they die, but how they died:
Kind Tyrell, am I happy in thy news?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But didst thou see them dead?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And buried, gentle Tyrell?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Come to me, Tyrell, soon at after supper,
When thou shalt tell the process of their death.
When this is over, Richard then goes aside into a monologue, reciting the various crimes he has committed to gain power. The two young princes are dead. Richard has married off Clarence’s daughter to another man and has locked up Clarence’s son. Richard gloats that Queen Anne is now dead – probably murdered by Richard - and he announces that his next step will be to pursue and marry young Elizabeth, the daughter of King Edward and Queen Elizabeth. He thinks that this alliance with her family will strengthen his hold on the throne:
The son of Clarence have I pent up close;
His daughter meanly have I match'd in marriage;
The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham's bosom,
And Anne my wife hath bid the world good-night.
Now, for I know the Britaine Richmond aims
At young Elizabeth, my brother's daughter,
And by that knot looks proudly on the crown,
To her go I, a jolly thriving wooer.
Ratcliff enters at the end and informs Richard that some of Richard’s noblemen have fled to join Richmond in France to prepare for an uprising. Buckingham has also does the same, but fleeing to Wales rather than France. This is almost certainly to everyone’s relief that this has happened. Richard, fearful, begins to raise an army.
This scene is undoubtedly a turning point in the play and we realise Richard’s true evil and the monster he really is. His heartlessness and callousness is shown by the fact he does not even give the slightest pity or sorrow to the death of, basically, two children. We no longer feel any suspense or amazement at Richard’s attractive side anymore. We recognise that Richard has deceived us all along and we no longer feel any feelings other than contempt and anger towards him. He no longer uses his attractive, manipulative, witty and deceptive side to gain power. He has come to the pinnacle of success and just has anyone murdered who gets in the way. The fact that he finds his villainy funny in the monologue in this scene is in no way ingenious anymore; it is disturbing and monstrous. We don’t feel anything for Richard from here on in. His feelings have gone from confidence in his own ability to paranoia, all because he has gained power.
Act five scene three – the scene before the Battle of Bosworth. Both Richard’s and Richmond’s sides prepare for the battle to come. This scene is the psychological zenith of the play and Richard’s downfall becomes almost inevitable from here on in. Richard speaks abruptly to his noblemen and army before the battle but effectively is isolated on his own. No one likes him anymore – not even his own men or the audience. He is the king of England but is completely alone. He has murdered everyone close to him; his mother has left him and even his only close friend – Buckingham – has been executed. Richmond, on the other hand, is able to speak freely and graciously to his men and feel happy that he is going to win the battle despite having far fewer men than Richard.
The effect of the ghosts, who were once people that lived until Richard had them killed, have a profound effect on Richmond and Richard. The main aim of the ghost is to deeply haunt and terrify Richard, but also to tell him to lose the battle and he is not the deserved king. The other aim is to praises Richmond and to tell him to win the battle and get rid of the bloody-thirsty monster that he will be fighting. This is emphasises by the ending words that each of the ghosts say – to Richard it is ‘Despair and die’ whereas to Richmond it is (some of the time) ‘Live and flourish’. This gives the impression eleven deadly curses are being cast upon Richard to cause sheer terror but essentially to make him recognise who he really is.
Shakespeare’s insight into human psychology is superb here. He delves right into Richard’s mind – a mind of a monster more than a simple villain – and makes Richard explore his own conscience. Richard wakes up, shaken by self-doubt and fear of himself as well as the ghosts who have visited him. He is forced to search his soul in a poignant soliloquy to the audience. His uncertainty to what he finds within himself shocks him to the bone. Richard tries one last time to win the audiences affection. If we had not much of a brain we would believe him. However, look only slightly further into it all and we realise he has got what he deserves. We feel no pity for Richard anymore. We realise the monster he truly is. He is no villain. He is much more than that - and even he himself realises this. What goes around comes around. His monologue displays evidence of all of these things. It is full of questions about himself:
What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Is there a murderer? No – yes, I am.
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why –
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Find in myself no pity to myself?
There are many short sentences and many exclamations also. The first two questions above give him the horrible revelation that a murderer is in the room and that he is it. He is uncertain to be afraid of himself, almost wary. His lines produce the effect that the ghosts were hinting at – that is a considerably different person than he first imagined. He suddenly recognises he is a murderer. The statement ‘Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I’ is very powerful, asserting his own self-identity, then later realising that he loves a monster. After Richard has noticed the scary thing he has become, the divide between his former self and his present self grows to be even more clear and apparent to us all. His question immediately is whether to commit suicide but that is withdrawn from his mind, as he says he loves himself. He then later realises ‘I rather hate myself / For hateful deeds committed by myself’.
In the end, Richard turns to other people and grieves over his isolation:
I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die no soul will pity me:
And wherefore should they, since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself?
With these words no one, not even he, sympathises with him. Richard is psychologically and mentally in anguish and pain. He is no longer confident of himself and his mind has broken down to shreds. Shakespeare captures this moment marvellously. Angry and desperate, he tells Ratcliff what he has been through. Ratcliff, however, fobs him off and says there is no need to worry. Although he manages to put aside his terror the next day on the battlefield, the sensation of who he really is haunts him still. For Richard, we know, and he knows, that the end is near.
In the moments leading up to the battle, both Richmond and Richard make speeches or orations to their respective armies. Richmond tell his men that Richard is a usurper (not legitimate to be king) ‘falsely set’ on the throne, makes references to ‘God’, ‘prayers’, ‘holy saints’ and ‘wronged souls’ when relating his army to something good. He also reminds his soldiers that they are fighting for the freedom of this beautiful land (England) from a ‘bloody tyrant’ and a ‘homicide’. He seriously downgrades Richard’s status and mocks him severely, and rightly so. He also says that we will be fighting for God:
One that hath ever been God’s enemy,
Then if you fight against God’s enemy,
God will in justice ward you as his soldiers;
If Richmond loses, he says he will choose death but if he wins there will be many reaped rewards on offer. He ends confidently and cheerfully.
Richard’s oration is much the opposite of Richmond’s. He resorts to insults, propaganda and lies about his opponent. However, the one thing he doesn’t do is justify his place on the throne. He has lost all his poetic devices and excellent language that we once knew him and loved him for. He is wary and conscience that he must win this battle to keep the throne. He uses various propaganda methods to win his side over and convince them. However, he does not know that no one likes him, no one wants him to win and no one wants him to reign as king any further other than himself:
A sort of vagabonds, rascals, and runaways,
A scum of Britagnes, and base lackey peasants,
Whom their o'er-cloyed country vomits forth
To desperate adventures and assur'd destruction.
Here we see lots of insults but no reasons. Richard is a changed character. There are lots more insults:
Lash hence these over-weening rags of France,
These famish'd beggars, weary of their lives;
He describes Richmond as a ‘paltry fellow’ and a ‘milk-sop’ as well. He also describes his adversaries as sub-humans:
If we be conquered, let men conquer us,
And not these bastard Britagnes, whom our fathers
Have in their own land beaten, bobb'd, and thump'd,
Richard also never mentions the word ‘God’ or anything relating to God, contrasting with his hypocritical religious devotion earlier in the play. This all gives evidence that Richard is the monster that we first thought he was when we looked at him in his opening monologue. He has lost it. Much to our delight, he loses the Battle of Bosworth and Richmond reigns victorious.
In conclusion, Shakespeare has created much, much more than a simple theatrical villain. In short, he has created a masterpiece of both immense wit and monstrous evil. He has created something that one can’t imagine to be true, but was.