Shakespeare's presentation of the character of Richard III

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Shehram Khattak

Shakespeare’s presentation of the character of Richard III

If an actor wants to star as Richard III in a play he must first know all there is to know about the character of Richard III.  For example Richard’s behaviour, the way he thinks and reacts, these are all aspects of Richard’s character.  The actor must know these because Shakespeare gave very few stage directions in his plays, therefore if an actor wants to make an impressionable performance he must understand the way Richard’s character, to understand this one must look at how Shakespeare was trying to portray the character of Richard III.  

The first soliloquy is split into three parts.  The first part deals with his clever word play ‘our bruisèd arms hung up for monuments’ which is a fancy way of saying we no longer use our weaponry.  Another example of his word play would be when he uses ‘man’ to address Brackenbury.  Brackenbury uses ‘your grace’ implying some sort of respect towards the person being addressed but Richard uses ‘man’, which is mocking or at least degrading as Brackenbury is being referred to as a common man.  Not only this but a few lines further down Richard puns on the word ‘nought’, meaning nothing, with the word ‘naught’, meaning to have sex with.  Therefore mocking Brackenbury again as Richard is implying Brackenbury’s sexual exploits.  These examples clearly show how much control Richard has over his speech and also his disliking of Brackenbury.  In this part of the play Shakespeare also expresses Richard’s disliking for the Queen as Richard refers to her as ‘My lady Grey’ because before the Queen was married to the king she was the widow of Sir Thomas Grey therefore in a way Richard hasn’t accepted the fact that Elizabeth is now Queen he still classes her as someone not of royalty.

The first part of the soliloquy starts with ‘now is the winter of out discontent’.  The usage of the word winter implies the end of the ‘discontent’ as winter is the last season before the new-year.  Yet the first line can be interpreted in a different way.  Winter is a dark season, literally speaking.  It has long nights and so it could be associated with crime/evil as it is commonly believed that satanic powers have more power in the dark as they are away from the light of goodness/God. Could Richard be implying that the worst ‘winter’ of our ‘discontent’ was yet to come?  Before you have had the chance to fully comprehend the line and what it actually means, Richard says ‘made glorious summer by thee son of York’ which means that the son of York, Edward, made the discontented winter into glorious summer; this is purely panegyric.  Since the first line is a part of this second line it makes the sentence, most probably, also panegyric and not deceitful.  However there is another example of where Richard’s words definitely have a double meaning.  ‘Well, your imprisonment shall not be long’ is what Richard says to Clarence when they are talking in scene one.  Richard is implying that he will try to achieve his freedom while in actual fact he wants to kill Clarence and so have one of the potential successors to the throne out of the way.

The second part of the soliloquy displays Richard’s feelings of betrayal by fate because of his deformity.  Richard feels cheated by fate, he has never had the opportunity to enjoy sexual ventures ‘sportive tricks’ because he hasn’t been given good looks and the sex appeal associated with good looks ‘I that am rudely stamped and want love’s majesty’.  He feels jealous of his brother Edward’s exploits ‘he capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber’.  However this scene is in contrast to another scene when Richard woos Lady Anne, because of this contrast and the fact that throughout the rest of the play Richard is portrayed as an evil man who is not trust worthy, for example when Richard is tying to win over Elizabeth to try and woo her daughter, Elizabeth, the Queen rejects Richard’s oaths calling them worthless.  Because of this reputation I believe that in Richard’s first soliloquy, when he was talking about how deformed and that he was ‘not shaped for sportive tricks’ shows to me that he was simply just trying to acquire the sympathy of the audience.  However, I do not think that Richard was solely trying to achieve sympathy I believe that Richard himself feels that he has been cheated by fate ‘cheated of feature’ and that if he wasn’t deformed he would have had a better life which wasn’t filled with so much hate ‘that dogs bark at me when I halt by them’.        

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The third part is his declaration ‘I am determined to prove a villain’ this also suggests that Richard knows he is evil.  This would be a new thing for people in Shakespearean times.  Not only new but also very strange because if Richard knew he was evil then he would have also accepted that he would pay for his sins in the afterlife.  But Richard does try to justify himself and so gets a hint of pity from the audience because you feel as though the man went through a lot of self-disgust and feelings of betrayal and cheating.  Richard’s ...

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