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Was Richard a villain because of his deformity or was he deformed because he is a villain?

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user8933487 | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 28, 2013 at 2:59 PM via web

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Was Richard a villain because of his deformity or was he deformed because he is a villain?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:00 AM (Answer #1)

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The play opens with a soliloquy by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He tells himself--and his audience--that peace has settled on the land and everybody is happy except himself. He describes himself as being so misshapen that he cannot enjoy the pastimes that are associated with peace, including dancing and love-making. And then he expresses his wicked intentions in unmistakable terms:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

So, according to Shakespeare, Richard decides to become a villain because of his deformity. Shakespeare probably did not believe that a villainous character should produce deformity. Edmund, in King Lear, for example, is an outstanding Shakespearean villain, but he is very attractive to both Goneril and Regan.

Richard's self-assessment can be read by referring to the link below. What is remarkable about him as a villain is that he can see himself with such unflinching objectivity. From the beginning he shows himself to be cold, rational, remorseless and pragmatic. He is a memorable villain who is fascinating in his utter malevolence.

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