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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 1) Distinguished Educator

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.

Sources:

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unspeakable49 | TA , Grade 12 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:53 AM (Answer #2)

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You can consider this in terms of both psychological and physical deformity.

In terms of his appearance, Richard was born deformed. Because of the supernatural element in Elizabethan society, he was shunned by even his own mother. Historical facts also tell us of Richard III's physical deformity and how his own mother could not bear to look at him, and so he was brought up by maids. This kind of abandonment has obviously affected him negatively, and can be traced as one of the reasons he is so "determined to prove a villain". He has known no love, and therefore, can give no love to anyone in any way.

The consequences of his physical deformity, have also affected him psychologically. His mind has become twisted with evil and he uses all his strengths to achieve his evil ends.

Considering the above, it can be said that Richard is a villain because he is deformed. However, he is also deformed because he is villain. As a dramatist, Shakespeare exaggerates Richard's physical deformity to make him more villainous. In other literary works and historical accounts, Richard is also portrayed as the villainous uncle who killed the innocent princes. His psychological deformity is also increased with each murder he puts into action.

So you can really argue this both ways.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:42 PM (Reply #1)

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This is an excellent answer. However, I think the original question raises a further question: Are people who are extremely deformed necessarily villainous? If so, there must be a lot of villains in our society. But it seems cruel to judge people as villains by their looks. I had a friend who had a serious physical deformity, yet he was not wicked but painfully shy and reclusive. I worked with a man who had a terribly ugly face because of a glandular condition. It obviously affected his character, but it did not make him a villain; instead it gave him an inferiority complex. It made him critical of other people and envious of people who happened to be good-looking. No doubt a person's physical appearance will affect his or her character and personality, but it will probably affect different people in different ways for different reasons. I can see that Richard's mother's rejection would have a stronger effect on him that his own assessment of his appearance. In other cases a mother might love her child in spite of, or even because of, a mental or physical deformity.

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