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.
Richard's evil ambitions are made manifest at the very outset of the play. His only aim is to wreak chaos in the kingdom, and ultimately become king himself. He appears one-dimensionally evil.
And I no friends to back my suit withal,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her,--all the world to nothing!
Here Richard acknowledges that his evil ambitions are his own, and that he has "no friends" to back him (though he has allies). At the same time, he seems to take a perverse joy in winning the hand of Lady Anne -- whose husband's death Richard had a hand in.
O, no! alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself!
I am a villain: yet I lie, I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well:--fool, do not flatter.
Richard speaks these words after awaking from his dream where the ghosts of many of those he killed appeared. His confusions shows how he is alienated from even himself; he is a confused, wrecked man.
O bloody Richard!--miserable England!
I prophesy the fearfull'st time to thee
That ever wretched age hath look'd upon.--
Come, lead me to the block; bear him my head:
They smile at me who shortly shall be dead.
Hastings, about to be executed, laments the state of England. An important aspect of the play is not the villainy of Richard himself, but the fact that his villainy leads England into civil war -- after the country had already been torn apart by previous civil wars.
But I,--that am not shap'd for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
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;--
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 mine own deformity:
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.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams,
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.
Summary Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother to the newly crowned Edward IV, opens the play with a soliloquy, explaining in sarcastic tones that peace has come through the victory over the House of Lancaster by the House of York. He speaks of the festivities and celebrations over Edward’s ascension on Henry VI’s throne. Yet he himself, he states, is not made for such joyousness, due to his physical appearance. He is portrayed as hunchbacked and crippled, unattractive to women and of a somewhat frightening appearance so that even the dogs bark at him. Because he has been cheated out of love and attractiveness, he will take his vengeance on the world by claiming power by whatever means he can. He announces to the audience that he is not content to be the “ugly brother” of the king. He intends to be the king himself. But first he must remove all roadblocks between him and the throne.
First of all, he must eliminate his elder brother the Duke of Clarence, who would next be in line for the throne. He has planted rumors that Clarence has been the subject of a prophecy that someone whose name begins with “G” would supplant Edward’s heirs. Since Clarence’s first name is George, Richard hints that it is he that is the future traitor. He does not give much thought to the fact that he himself bears a title, the Duke of Gloucester (that also begins with a “G"). Thus Richard sets up the dramatic irony in which the audience is fully away of Richard’s intentions and that he himself will fulfill that prophecy.
Essential Passage 2: Act 3, Scene 5
There, at your meet'st advantage of the time,
Infer the bastardy of Edward's children:
Tell them how Edward put to death a citizen,
Only for saying he would make his son
Heir to the crown;--meaning, indeed, his house,
Which, by the sign thereof, was termed so.
Moreover, urge his hateful luxury,
And bestial appetite in change of lust;
Which stretch'd unto their servants, daughters, wives,
Even where his raging eye or savage heart,
Without control, listed to make a prey.
Nay, for a need, thus far come near my person:--
Tell them, when that my mother went with child
Of that insatiate Edward, noble York,
My princely father, then had wars in France
And, by true computation of the time,
Found that the issue was not his begot;
Which well appeared in his lineaments,
Being nothing like the noble duke my father.
Yet touch this sparingly, as 'twere far off;
Because, my lord, you know my mother lives.
Summary Richard has begun his cutting down his relatives in earnest. He has imprisoned his nephews (including Edward V, the new king) in the...
Fairer than tongue can name thee, let me have
Some patient leisure to excuse myself.
Fouler than heart can think thee, thou canst make
No excuse current but to hang thyself.
By such despair I should accuse myself.
And by despairing shalt thou stand excus'd;
For doing worthy vengeance on thyself,
That didst unworthy slaughter upon others.
Say that I slew them not?
Then say they were not slain:
But dead they are, and, devilish slave, by thee.
I did not kill your husband.
Why, then he is alive.
Nay, he is dead; and slain by Edward's hand.
In thy foul throat thou liest: Queen Margaret saw
Thy murderous falchion smoking in his blood;
The which thou once didst bend against her breast,
But that thy brothers beat aside the point.
I was provoked by her slanderous tongue
That laid their guilt upon my guiltless shoulders.
Thou wast provoked by thy bloody mind,
That never dreamt on aught but butcheries:
Didst thou not kill this king?
I grant ye.
Dost grant me, hedgehog? then, God grant me too
Thou mayst be damned for that wicked deed!
O, he was gentle, mild, and virtuous.
The better for the king of Heaven, that hath him.
He is in heaven, where thou shalt never come.
Let him thank me that holp to send him thither,
For he was fitter for that place than earth.
And thou unfit for any place but hell.
Summary Lady Anne, widow of Edward (the son of the late King Henry VI), is following the funeral procession of her husband and father-in-law when she is accosted by Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. Anne makes it very clear that she despises Richard for the murderer that he is. Yet Richard has plans, namely marrying the widow of the man he so recently killed. Richard approaches Anne and begins to court her, flattering her in spite of her venomous response. With every verbal stab, Richard flips it, and tries to slime his way into her good will. And with every flirtation, Anne throws it back into his face. Evil is good, good is evil. Somehow, Richard manages to break down Anne’s defenses, weakening her hatred into the cold acceptance that marriage to her husband’s murderer might be the only recourse she has. Once Richard sees that his manipulation of Anne’s “womanly feelings” has worked, he rejoices, even as he admits to the audience that he has little love for Anne. It is clear that Anne is merely a tool in his plans and that eventually she too will be tossed aside, most likely at the cost of her life.
Essential Passage 2: Act 1, Scene 3
Now they believe it; and withal whet me
To be reveng'd on Rivers, Vaughn, Grey:
But then I sigh; and, with a piece of Scripture,
Tell them that God bids us do good for evil:
And thus I clothe my naked villany
With odd old ends stol'n forth of holy writ;
And seem a saint when most I play the devil.
Summary Richard has openly run afoul of Queen Elizabeth and her family. Prior to this, his ill feelings toward his sister-in-law stayed in the background, mostly in comments that resulted in rumors, which were in turn reported to Elizabeth herself. When Edward IV’s illness is revealed as serious (and thus the succession to the throne becomes foremost in everyone’s minds), the situation comes out into the open and outright wrangling breaks out. While the “family” is busy accusing each other of treachery and deception, Queen Margaret (the widow of Henry VI) enters into the scene. She accuses them all of the treachery they have been accusing each other. Her...