The opening scenes of the play tell us a lot about Richard's character. And that character—wicked, scheming and insanely ambitious—is expressed through Richard's numerous soliloquies. The House of York has achieved victory in its seemingly endless war with the rival House of Lancaster. Yorkists can smile again, enjoying themselves by...
The opening scenes of the play tell us a lot about Richard's character. And that character—wicked, scheming and insanely ambitious—is expressed through Richard's numerous soliloquies. The House of York has achieved victory in its seemingly endless war with the rival House of Lancaster. Yorkists can smile again, enjoying themselves by dancing in their ladies' chambers to the seductive tones of the lute.
But Richard's not like other Yorkists. For one thing, his disability precludes him from gallivanting around like those dandies at court:
"But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking glass;
I, that am rudely stamped and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph" (act 1 scene 1)
But if he can't be a lover or a dashing hero, he'll be a scheming villain instead:
"And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determinèd 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" (act 1 scene 1)
Richard lays before us the particulars of his dastardly scheme: he's going to turn his brother Clarence and King Edward IV against each other. It's great that the Yorks are now safely back on the throne, but it's more important to have the right York as king. That, of course, means Richard.
Towards the end of scene 1 Richard is brought the welcome news that the king is feeling ill and depressed. Hopefully, says Richard, he can't last much longer. But at the same time, Richard is keen to ensure that Clarence dies first. He is, after all, a much more formidable opponent. So Richard will dash off to see his ailing king and spread malicious gossip about Clarence, thus bringing the day of his death ever closer:
"He cannot live, I hope, and must not die
Till George be packed with post-horse up to heaven.
I’ll in to urge his hatred more to Clarence
With lies well steeled with weighty arguments,
And, if I fail not in my deep intent,
Clarence hath not another day to live"
If we weren't already convinced of the scale of Richard's ambitions, we certainly are now. He's so completely power-crazed that he's prepared to sacrifice his own brother's life to secure the throne of England.
By the time we reach scene 2, Richard has grown in confidence. So much so that he's managed to convince the Lady Anne, widow of Henry VI's son Edward, to marry him. This, despite the fact that Richard openly admits to being responsible for the deaths of both Henry and Edward from the House of Lancaster. As we might expect, Anne is initially extremely hostile to Richard; she knows what kind of a man he is. But thanks to some expert flattery and emotional blackmail, Richard secures a promise from Anne to meet him later.
When he's alone, Richard gloats over his apparent conquest of Anne. He may not be a conventional lover—good-looking, charming and dashing—but he's proved that he has the ability to manipulate others to get what he wants, even if they hate him:
"Having God, her conscience, and these bars against me, And I no friends to back my suit at all but the plain devil and dissembling looks?And yet to win her, all the world to nothing! Ha!" (act 1 scene 2)
Though still painfully aware of his ugliness and physical deformity, Richard is incredibly pleased with himself; and his vanity is overwhelming. Before he can buy a mirror, he'll admire his shadow as he walks:
"Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass,
That I may see my shadow as I pass." (act 1 scene 2)
Richard's conquest of Anne makes him feel untouchable. This feeling of near-total invincibility is further compounded when he manages to convince Hastings, Derby and Buckingham that he is the wronged party, that the queen and her allies are responsible for Clarence being thrown in jail, when he was the one responsible. Richard's deviousness and gift for play-acting have managed to trick others into thinking he's really the good guy in all of this. Richard's cynicism truly knows no bounds. He's even prepared to quote verses from Scripture to convince others of his goodness and sincerity:
"But then I sigh and quote a chunk of the Bible—how God says do good in return for evil. Ha! Dressing my out-and-out wickedness in scraps of Scripture, I look like a saint exactly when I’m most like the devil." (act 1 scene 3)