What are some elements of humor in Richard III?

Richard is a funny guy. He knows how to put on a show, and he knows how to take one, too.

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In Shakespeare's King Richard III, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III) is portrayed as a diabolical serial murderer, but this shouldn't detract from the fact that Richard is also a terrific comedian. Richard is witty, charming, and charismatic—disarmingly and dangerously so—and his at times self-deprecating humor arises from his clear realization of who and what he is.

Richard has no illusions about himself, and he has no delusions about the path he's chosen to reach the throne of England. Richard knows that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain as he maneuvers his way to the crown, and he intends to thoroughly enjoy the adventure of it all, no matter what awaits him at the end of his journey.

At the opening of the play, Richard takes center stage and begins his "stand-up" routine. After a few jokes about the end of the War of the Roses, Richard makes fun of his own deformities.

RICHARD. ...I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, 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 see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity. (1.1.18-27)

What's Richard doing? He's descanting on his own deformity!

Richard then takes the audience into his confidence.

RICHARD. 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. (1.1.28-31)

Richard invites the audience to share in the fun. "Plots have I laid," he says, "To set my brother Clarence and the King / In deadly hate, the one against the other." (1.1.32-35)

Richard's brother Clarence approaches under guard, and Richard says "Here Clarence comes," as if to give a "Now watch this..." wink to the audience.

Richard hasn't mentioned anything about wanting to be King yet. Richard simply lets the audience watch what he does, and marvel, if not laugh to themselves, at the ease with which Richard manipulates people, until the audience realizes what Richard is doing.

The time comes for Clarence to be taken into the Tower.

"Well," says Richard, "your imprisonment shall not be long." (1.1.117) Richard knows, and the audience knows by now, that Clarence will soon be killed.

Richard's plot to usurp the throne is also becoming clear to the audience, and Richard watches Clarence leave the scene with a witty and self-deprecating remark to the audience.

RICHARD. ...Simple, plain Clarence, I do love thee so
That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven,
If heaven will take the present at our hands. (1.1.122-124)

The play gets deadly serious soon enough, but Richard never seems to lose his perspective, his sense of humor, and his ability to make a joke even when he finds himself in the direst of circumstances.

RICHARD. ...I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
Five have I slain today instead of him.
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! (5.4.11-13)

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Dark humor abounds in Richard III. And thank goodness it does, because it provides a welcome contrast to the serial villainy on display. Although having said that, a lot of the humor in the play is actually related to that villainy. For example, in act 1, scene 2, Richard is angrily confronted by Lady Anne Neville, whose husband and father-in-law have both been murdered by the man she calls a "fiend." She immediately lets Richard have it with both barrels, openly calling him a villain to his face; even the fiercest wild beast has some pity, she says. The implication here is that Richard is wholly without pity, which is perfectly true. However, Richard is completely unfazed by Anne's verbal assault, and effortlessly displays his wit and humor in response:

But I know none, and therefore am no beast.

As Richard has no pity, therefore he cannot be a beast, no matter how fierce. Richard may not be comfortable in his deformed body, but he positively revels in his wickedness. Richard's ability to make sport of his own evil nature shows that he is completely at ease with his diabolical self.

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Given that Shakespeare's play Richard III is a very dark play, readers can only see flashes of humor and only when paying very close attention to the details of the dialogue.

In Act I (scene 5), the murderers are speaking about killing Clarence. When discussing the murder, one asks the other if they should kill him while he sleeps or not. The other murderer sates that Clarence would call him a coward if he were to kill him while Clarence is sleeping.

This can be seen as humorous given the fact that the murderers are worried that Clarence will call them cowards if they kill him while sleeping. Instead of being concerned with being called cowards, the murderers should be worried about committing the murder itself.

Outside of this example, sarcasm runs rampant throughout the play.

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