Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1750
Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 1
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.
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.
Richard has begun his cutting down his relatives in earnest. He has imprisoned his nephews (including Edward V, the new king) in the Tower of London and is ready to seize power. Yet he wants to ensure that the people of England are behind him, so he is prepared to spreads malicious rumors and insinuations concerning those who are either in preference to the crown over him or who might prevent his ascension without public ill will. Richard desires to portray himself as the only legitimate heir to the throne. He therefore tells the Duke of Buckingham (his henchman) to tell the people that Edward’s children are illegitimate, having been conceived by Elizabeth and some unnamed lover. Not content with this, he also implies that Edward IV himself was illegitimate, the product of an adulterous affair by his mother while his father was off fighting in France. He warns Buckingham to go easy with this last rumor, since his mother (seemingly to Richard’s regret) is still living, and may take issue with this falsity. Richard has sunk to the level of calling his own mother an adulteress and a whore in order to gain the crown.
Essential Passage 3: Act 5, Scene 3
O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!--
The lights burn blue.--It is now dead midnight.
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What, do I fear myself? there's none else by:
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No;--yes, I am:
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why,--
Lest I revenge. What,--myself upon myself!
Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? for any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
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.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
Perjury, perjury, in the high'st degree;
Murder, stern murder, in the dir'st degree;
All several sins, all us'd in each degree,
Throng to the bar, crying all "Guilty! guilty!"
I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die no soul will pity me:
And wherefore should they,--since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself?
Richard is preparing to meet his enemy on the battlefield the forces, led by the Earl of Richmond (later to be King Henry VII), who are rebelling against the atrocities of his rule. After a restless night, in which the ghosts of all those whom he has killed in his march to the throne, Richard awakes with prophetic cries for a horse (he will later utter the famous quote, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”). Realizing that what he has envisioned is simply a nightmare, Richard nevertheless begins to have qualms about his past actions. He condemns his conscience for threatening to make a coward of him. He realizes he has nothing to fear more than himself. He cannot escape from himself. He says that he loves himself above all others, but then he hates himself. He confesses he is a villain. He begins to wallow in self-pity, justifying his actions as the result of being unloved.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Richard, Duke of Gloucester and later King Richard III, is portrayed (and indeed portrays himself) as a villain from the beginning. In frequent soliloquies and asides to the audience, he is very clear about what his plan is—to rule England even if he has to leave a trail of bodies behind him, which in fact he does. Yet through the villainy he at times is seen as a man with a sense of humor, both about himself and about the evil he is committing. It is in part this force of personality by which he manages to manipulate the people around him into participating in his villainy, even those against whom that villainy is committed. Whether he comes off as the “lovable rogue” he occasionally tries to present himself as, he nonetheless manages to place himself into the self-made path of fortune, though eventually it will cost him his kingdom and his life.
In Shakespeare’s vision, Richard III is a misshapen, crippled, hunchback toad (which is not necessarily his historical personage). It is through this presentation as a man with an odious physical appearance that his inward soul is mostly reflected. In his opening monologue Richard makes light of his physical deformities, yet also justifies his ugly plans on his ugly appearance. Such a revolting person cannot be expected to do good, he insinuates. He was born bad, and so must commit bad acts. He finds his place in this world through his own machinations, not through the acceptance and help of others. He forces himself into the place of power, since only power will give him the acceptance he so craves.
Since Richard has felt nothing but rejection from those within the court, and even within his own family, he feels no qualms of courting the rejection of others. Especially from his family Richard assumes shunning, therefore he sees no problem with treating them either as tools or as roadblocks on his path to the throne. He heartlessly manipulates his brother Edward IV in order to have his other brother the Duke of Clarence executed, thus clearing one possible claimant for the crown. In a literal execution of the saying, “He would walk over his own mother to get what he wants,” Richard spreads the rumor that she was unfaithful to her husband, Richard’s father, while he was at war in France, thus making Edward IV and his heirs illegitimate. Richard is perfectly willing to accept a throne ruling an empty country, just so long as he has that throne.
In the end, Shakespeare pulls Richard a little bit back from the edge of the abyss, following his dreams of the accusative ghosts. He expresses some understanding that, in the end, he was his own worst enemy. However, he does not come to the point of fully regretting his actions, just in the fact that those actions were “necessary.” One gets the feeling that he would do it all again, even with the same results. He is well aware that he probably will not get out of the battle with Richmond alive, but he is content to have had his name written down in history as Richard III, King of England. Nothing else matters.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1774
Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 2
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.
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.
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 husband was killed at the hands of Clarence (who is currently imprisoned in the Tower of London), his throne taken by Edward IV, and her own queenly crown usurped by Elizabeth. Having vented her spleen, Margaret departs, leaving the family to resume their quarrels. As the others depart, Richard plans his next step, which is to have Clarence murdered in prison. To the audience he again justifies himself, that he must do evil to bring about good—in this case, the good is his assumption of the throne. Twisting Scripture of “doing good for evil,” he states that he is thus doing evil to accomplish that good.
Essential Passage 3: Act 4, Scene 4
As I intend to prosper and repent!
So thrive I in my dangerous attempt
Of hostile arms! myself myself confound!
Heaven and fortune bar me happy hours!
Day, yield me not thy light; nor, night, thy rest!
Be opposite all planets of good luck
To my proceeding!--if, with pure heart's love,
Immaculate devotion, holy thoughts,
I tender not thy beauteous princely daughter!
In her consists my happiness and thine;
Without her, follows to myself and thee,
Herself, the land, and many a Christian soul,
Death, desolation, ruin, and decay:
It cannot be avoided but by this;
It will not be avoided but by this.
Therefore, dear mother,--I must call you so,--
Be the attorney of my love to her:
Plead what I will be, not what I have been;
Not my deserts, but what I will deserve:
Urge the necessity and state of times,
And be not peevish found in great designs.
Shall I be tempted of the devil thus?
Ay, if the devil tempt you to do good.
Once again Richard claims to be doing evil to gain the good. In this case, he is planning on changing wives. Lady Anne, the widow of his former enemy Edward, son of Henry VI, has served her purpose. His plan is to have her killed and to move on to the next woman—in this case it is his own niece, Elizabeth the daughter of Edward IV. At this point, he has disposed of Edward V and his brother, the young children of Edward IV. With the same boldness that he began to court the grieving Anne, Richard now approaches his once-despised sister-in-law, Elizabeth, to intercede on his behalf to his daughter. Trusting her to get the veiled hints that the safety of Elizabeth and her daughter rests with the girl’s marriage to him, he pushes past Elizabeth’s natural revulsion of the idea of her daughter committing incest as well as marrying the man who most likely had a hand in the murder of her husband and sons. Holding out strongly for so long, Elizabeth wonders that she should be tempted by the devil (in the person of Richard) to commit this deed. Richard replies that it is right, as long as the devil is tempting her to do good (which again is embodied in the good of Richard acceding to the throne unchallenged).
Analysis of Essential Passages
In Richard’s world, the only good that exists is that which will result in his becoming the undisputed King of England. Good does not lie in kindness to his fellow human beings, but in their acquiescence and aid in the good as he envisions it. To him, good lies in self-interest, and it is by this argument that he manages to manipulate others, into believing that they are also achieving the good of self-interest.
In the case of Lady Anne, widow of his former enemy, Richard manages to move her past her natural detestation of the ugly, malformed “toad” that murdered her husband. No matter how much Anne calls him evil, Richard twists it around to show that it is a good. Rather than focusing on her loss and the love that now has no object, Anne begins to see that her own self-preservation is to be found the unlikely arms of Richard as her husband. Eventually she will discover that she will never know a moment’s peace as Richard’s wife, even after she becomes queen. Her fate is sealed when her usefulness is past, and for the “good” of Richard’s goals, Anne is conveniently put to death.
Step by step, Richard continues to manipulate others into “doing evil to do good,” even using the Church for his purposes. He has used each family member, from Elizabeth the wife of his brother to his own mother, eventually casting them aside when it furthers his own purposes. The only life that has any value is his own. All others are expendable, and expend them he does. Human life has no value if it interferes with his own life. Thus Clarence, Edward IV, Anne, his nephews, and others besides are disposed of for the “good” of his own self.
Eventually Richard will go against even the laws of nature and the Church in pursuing his niece Elizabeth as his new queen. Her value lies in the fact that she is the only remaining legitimate heir of Edward the IV (the man whose legitimacy he has called into question in the public’s mind, or at least tried to), thus strengthening his own claim to the throne. If he had succeeded, it is doubtful that she would have long survived, once her “good” had passed. Yet once again, he has manipulated those who hate him to move past their hate in order to achieve that which he claims is good. As he is self-absorbed, so he twists the hearts of others to make them act of an equally self-absorbed position to achieve the “good” of putting Richard securely on the throne.
As each tool is disposed of, Richard has eliminated all who might have had any expectation of offering their support of Richard. He has alienated all. Although he acted on the assumption that King of a depopulated kingdom is better than being no king at all, there have been some who survived his machinations in order to stop his progress to the “immortality” that he has envisioned for himself. With Richmond, Richard has met his match. Richmond is shown as appealing to God to make righteous his intentions, as opposed to Richard’s twisting God’s words to justify his. In the end, therefore, righteous is victorious in the person of the Earl of Richmond, soon to become Henry VII. Ironically, this Henry VII is the father of Henry VIII, who manipulated his wives and the church just as ruthlessly as Richard in order to achieve the “good” that he has envisioned. Knowing this, the audience cannot help but question what the royalty of the kingdom envisions is the true nature of good and evil.
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