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Richard III is probably one of the most overtly evil of all of Shakespeare’s protagonists. The play opens with him declaring to the audience his conscious decision to be ‘a villain.’ By contrast, characters such as Macbeth seem almost good by comparison – after all, Macbeth was noble at the start of the play and even after killing Duncan he at least had the decency to be racked with guilt. Richard is unaffected by guilt or remorse – he is simply prepared to achieve his ends at any cost.
SUMMARY Through lies, betrayals, and murder, Richard disposes of all the heirs between himself and the throne. He is crowned king but then refuses to honour the promises he made to those who helped him. A rebellion is begun and Richard’s followers desert him until he is eventually killed at The battle of Bosworth Field.
RICHARD The central point of interest in the play is undoubtably the character of Richard himself. He is presented as cruel, ruthless, and utterly selfish – a person who exists outside the natural order of things. Shakespeare symbolises this by making Richard deformed and therefore ‘unnatural’ both without and within. But at the same time, Richard is intelligent, witty, articulate and charismatic. In many ways he is an embodiment of the atavistic human desire to act without concern for morality or the feelings of others. Some might say that Richard represents the evil within us all, and that is what makes him so fascinating to an audience. At one point in the play, Richard woos the widow of the king that he himself murdered – and does it at the king’s funeral. At first, Lady Anne responds with curses:
Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity, For ‘tis thy presence that exhales this blood From cold and empty veins where no blood dwells. Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural Provokes this deluge supernatural.’
But Richard persists and eventually Lady Anne attitude towards him softens. Then, after she leaves, Richard turns to the audience with a grin and says:
‘Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won? I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long.’
And that just about sums him up, really.
THEMES As well as bearing some similarities to Macbeth, Richard also has a lot common with Iago. This is particularly true with regard to his manipulation of people and events. In many ways, this play is Shakespeare’s first attempt to explore some of the ideas that reach fruition in ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Othello’. In fact, there are no really strong themes running through ‘Richard III.’ Wheareas one may say that ‘Hamlet’ is about sex, death, and indecision, ‘Richard III’ is simply about Richard. It is one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, which in part explains its relative lack of complexity. His skill was still in the process of developing and maturing and it would be a year or two before he produced any of his ‘masterpieces.’
CONCLUSION This is an interesting play and worth seeing in production, although that production will stand or fall by the actor playing Richard. It is a better-than-average play, though not one of my absolute favourites. Certainly worthy of a look-in though.
Great review, I found this play the most powerful play ever written by shakespear. You summarised it well and I rate you this because you also added you opinion which made the review interesting to read.
Saja.J 11.02.2007 23:39
good review, i enjoyed richard the third when i read it aswell it is the most powerful plays ever written by william shakepeare
Screech 20.09.2001 15:49
"Now is the winter of our discontent, made bright as summer by this son of York."!
An interesting and insightful op.