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Richard III Manipulates the Court of York in the same way that Shakespeare Manipulates History. Discuss the links between the playwright and protagonist. Richard may be portrayed as an evil, vile, lying murderer but he actually has many aspects in common with the man who shaped him into this revolting state of mind, Shakespeare himself. Shakespeare’s Richard III is one of the only written documents we have describing this misapprehended king and Shakespeare was born many years after his death so he had no possible way of knowing what happened first hand. All evidence points to Shakespeare’s ideas being total fiction just as the Richard he describes lies and slanders to the courts.
When we first meet Richard he instantly begins a soliloquy to the audience who are captivated with resentment for him as they are the people included in his plots and plans and are powerless to impede them. Right from the start he establishes himself as a synonym for evil. He portrays to the audience about his physical deformity with pleasure, which we later see is a metaphor for his psychological state of mind.
Being ‘Cheated of feature by dissembling nature’ (Act I Scene 1 line 19) he uses it to mask his evil and rationalize his becoming a villain. He feigns upset and disappointment that people hate him solely because of his malformation and routinely feel sympathy for him. ‘Because I cannot flatter and look fair, Smile in men’s faces smooth, deceive and cog …I must be held a rancorous enemy.’ (Act I Scene 3 Lines 43-50) This of course is an example of dramatic irony as the audience and Richard both know that he really should be held a rancorous enemy and he does ‘flatter, smile smooth, deceive and cog’ for example when he woos Anne in almost impossible circumstances.
He validates his impiety by telling the audience of his boredom with life. He states ‘I … have no delight to pass away the time’ (Act I Scene 1 line 25) as he cannot ‘caper nimbly in a lady’s chamber’ (Line 12). Now the war is over there is nothing he is good at so he resorts to the only other thing he has left: using his aptitude to cause others misery. To him it is merely exciting to nearly get caught.
He wants to be king but not for the joy of being king but for the suspense of getting there. All he really wishes to do is make his tedious life more interesting as really he has no need to be higher than he is at the beginning as the Duke of Gloucester is a very high position with nearly as much money as the king would have had as he was his brother. In any case he was definitely well off where he was. Shakespeare was living under the reign of Elizabeth I and as would often write plays for royalty, he created one for her. Writing a play would definitely impress Elizabeth and get him into her good books, he would certainly have gotten a large sum of money for it if she liked it.
This was the time of the Tudor dynasty the foundation of which was when Richard III was killed and Richmond became king. By writing this play Shakespeare set out to diminish the fact that this had undermined the Divine Right of Kings. If he had portrayed Richard as a good man then Richmond could have been said to be wrong and evil for killing a righteous man and his claim to the throne devalued along with Elizabeth I as they were related. Shakespeare would have most likely been killed for suggesting this, but by making Richmond seem virtuous benevolent and respectable he was also flattering the Queen.
Through the course of the play Richard doesn’t ever think twice about quickly disposing of enemies in his way. He cleverly lets them seal their own fate with one word. When Hastings was no longer any use to him he first used Buckingham to stir things up and push him onto thin ice. Then Richard comes onstage in an angry mood talking of witchcraft and as soon as Hastings says ‘If they have done this, my noble lord- ‘ (Act III Scene 4 Line 72) Richard immediately and tactfully picks up the word ‘if’. It is what he has been waiting for and clamours ‘Talk’st thou to me of ifs? Thou art a traitor. Off with his head!’ (Lines 74-75) He has skilfully sealed Hastings fate with one word.
He also uses the fact that the two princes are illegitimate as an excuse to murder them, telling Buckingham ‘I wish the bastards dead’ (Act IV Scene 2 Line 19) But he has the common sense not to make a public matter and hires a private assassinator to do the butchery. From the very beginning when Richard successfully woos Anne he reveals to the audience that he does not truly care about her at all and will unhesitatingly get rid of her as soon as she begins to get in his way.
He says ‘I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long’ (Act I Scene 2 Line 233) and as soon Richard sees that the best way to the throne is to marry his niece he quickly disposes of Anne with little thought telling Catesby to ‘Rumour it abroad that Anne my wife is very grievous sick’ (Act IV Scene 2 Line 52) and ‘Give out that Anne my queen is sick and like to die’ (Line 58). With this rumour spread Richard can easily kill Anne off without raising suspicion as everybody is expecting her to die.
The play begins unusually with Richard himself giving a soliloquy. In it he brags to the audience about the ‘plots [I have] laid, inductions dangerous … Clarence and the king in deadly hate’ (Act I Scene 1 Lines 34-35). He cycles through his strategies with the audience saying ‘”G” of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be’ (Line 41) is a rumour he has spread. This is also moderately dangerous for Richard to say as he is the duke of Gloucester. But Richard is just playing with fire and finds the slight danger amusing as it makes his life more interesting and exciting.
When Clarence arrives with the prison guard he immediately transforms to a caring, loving brother but subtly plays on words saying ‘I will perform it to enfranchise you’ (Line 110) which means to Clarence that Richard will do anything to free him but the audience and Richard both know that he will do anything to free Clarence from life. This is the same case later when he tells Clarence ‘Your imprisonment shall not be long’ (Line 114) as the audience also knows that this is because he will be dead soon. As soon as Clarence is out of earshot, Richard mutates back into his true identity stating ‘Clarence hath not another day to live’ (Line 151).
He is proud of his management of Clarence but tells himself and the audience ‘Clarence still breathes, Edward still reigns, when they are gone, then must I count my gains’ (Lines 162-163). His plan is not complete yet. Richard’s plan is rushed somewhat when there is news that the king is on his deathbed. He wants Edward to die but not before he has signed Clarence’s death warrant and so goes to Edward ‘To urge his hatred more to Clarence’ (Line 148).
He is ‘Deformed, unfinished, sent before [my] time’ (Act I Scene 1 Line 20) and may kill anyone anytime, but is not just pure evil. He is also an extremely intelligent character, with his quick thinking and clever use of words, who could possibly have been a great king if he would use his vast intellect for good, which is mainly why the play is not only a history but also a tragedy, as we know Richard could make something of himself. The court of York is already very unstable, the king is ill, the heir to the throne is a child and his protector is Richard, ‘A man that loves not me nor none of you’ (Act I Scene 3 Line 13) and Richard uses this to his advantage. When Elizabeth threatens to g to the king about Richard he immediately comes out with all the crimes she had committed against the king.