Richard III and Shakespeare Essay
Richard III and Shakespeare
In Richard III, Shakespeare draws its readers to participate in a fantasy of total control and domination. In the opening speech, Richard presents himself as a self-made villain, offering justification for his plans to execute the victims. However like every true villain, Richard has his henchman, Duke of Buckingham, who obeys his every whim and wish. As Richard’s co-conspirator, Buckingham’s role in the play is important and he is termed by Richard as “my other self”.
This slavish obedience was not free, as Richard promises him great reward for his evil support. As a conspirator, Bucking knew the detail of Richard’s countless murders, and above all Buckingham was the executer of Richard’s evil plans. As a result some historians have assumed that Buckingham was eyeing the throne of England, which is far from truth, even if we study his character from historical perspective. Historical Buckingham Duke of Buckingham was associated to the royal family in many ways through his daughters and sons.
Buckingham’s paternal grandfather was Humphrey Stafford, the 1st Duke of Buckingham, who was also the grandson and successor of Thomas of Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III, while his (paternal) grandmother Anne Neville was a granddaughter of John of Gaunt from his daughter side. His grandfather (maternal) Edmund Beaufort was a grandson of John of Gaunt, the youngest son of his son John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset. Buckingham’s maternal grandmother Eleanor Beauchamp was descended from a daughter of William Marshal.
Looking at this list of connections with royal family of England, some historian has assumed that, Buckingham had his eyes on throne. But the truth is, his chances of inheriting the throne were slim, despite the constant clashes among the Edward III lineage and in the houses of Lancaster and York. No doubt Buckingham was within unusual distance of the crown of England, his plotting of the throne of England is far from being plausible. Buckingham was born in 1454 during the reign of Henry VI, his father was killed at the first battle of St Albans in 1455, and his grandfather, the first Duke of Buckingham was killed in 1460, five years later.
At the age of 11, he was acknowledged as Duke of Buckingham; and soon he became ward of the Queen Elizabeth Woodville. In the following year, he was forced to marry Catherine Woodville, the queen’s sister who was much older than him, which he hated all his life. After the death of Edward IV in 1483, Woodville’s tussled with Richard over the guardianship of the young Edward, Buckingham sided with Richard. As the parliament declared Edward V illegitimate and allowed Richard to ascend the throne and became Richard III.
Buckingham supported Richard in the beginning, but later on associated himself with John Morton, Bishop of Ely, and his second cousin Henry Tudor against Richard in the war of succession. In 1483, this dispute grew, Henry Tudor tried to take the throne from Richard, Buckingham at this time was a stunch supoorter of Tudor, raised an army in Wales and marched against Richard to distract his attention. However Richard managed to put down the rebillion ,while Henry’s ships were devsated by a storm which forced him to go back to Brittany.
The storm also ruined Buckingham army, and the army desertated him, leaving him no way, but to escape in haste,however he was captured easily due to the bounty on his head. Richard convicted him of treason and he was beheaded in Salisbury without any delay Shakespeare Portrayal of Buckingham Shakespeare main source for writing the Richard III was Sir Thomas Moore’s History of Richard III, which reflects the caricature of Richard rather than the true Richard.
It was but natural to portray Richard and his supporters as evil incarnate as the play demanded, Bucking was no exception. We must remember that Shakespeare was an entertainer rather than a historian, his aim was to create dramatic effect, which can be achieved by portraying the main characters as evil incarnate and he was successful in it. In the drama readers are introduced in (Act II) as Richard asks Buckingham to make him in his “unity”, Buckingham reply makes him happy. Shakespeare has depicted Buckingham as a crony, who in order to pleases his master cross all limits.
In Act II, Elizabeth appears dishevelled and breaks the news that King is dead, Richard pretends to console her, while Bucking makes a false promise to bring Edward, Prince of Wales to London for coronation, instead the boys are taken to the Tower.. In the meantime Richard charges queen and Jane shore with sorcery and involves Hastings as well. Richard senses that Hastings is sympathetic towards the young king, which was enough suspicion to execute him. It seems Richard knew that Hastings could not trusted and was not trust worthy to confide him with his ultimate objective.
Hasting is accused of plotting and without being given a chance for any explanation rushed to execution, despite being loyal to his master . It happens in front of Buckingham, but he feels no remorse nor any regret for the man who was innocently slaughtered. Soon Buckingham moves on Richard’s plan of convincing the London mayor and the citizens that Edwards IV sons are bastards and have no legitimacy to claim the throne. Buckingham’s beats the drum of the wickedness of Edward IV, and his impure lineage (children). After spiting venom against the innocent children, he hears what he wanted to hear from the crowd “King Richard!
King Richard! ” which is accepted as an excuse for the allowing Richard to ascend the crown. Buckingham leads the aldermen and the chief citizens “in their best manner appareled” to Baynard’s Castle. Richard feigns that he has no idea, why have they come to him. Buckingham the lead player of the plot shouts up, imploring him to become king to fulfill people wishes. Richard pretends to reject their offer, but as the plan was devised successfully, Buckingham whispers, if Richard is unwilling, they have to find some one else. Richard in a show of great humility accepts the heavy burden of kingship.
Buckingham continues to follow the whims of his master and orders Tyrrel to kill” those bastards” in the Tower and spreading the news that Lady Anee is dying. Buckingham does not hesitate for a moment to comply with the needs of his masters , aiding him in all his evil deeds. After becoming King Richard does not feel any more need of Buckingham and soon Buckingham falls from favour, especially when he reminds Richard of his promise of granting him earldom. Richard vehemently dismisses Buckingham and he switches his role from a sycophant to a rebel.
Throughout the play Buckingham is playing the role of true sycophant, who does not hesitate to go to any limits as long it can please his master. Shakespeare has portrayed Buckingham as a chief agent and a henchman, who is born to conspire and please his master and get his blessings. This portrayal may not be historically accurate, but the accuracy was not an issue for Shakespeare. Being a dramatist he was writing for the sake of making business and entertainment, he has to portray what was easily comprehensible by the viewers in black and white.
If the purpose is depicting evil, he would not hesitate to portray the hero of drama as evil as possible to create the dramatic effect, in which he was always successful. Shakespeare Characters According to Aristotle, “Character reveals personal choice, the kinds of things a man chooses or rejects which are not obvious”. Good characterization makes characters round and complex and larger than life to create realism in a pieace of literature. Modern historians find Buckingham portrayal as a distortion of historical truth, but Shakespeare was writing for entertainment, in which characters had to be larger than life.
None of his plays were written for the sake of recording history accurately, but for entertainment and earning a livelihood. Richard’s is depicted in extreme to achieve maximum dramatic effect and so are all his villains, ultimate evil. In Aristotle’s treatment of character, a person acquires “virtues” through habitual behaviors and practices. The purpose of dramatis personae in tragedy is to teach the craft of ethical evaluation. Shakespeare’s characters are basically rhetoric or a linguistic agent, which expresses an important part of the truth about the world.
According to Dryden, Shakespeare understood the passions of his characters and expressed them with certainty, subtlety and power. Shakespeare’s villains are born villains and evil to the core. For example Richard plans to usurp the throne by creating an opportunity, which did not exist. Shakespeare studied human beings very intimately and presented their inner most motives and thoughts in a simple and direct way. For example the opening scene of Othello characterizes Iago as a foul-mouthed sargeant with a malicious love for creating trouble and a hatred for Othello.
The strength of Shakespeare’s plays lies in the absorbing stories they tell and in their wealth of complex characters with eloquent speeches depicted forcefully. Shakespeare’s characters are neither wholly good nor wholly evil, but it is their inconsistent nature that makes them memorable. In Twelfth Night, Viola is given the impossible task of delivering a message, while Olivia has banned all the visitors. Shakespeare creates a way perhaps by asking himself, how would a person deal in this situation, thus creating a unique way to see Viola meet Olivia.
His characters do not appear out of nowhere, but are creation of the situation. For example the fatal flaw in Macbeth is ambition, but that’s not what Shakespeare shows to his audience, instead Macbeth is shown as an ordinary man, who is in an extra ordinary situation by sheer stroke of luck. Instead of becoming content at his success, Macbeth becomes restless and resorts to murder after murder to acquire the kingdom by all means possible. Othello’s downfall is not because of jealousy, but it was the situation, which propelled him to behave in way, he behaved.
Shakespearean characters have some motivation and the whole play revolves around it. For example Buckingham chief motivation was to gain rewards from the King, which kept him motivated, and he played on in all the events. It is assumed by the critics that his chief motivation was to become King, which is far from truth for the reason that even when he sided Tudor, he was still playing the role of a catalyst, rather than aspiring the throne. Its always motivation in one form or other, for example Macbeth is motivated by greed, Hamlet by ambition, and Shylock by revenge.
It is often the crisis and dilemma, which shows the best of Shakespeare’s characters. The dilemma for Macbeth is, should he kill Duncan, for Othello the decisive matter is, whether Desdemona has actually been unfaithful? Hamlet is obsessed with the pain of indecisiveness and he cannot decide to kill or not to kill. For Buckingham once rejected by King, it was but natural not to trust him anymore, especially when the whole course of events were made possible by him. Had these character acted contrary to the their natural evolution, they would have looked factious and unrealistic and Shakespeare as writer would have died long ago.
Shakespeare’s stories are situational and his characters evolve throughout the play. The protagonist in his plays do not stop but keep on evolving which keeps the audience enthralled till the end. Buckingham was unknown till Act II, and it is often hard for audience to consider him a major player in the series of events, soon he over takes the other supporting roles and in liaison with Richard untangles the web of conspiracies keeping the audience enthralled by his evil performance, which continues till the end of play.
Buckingham was a man living in shadow till he finds Richard; combination of these two evil characters is a perfect prescription for a memorable play. There is no doubt, Shakespeare would have studied the history related to Richard and Buckingham era, but the question is not the historical accuracy of the Richards era, but rather assessing, how much Shakespeare is successful as a dramatist. For a modern reader it little matters, where does Buckingham stand in the course of history, but its Shakespeare’s pen, which made Buckingham immortal in history.
Looking at the Richard III as a historical play, there is no doubt that Richard III is the image of an evil king among all his historical plays, and Buckingham as a major catalyst leads the events to its natural end. Conclusion Before Richard came into power, he needed supporters to achieve his political agenda, Duke of Buckingham proved to be the perfect man to execute his biddings. One reason was that during the service of Queen, Buckingham was not given enough attention and excluded from the royal patronage; Richard not only gave him attention, but also delegated royal authority.
It was natural for Buckingham to be loyal and prove his loyalty by offering unflinching support, especially when Richard increase in power meant increase in his power. Moore presents Buckingham as a god-fearing figure who was brutal in his ambition, splendid in duplicity, yet lacking in substance. According to him, Buckingham was a fearful man, who was convinced by playing in Richard’s hand, that he has offended the young Edward V. Bucking feels, he is in danger, Should Edward assume power. However Buckingham knows that opposing Richard is playing with fire, as Richard was ruthless in dealing.
However Moore tells, he repented his wrong doings and sided Tudor due to principal not out of personal greed. It is true that no one received as many favours as Buckingham due to which contemporary writers suspect that Bucking owned enormous powers and was planning to usurp throne for himself. But the truth is Richard was a man, who could not be stopped at any thing to reach his ambition. All his life, Richard has betrayed the people who were his relatives by blood. He used his supporters Hastings and Buckingham and then deserted them on lame excuses.
After the study of Buckingham history, it is clear that Bucking did not have the capacity to overthrow the King. The families contesting for throne of England were powerful related to each other by blood; Buckingham could not reach their status. He could only win power and prestige by siding in this war of succession, which he honestly did all his life. Shakespeare may have portrayed Buckingham a bit more evil, who would go to any limits to please his master, still its not that far away for the true Buckingham, who supported Richard as long all his life and later on supported Tudors.
However we cannot blame Buckingham for being involved in the royal tussle, as this is what noblemen of his times used to do to reach the zenith of the court life. Reference: Stewart (1949), Character and Motive in Shakespeare: Some Recent Appraisals Examined, Longmann. Bristol, Michael D (2003), Reading Shakespeare’s Characters: Rhetoric, Ethics, and Identity Christy. H (1994), Hamlet and the Concept of Character, Shakespeare Quarterly Summer Vol. 45. Richard III (2003), A Guide to the Utah Shakespearean Festival Insights. The Life and Death of King Richard III (2005), Wikopedia.