Shakespeare's Depiction of Richard III

Categories: Shakespeare

It also shows his deep contempt for women, trying to stop both his brothers from liking them. Another one of Richard’s traits is revealed in lines 110-112. He fakes emotions to lure people into a false sense of security. He has already shown fake emotions to Clarence, as he was both shocked and surprised at seeing armed guards escorting him to the Tower of London. These three lines underline the fact that he is ‘an actor within an actor’: I will perform it to enfranchise you Meantime, this deep disgrace in brotherhood Touches me deeper than you can imagine

He continues to talk to Clarence, not giving a hint at what he is up to until the end of the scene.

From line one 114 to the end of the scene, the things Richard says have ambiguity in them, meaning more than one thing. Richard is so clever in using them that he does not give himself away, making Clarence assume the thing that is most obvious from what he says, yet very attentive and clever people will notice it.

Well, your imprisonment shall not be long; I will deliver or else lie for you The first line is an example of both dramatic irony and ambiguity.

The audience knows something the actor does not – Clarence will get out of prison swiftly, but to be killed rather than to be set free. The phrase also renders a sense of ambiguity in that the word ‘imprisonment’ can mean Clarence being in a prison and then being set free or it can mean just living and then being murdered.

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Clarence is sure he means the first meaning, as he is not clever to look within the words and pick out a second meaning. However, Richard means the second one. Although it isn’t technically the correct way to say the second meaning, it is still correct when we grasp the idea and shows Richard’s excellent quick wit.

Richard thinks of Clarence’s life as ‘imprisonment’, as he hates Clarence in the way of him and the throne. In the second line, Richard adds ambiguity with a pun, further corroborating Richard’s intelligence in even the hardest of situations. The word ‘lie’ is the pun and can mean one of two things – go to prison instead of you (Clarence) or tell lies about you. Clarence assumes the first one, as many would do, but looking harder we see that there is more than one meaning. Richard uses the English language ‘many meanings for one word’ to great effect, reminiscent of the doubt people have today when we are speaking.

For example, ‘you’ can mean many things today and sometimes it can be misinterpreted. There are many, many more examples. However, Richard finds the tough examples to place doubt in only the clever and observant minds. The scene ends with Clarence being led off to the Tower by the guards and Richard speaking four lines to the audience afterwards: Go tread the path that thou shalt ne’er return; Simple, plain Clarence, I do so love thee That I will shortly send thy soul to Heaven – If Heaven will take the present from our hands

Richard both mocks brotherly love and religion in these four lines, giving us the impression he is a monster. However, we love the way he cracks a joke even at the worst of times. The way he sees the funny side of Heaven accepting any gift from his evil hands let alone the soul of his murdered brother shows us his wit as well as his malevolence. His humorous side captivates us, even when he knows what he is doing, and we love the idea that he can make a joke at the worst of times. On the other hand, we are disgusted by his delight at the fact he is having his brother murdered just so he can become king of England.

However, we, as the audience, are drawn in by his attractive side. Act three scene four is Richard’s council session in the Tower of London. Hastings asks the councillors why they are having the meeting, and it is to discuss the date on which Prince Edward should be crowned king. Richard arrives smiling warmly but Buckingham takes Richard aside to tell him what Catesby has construed – Hastings is loyal to the Princes and is unlikely to go along with any plans Richard is willing to offer in order to gain power. When Richard re-enters the room, his mood changes entirely.

He pretends to be very angry and enraged, displaying his arm and deformity as a whole. He speaks about it in a forceful way in front of everyone, trying to use it as a tool to gain sympathy from his adversaries: Look how I am bewitch’d; behold, mine arm Is like blasted sapling wither’d up. And this is Edward’s wife, that monstrous witch, Consorted with that harlot strumpet Shore, That by their witchcraft thus have marked me As people in those days believed strongly in witchcraft, he is implying that Queen Elizabeth and Lady Shore must have cast a spell on him to cause his withering arm.

When Hastings hesitates slightly, mainly because he simply cannot believe that is true from just hearing a few words from Richard, Richard condemns him and summons his execution: HASTINGS: If they have done this deed, my noble lord- GLOUCESTER: If? – thou protector of this damned strumpet, Talk’st thou to me of ifs? Thou art a traitor. Off with his head! Now by Saint Paul I swear I will not dine until I see the same. Hasting questions Richard only slightly, using the word ‘if’, but that is enough for Richard to promptly accuse him of betrayal and execute him.

Hasting realises what Richard is capable of and recognises that he shouldn’t have been so confident in front of Richard. But he cannot do anything about it and feels pity for everyone who doesn’t notice Richard’s wicked nature, until he is executed. There are a few things we can infer from this scene. Firstly, Richard’s small speech about his deformity captures all of us. We feel both rage and sympathy. The rage comes from the fact he is using his own deformity to get his own way and make people sympathise with him. It was clearly nobody’s fault and it is more evidence of his evil ways to gain power.

However, for the audience anyway, the feeling of sympathy overpowers the feeling of rage in the way Richard goes about describing his arm. Words like ‘bewitch’d’, ‘blasted sapling’ and ‘marked me’ all convey a sense that Richard is sad and knows the extent of his deformity. The audience are drawn into this and understand his unhappiness yet Richard knows that it is all just a mark of his evil. We feel more for him when Hastings questions him about his deformity. Although it is truly appalling to execute someone for saying just one word wrong (‘if’), we are interested at his perceptive nature.

He picked out the word ‘if’ and in an instant gave the evidence, verdict and sentence for Hastings in the first two and a half lines of what he said. We are mesmerised at his immediate intelligence to pick out things and reply ingeniously within a matter of moments. Also, the words ‘Now by Saint Paul I swear / I will not dine until I see the same’ show that Richard is so proud of his work that he wants Hastings head to be seen before he has his dinner. Yet again, we are intrigued at his uniqueness here, as no other person would want to see the head of a person he or she had just killed. It is also another sign of his pure evil.

In act three scene seven, Buckingham returns to Richard with the news that his speech to the Londoners did not go to plan. He tried to portray bad feelings about King Edward and his sons and say Richard is better to become king. It, however, was booed and only a few people liked the idea. Buckingham had to end his speech sooner than planned and leave quickly. Richard is furious on hearing this, but goes along with the plan to become king. The plan is to persuade the lord mayor to ask Richard to become king. Richard will not look as if he wants to become king and seem reluctant, constantly giving reasons why he shouldn’t become king.

Richard shuts himself away with various religious objects and people, making it look as if he is a devout religious man. Buckingham resorts to pleading in an almost script written speech by the two of them, convincing people that Richard is a good man and the right one to become king. It is one of the next parts in his plan to get on the throne. In the end, the slow pleading of Buckingham to Richard in front of the Mayor pays of with Richard finally consenting to become king. Catesby, the other one of Richard’s henchmen, also plays a vital albeit small role in the plan.

The scheme works, as the Lord Mayor of London and other people are fooled into thinking the best of Richard. There are important things to consider relating to Richard’s personality within this scene. Richard uses a sense of reverse psychology on the Lord Mayor, giving more evidence that he can change his personality quite efficiently and deceivingly. This time he works with Buckingham and plays the passive role in order to get what he wants. This time, we, as the audience, are mesmerised at how well Richard is able to turn off his evil role, although the plan behind it is part of his evil plan to gain power.

There are lots of references to various religious things made by Richard and Buckingham, giving a false impression of Richard, as we all know he hates religion. He plays such an excellent role as an actor within an actor here that we are influenced by his love of religion, though he is mocking religion at the same time. This is dramatic irony in place, as the Lord Mayor doesn’t know Richard’s resentment for religion. Nevertheless, even we are fooled by the great fake role he plays here. The language he uses is that of a Christian man, along with the props beside him.

Catesby, Buckingham and Richard himself all make references to the (fake) religious aspect of Richard: He is within, with two right reverend fathers, Divinely bent to meditation; And in no worldly suits would he be mov’d, To draw him from his holy exercise. Catesby is saying that Richard is deep in his religious actions and cannot be disturbed. Buckingham praises Richard for his devout religious aspect and at the same time criticises the Princes: Ah, ha, my lord, this prince is not an Edward! He is not lolling on a lewd day-bed, But on his knees at meditation; Not dallying with a brace of courtezans, But meditating with two deep divines;

Not sleeping, to engross his idle body, But praying, to enrich his watchful soul: Happy were England would this virtuous prince Take on his grace the sovereignty thereof: But, sure, I fear, we shall not win him to it. Even though he is happy, the last line of Buckingham’s speech above further goes along with the main element of the plan – Richard does not want to be king. Buckingham goes on to talk more about Richard’s religious aspect, talking about the objects Richard uses in prayer: Two props of virtue for a Christian prince, To stay him from the fall of vanity; And, see, a book of prayer in his hand,True ornaments to know a holy man.

Richard pretends that both the Lord Mayor and Buckingham have come to do him harm, another part of Richard acting as if he wants to avoid even talking about becoming king let alone becoming king. He is pessimistic and negative in attitude at the arrival of these two men, since he reckons he has committed an offence. I do suspect I have done some offence That seems disgracious in the city’s eye, And that you come to reprehend my ignorance. From lines 117-140, Buckingham argues that Richard must become king to evade the threat of the country falling into the hands of the other corrupt kings.

Richard counteracts the argument, again looking as if he wants to stay well away from the throne. He hypothesises by giving two reasons why he is not needed as king. The first one is admitting that he is just not cut out to be king and simply not good enough: Yet so much is my poverty of spirit, So mighty and so many my defects That I would rather hide me from my greatness – The other reason, probably the most important reason at the time is that he is not needed because there are already legal heirs to the throne – Edward’s children:

But, God be thank’d, there is no need of me – And much I need to help you, were there need. The royal tree hath left us royal fruit Once more, Richard says all of this to make him look more genuine and liked. Legitimacy was very important in those days too, so Richard’s second reason was an excellent (fake) comeback against Buckingham. However, Buckingham states that the Prince of Wales is illegitimate – it is Edward’s son but not Edward’s wife’s son. Richard carries on trying to deceive the Lord Mayor by continuing on with his instinctive decision of not wanting to become king:

Alas, why would you heap this care on me? I am unfit for state and majesty. I do beseech you, take it not amiss: I cannot nor I will not yield to you Buckingham replies with an even better argument, saying that Richard is the perfect personality to rule as king, Edward’s son shall never become king and he will find another king to downgrade your house and England itself: As well we know your tenderness of heart And gentle, kind, effeminate remorse, Which we have noted in you to your kindred, And equally, indeed, to all estates – Yet know, whe’er you accept our suit or no,

Your brother’s son shall never reign our king; But we will plant some other in the throne, To the disgrace and downfall of your house: Richard, in the end, unwillingly accepts, seen by these lines: For God doth know, and you may partly see, How far I am from the desire of this The scene ends on the agreement of Richard’s crowning the very next day. Richard brings up arguments as to why he should not be king all through this scene, but Buckingham effectively counters these arguments, making it seem as if Richard is being unwillingly pressured into accepting the crown.

It all goes exactly to plan and the Lord Mayor suspects nothing and no one. Act three scene four is the one in which Tyrell returns to give the news of the Princes deaths. He grieves, and so did the two murderers, Dighton and Forrest. Tyrell describes the murdering of the two princes as ‘tyrannous’ and ‘bloody’, committing a ‘piece of ruthless butchery’ and the two murderers are ‘flesh’d villains’ and ‘bloody dogs. ‘ However, even Dighton and Forrest were ‘melted with tenderness and mild compassion’ and they had killed ‘the most replenished sweet work of nature.

‘ Even the murderers, who are supposed to be highly trained and professional undercover killers who feel no remorse from killing their victims, feel shame and guilt now. They murdered two young and innocent children, who were devout and religious. Richard is now the king of England and has achieved his objective (however, there are still obstacles in his way). We all feel very sad and there is an atmosphere of melancholy at what has been done to the Princes. Conversely, Richard is extremely happy at their deaths.

He continues to ask questions about their death until we are deeply shocked when he asks, not only did they die, but how they died: Kind Tyrell, am I happy in thy news? But didst thou see them dead? And buried, gentle Tyrell Come to me, Tyrell, soon at after supper, When thou shalt tell the process of their death. When this is over, Richard then goes aside into a monologue, reciting the various crimes he has committed to gain power.

The two young princes are dead. Richard has married off Clarence’s daughter to another man and has locked up Clarence’s son. Richard gloats that Queen Anne is now dead – probably murdered by Richard – and he announces that his next step will be to pursue and marry young Elizabeth, the daughter of King Edward and Queen Elizabeth. He thinks that this alliance with her family will strengthen his hold on the throne: The son of Clarence have I pent up close; His daughter meanly have I match’d in marriage; The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham’s bosom, And Anne my wife hath bid the world good-night.

Now, for I know the Britaine Richmond aims At young Elizabeth, my brother’s daughter, And by that knot looks proudly on the crown, To her go I, a jolly thriving wooer. Ratcliff enters at the end and informs Richard that some of Richard’s noblemen have fled to join Richmond in France to prepare for an uprising. Buckingham has also does the same, but fleeing to Wales rather than France. This is almost certainly to everyone’s relief that this has happened. Richard, fearful, begins to raise an army. This scene is undoubtedly a turning point in the play and we realise Richard’s true evil and the monster he really is.

His heartlessness and callousness is shown by the fact he does not even give the slightest pity or sorrow to the death of, basically, two children. We no longer feel any suspense or amazement at Richard’s attractive side anymore. We recognise that Richard has deceived us all along and we no longer feel any feelings other than contempt and anger towards him. He no longer uses his attractive, manipulative, witty and deceptive side to gain power.

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Shakespeare's Depiction of Richard III. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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