If an actor wants to star as Richard III in a play he must first know all there is to know about the character of Richard III. For example Richard’s behaviour, the way he thinks and reacts, these are all aspects of Richard’s character. The actor must know these because Shakespeare gave very few stage directions in his plays, therefore if an actor wants to make an impressionable performance he must understand the way Richard’s character, to understand this one must look at how Shakespeare was trying to portray the character of Richard III.
The first soliloquy is split into three parts. The first part deals with his clever word play ‘our bruisï¿½d arms hung up for monuments’ which is a fancy way of saying we no longer use our weaponry. Another example of his word play would be when he uses ‘man’ to address Brackenbury. Brackenbury uses ‘your grace’ implying some sort of respect towards the person being addressed but Richard uses ‘man’, which is mocking or at least degrading as Brackenbury is being referred to as a common man.
Not only this but a few lines further down Richard puns on the word ‘nought’, meaning nothing, with the word ‘naught’, meaning to have sex with. Therefore mocking Brackenbury again as Richard is implying Brackenbury’s sexual exploits. These examples clearly show how much control Richard has over his speech and also his disliking of Brackenbury. In this part of the play Shakespeare also expresses Richard’s disliking for the Queen as Richard refers to her as ‘My lady Grey’ because before the Queen was married to the king she was the widow of Sir Thomas Grey therefore in a way Richard hasn’t accepted the fact that Elizabeth is now Queen he still classes her as someone not of royalty.
The first part of the soliloquy starts with ‘now is the winter of out discontent’. The usage of the word winter implies the end of the ‘discontent’ as winter is the last season before the new-year. Yet the first line can be interpreted in a different way. Winter is a dark season, literally speaking. It has long nights and so it could be associated with crime/evil as it is commonly believed that satanic powers have more power in the dark as they are away from the light of goodness/God.
Could Richard be implying that the worst ‘winter’ of our ‘discontent’ was yet to come? Before you have had the chance to fully comprehend the line and what it actually means, Richard says ‘made glorious summer by thee son of York’ which means that the son of York, Edward, made the discontented winter into glorious summer; this is purely panegyric. Since the first line is a part of this second line it makes the sentence, most probably, also panegyric and not deceitful. However there is another example of where Richard’s words definitely have a double meaning. ‘Well, your imprisonment shall not be long’ is what Richard says to Clarence when they are talking in scene one. Richard is implying that he will try to achieve his freedom while in actual fact he wants to kill Clarence and so have one of the potential successors to the throne out of the way.
The second part of the soliloquy displays Richard’s feelings of betrayal by fate because of his deformity. Richard feels cheated by fate, he has never had the opportunity to enjoy sexual ventures ‘sportive tricks’ because he hasn’t been given good looks and the sex appeal associated with good looks ‘I that am rudely stamped and want love’s majesty’. He feels jealous of his brother Edward’s exploits ‘he capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber’.
However this scene is in contrast to another scene when Richard woos Lady Anne, because of this contrast and the fact that throughout the rest of the play Richard is portrayed as an evil man who is not trust worthy, for example when Richard is tying to win over Elizabeth to try and woo her daughter, Elizabeth, the Queen rejects Richard’s oaths calling them worthless. Because of this reputation I believe that in Richard’s first soliloquy, when he was talking about how deformed and that he was ‘not shaped for sportive tricks’ shows to me that he was simply just trying to acquire the sympathy of the audience. However, I do not think that Richard was solely trying to achieve sympathy I believe that Richard himself feels that he has been cheated by fate ‘cheated of feature’ and that if he wasn’t deformed he would have had a better life which wasn’t filled with so much hate ‘that dogs bark at me when I halt by them’.
The third part is his declaration ‘I am determined to prove a villain’ this also suggests that Richard knows he is evil. This would be a new thing for people in Shakespearean times. Not only new but also very strange because if Richard knew he was evil then he would have also accepted that he would pay for his sins in the afterlife. But Richard does try to justify himself and so gets a hint of pity from the audience because you feel as though the man went through a lot of self-disgust and feelings of betrayal and cheating.
Richard’s justification is ‘since I cannot prove a lover…’ He then continues by explaining to the audience his plans ‘by drunken prophecies…that ‘G’ of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be’. This basically means that he told the king that while he was drunk a prophecy was told to him that someone, whose name begins with ‘G’ shall kill his sons. Because Richard shared his plan with the audience it shows his boastful nature, he takes pride in his deceit but he still tried to gain some sympathy from the audience by explaining to them that he cannot be a hero because of the way he looks.
So in the first soliloquy on its own we can establish that Shakespeare is trying to portray a man that went through self disgust or self pity because of his physical deformation to become a clever and witty individual who boasts about his wit and deviousness by sharing it with the audience. Unfortunately this charismatic person has declared himself the villain. Shakespeare does try to get some sympathy for Richard but what ever he does achieve for him is very little and is wiped out as the play commences. The ground on which he achieves sympathy is the fact that Richard was deformed from birth and never had the pleasures of a normal childhood.
Then again in Shakespearean time, a superstitious time, being born deformed meant a sign from God that he was an evil child. This is one aspect of the play which Shakespeare explores, he explores the feeling based around those people who are deformed and, superstitiously speaking, therefore have committed sin or work for the devil. By the end of the play Shakespeare has clearly portrayed how he feels, all the characters in the play which show trust towards Richard and speak the truth around Richard are betrayed or killed for example Hastings, he trusted and even liked Richard but would not betray the princes and so Richard had him killed. Throughout the whole play it seems that Richard has always been deformed and evil, he was born with teeth and ever since he was a child he was bad, according to his mother.
The next important scene is the wooing of Lady Anne this expresses a number of characteristics owned by Richard III. The first characteristic that you come across is the depiction of Richard as a murderer. Holinshed wrote that Henry IV’s corpse was seen to bleed at both St Paul’s and Blackfriars, because of this superstition evolved saying that a murdered body bleeds again in the presence of the murderer. In the play, Anne declares that the corpse is bleeding ‘dead Henry’s wounds open their congealed mouths and bleed afresh’ through this Shakespeare is emphasising that Richard was a murderer.
Although Richard is shown to be a murderer his mastery over language I displayed very well in this scene. Richard and Anne have a fierce verbal battle where Anne is talking about satanic things while Richard talks about angelic figures, for example when Anne says ‘when devils…’ Richard replies ‘when angels…’ this shows that Richard could come up with opposites to what ever Anne cursed at him, this style of verbal communication is called stichomythia.
But his most brilliant turn around comment is when Anne wishes that her eyes were ‘basilisks’. Basilisks were monsters which could kill with a single look and therefore wishes his death ‘would they were basilisks, to strike thee dead’ but Richard turns this insult around and says that ‘I would they were’. This, instead of taking the insult as an insult is taken as a prayer, he wishes that they were those monsters so that he could be dead, so that he wouldn’t have to live a life where her eyes torment him and create a ‘living death’.