Thursday, May 28, 2015

Richard III

Renowned as the most scheming, malevolent, murderous, sly, power-hungry English monarch of all time, history -- and history plays such as Shakespeare's -- have not been kind to Richard III. It may or may not have been a reputation well-deserved, but Richard has had one change at rehabilitation that any maligned monarch would envy -- the discovery of his mortal remains under a car park in Leicester in 2012, and their subsequent re-interment in Leicester Cathedral, in a ceremony solemnized both by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the chief Catholic Cardinal in England -- not to mention an escort of re-enactment veterans in plate mail, inflatable crowns for children, and a poetic reading by Benedict Cumberbatch (a distant relation). Queen Elizabeth II, perhaps wisely, stayed away.

Shakespeare, though he apparently accepted the conventional wisdom of his day, was drawn to Richard III and the intrinsic drama of a king who clawed his way to the top, and was -- for a time -- lord of all he surveyed, despite the congenital curvature of his spine (which, forensic studies of his modern remains have shown, was not so pronounced as had been supposed). And, in performance as in history, there are many Richards -- the inheritor of a sea of troubles spawned by the troubled monarchies of Henry VI and the Wars of the Roses, a man who sought to resolve issues of power even though he did not crave it himself, or a king, ahead of his time in this one way, intuitively sensed the relationship between power and display.

In Richard Loncraine's 1995 film version, Ian McKellen (above) gives us a villain among villains. Set in a vaguely 1930's era London, with authoritarian trappings that evoke Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, it transposes the play quite radically; we see an eight-minute montage of events alongside the opening credits before Richard speaks the first words of the play into a microphone, finishing them later at a urinal in the men's room. The cast is outrageous, with Jim Broadbent channeling Himmler as the Duke of Buckingham, erstwhile mad monarch Nigel Hawthorne as the gullible Clarence, a hammy Robert Downey Jr. as Lord Rivers, and a roomful of other RADA graduates who chew up the scenery with evident glee.

But is this the only Richard we might have? Could one, without violence to the script of the play, give us a sympathetic Richard, or even one we could actually like? It's been tried -- but somehow, when it comes to bunch-backed, scheming kings, a good deal of the fun lies in hating them. Like Lex Luthor or the Joker, we're not really looking for a multi-dimensional character.

So what's your impression, particularly from the early Acts? As always, reference act and scene numbers when applicable.


  1. From the introduction of the play Richard III is described as being “Renowned as the most scheming, malevolent, murderous, sly, power-hungry English monarch of all time.” After reading the first two acts of the play I have to agree with the description of Richard. In act 1 scene 1, Richard is talking about his brothers Clarence and George and he says:” I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days.
    Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, by drunken prophecies, libels and dreams, to set my brother Clarence and the king in deadly hate the one against the other:
    And if King Edward be as true and just as I am subtle, false and treacherous, this day should Clarence closely be mew'd up, about a prophecy, which says that 'G' of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be."
    Richard is going to allow his brother to be imprisoned at the Tower of London even though he knows that he is guilty of nothing. He doesn’t care, his only concern is that he is to become King and he does not care who is standing in his way, he will do what is needed in order to take the position as King.

  2. Claudina Pereira

    Richard's character is a sneaky and deceiving man. His desire to be king or his lust for power represents the evil, scheming, and bitter side of a himself. His pitifulness moments towards himself allows people to sympathize with him. He has two personas. One when he speaks alone ( plotting to do harm to his siblings) the other when he shows love or sympathy towards others. He lies and manipulates so convincingly that one cannot help but believe his lies, sympathy's and expressions of love. He showed sympathy and love towards his brother Clarence and vows to free him when he is imprisoned in the London Tower. If we did not know earlier in Act 1, scene 1 that it was he who vowed to destroy Clarence and have him imprisoned, he would have convinced us that he was genuinely sad for his brother. He is quite the character. I couldn't believe it when he interrupted the funeral of Henry VI to talk to Lady Anne. He had the audacity to do such a thing when his family was to blame for the murder of Henry VI and his son. He is something else.

  3. My impression of Richard from the early acts of the play leads me to believe that he cannot be a well-liked character. The script does not give us a sympathetic Richard. The monologues reveal his evil intentions so maybe in the absence of those monologues an audience might believe what he says to the other characters, which are lies. He is very good at acting sympathetic in front of others. At the end of Act I, Scene III, he says, "And thus I clothe my naked villainy . . . And seem a saint when most I play the devil." He explicitly tells us himself what kind of person he is.

  4. I think King Richard the 34d is a psychopath. He tells us in the very first act and scene of the play that he is false and treacherous. I also found the scene in which he disturbs King Henry's pallbearers to talk to Lady Anne as one that shows his true character. Despite Lady Anne condemning King Richard in all sorts of ways, including calling him a devil multiple times, he is still able to manipulate her into agreeing to marry him by end of Act One, Scene Two. I see another sign of his state in Act Two, Scene one, where Richard tells Clarence's children that King Edward the Fourth is responsible for his father's death. Lying to children about their own father's death, blaming it on his own brother, show King Richard to be the lowest of the low. I also think it is very telling of King Richards character that he is shown between two clergymen with a book of prayer shortly before he is crowned in Act Three, scene Seven. Since he has done nothing but commiting hellish acts of murder up until this point, I think this image is meant to chill the reader and show that not even the thought of God can stop King Richard, and in this case, he sees God as just someone else he can manipulate.

  5. The only way I can really sum up King Richard after reading is that he is just plain and simple a bad dude. He is conniving, jealous and most of all selfish. All his actions put others in harms way so he can be successful. I think he is a very interesting character however, and he probably intrigued Shakespeare a lot. We've talked about how Shakespeare may have written television and I think King Richard would fit in nicely in the role of the popular anti hero on tv now. I do think Anne's lines in Act 1.2 on lines 228-230 "Foul devil, for God's sake hence and trouble us not, For thou hast made the happy earth thy hell." speaks for the audience and how they feel about Richard. It makes sense that we are not supposed to like this character one bit, yet be intrigued by him.

  6. I think King Richard the third is crazy. He tells us from the very first act and scene that he is fake and that he is untrustworthy. When he talks to the audience about the bad things that he has planned, like pinning his two brother against each other. King Richard will do whatever it takes to make sure that he gets what he wants. He did this in Act 1 Scene 2 when he convinced Anne to marry him by the end of the scene, even though she hated him in the beginning. He did this again later in the play by making sure his nephews were both in the tower so he could expose of them like he did Clarence. He cares only about himself, he even says this in Act 5 Scene 3 “Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.”

    Ashley Ricci

  7. Richard III is a very interesting character. On one hand he can seem caring but then on the other he goes and tells us he's heartless (Acts 1 & 2). He only cares for himself, everyone knows that. The part I keep going back and reading is the exchange between Richard and Lady Anne (act 1 scene 2). The way he is able to talk her into taking a ring and kind of promising that she will give him a chance was quite eloquent. He manipulated her into thinking that it was chivalrous that he killed her husband so he could marry her. But we all know that didn't work out in the end. Even though he is written to be hated, as the reader we can't help but hope he gets away with it.

  8. I think that Richard III is not that nice of a character. In Act 1 while everyone is dancing and having a great time he is just sitting on his throne feeling badly for himself and how he was "born ugly". It seems that he only cares about him and only himself, he could not be bothered by other people. Still in Act 1 he was trying to win over Anne and she would not let it happen because she remembered that Richard III killed her husband. He is a selfish person and a person that likes to hurt other people or likes to see other people suffer because he in a way is not a happy person and if he is not happy than no one can be happy.