Inner Evil Revealed in Film and BBC Productions of Shakespeare’s Richard III
All the passions of the irascible rise from the passions of the concupiscible appetite and terminate in them. For instance, anger rises from sadness, and, having wrought vengeance, terminates in joy.
-- St. Thomas Aquinas
In Richard III, Shakespeare creates evil personified. The wicked protagonist conspires against kin, plots political takeovers, woos widows, sets assassins against children, and relishes each nefarious act. We watch Richard's bravado with wicked glee and delight in each boasting comment sent our direction. Once the bad guy becomes seductive, even amusing, in his blatant cruelty, the playwright must intervene to counterbalance his own brilliant wit. But how can this devil Richard be brought to his knees with the appropriate high style demanded by the script's momentum? Shakespeare leaves us the briefest of stage direction: "Alarum. Enter Richard and Richmond; they fight; Richard is slain" (V.v.). Once "the bloody dog is dead," Richmond prays for "smooth-faced peace" (V.v.2,33). So soon after Richard's tormented dream of accusing ghosts, this closing scene enforces a mood described by Robert Ornstein as "one of somber reflection, not of joyous celebration" (263). However, the interpretive liberties taken by three twentieth-century filmmakers establish elaborated messages about the horrors of bloodshed, the inevitability of power struggles, and the mythmaking of villains.
The 1982 BBC production takes the audience through a series of reactions: the bloodthirst for revenge, the prayer for redemption, and the vision of hellish destruction. We watch Richard circled by soldiers, baited like a bear as swords close in. We hear grunts of rage, brutish and coarse. Richard drops to his knees and claws forward, lost in private agonies. The camera focuses on his face; we observe the hard swallowing of a final mouthful of air. Richmond fails to glory immediately in his victory but rather responds with distaste, with a slight gagging in revulsion, before declaring the battle's end and praying for peace. If the film ended here, the audience might leave confident that order could be restored and that a new regime could surpass the old. Yet in a final surreal scene, the camera twists upward through a mountain of bloodied corpses. Wild-haired Margaret cackles -- part horror and part triumph -- from atop the flesh pile, clutching Richard's body. Director Jane Howell emphasizes the body count and the tragic sacrifice of so many young men to civil strife. But the extremism of crazed laughter juxtaposed with contorted victims challenges more than warlord policies: Where is God when human-devils control the political scene? Why does divinity create a flawed offspring and then abandon humanity to the race of Cain? Richard becomes just one more body and violent revenge seems inadequate. Evil leaks off the screen, stains...