The Turning Point
The crowning of Richard III marks the turning point from his rise into power to his demise. Up until he becomes king, Richard is the underdog – albeit, a ruthless and evil one. Thus far, the entire play has been focused on Richard’s attempts to assume power and seize the throne. However, once he becomes crowned King Richard, the focus of the play shifts to Richard’s attempts to maintain power and hold the throne. Essentially, the challenge for Richard is no longer gaining power, but keeping it. It is this new struggle that, ultimately, redefines his allies and, more importantly, changes both Richard’s personality and the audience’s sympathy for him.
Richard begins the play not only as an inspired, determined underdog, but he is also cursed with a terrible deformation; the audience is sympathetic and sees Richard, despite his inherent evilness, as the aspiring hero. Midst his self-loathing, Richard also defines himself as an outsider because of his deformities, which helps the audience sympathize with him (it’s hard to hate someone who hates himself). Even before the play begins, Richard had planned his takeover of the throne. His brother, Clarence, the sickly King Edward, and Edward’s two sons all stand in his way, but Richard remains undeterred and ambitious. For the next three acts, Richard, the underdog, conspires and deceives – seemingly smarter than all the other characters – to get closer and closer to the throne. Richard is confident and successful, constantly boasting about his intellectual superiority over those characters whom he deceives. He allies himself with Buckingham, who proves to be a valuable right-hand man. Throughout his rise to power, Richard uses his keen ability (“keep [his] friends close, but [his] enemies closer”) to knock off Clarence and Hastings. As he comes closer and closer to the throne, it is his mental superiority, confidence, underdog status and his honest view of his own ugliness that earn him the sympathy of the audience.
As Richard enters in the beginning of Act Two, Scene Four, he is boasting about his newfound power and cheered on by trumpets. Without a minute of rest, King Richard orders the assassination of the two young princes, but Buckingham hesitates. As Richard himself notes, he must now “stop all hopes whose growth may damage [him].” So, when Buckingham hesitates, Richard immediately considers him an enemy. Having attained the throne, Richard has reached the pinnacle of success and must direct his attention to keeping his power in the face of his enemies. Without pausing, Richard orders Catesby to spread a rumor that Lady Anne is sick, will probably die and must be confined, implying that he will have her...