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The Evil King In Shakespeare's Richard Iii

2389 words - 10 pages

The Evil King in Shakespeare's Richard III

Richard is an actor, a fully evil actor, who through his mastery of the stage has come to appreciate his skill. Richard Moulton, in his Shakespeare as a Dramatic Thinker, proclaims Richard's wonder at his own command of the stage: "Richard has become an artist in evil: the natural emotions attending crime-whether of passionate longing, or horror and remorse-have given place to artistic appreciation of masterpieces" (40). And Robert Weimann, comparing Richard Gloucester to a character in Shakespeare's King John states: "Both characters exemplify a strenuous need to perform, 'toiling desperately' to play a role, 'to find out,' and, for better or worse, to take up arms against a thorny world" (130). Richard Gloucester begins taking up arms against his world in the opening scene as he finds himself shunned in the manners of friendship and love, being "cheated of feature by dissembling nature" (1.1.19), and he decides to take on the role of scoundrel: "And therefore since I cannot prove a lover / To entertain these fair well-spoken days, / I am determined to prove a villain / And hate the idle pleasures of these days" (1.1.28-31).

The physical deformity that pushes Richard to his evil conniving may be nothing more than a creation by Shakespeare to further point out Richard's wickedness. Peter Kilby, author of "The Princes in the Tower," claims that in reality Richard had no deformity, and that Shakespeare created it because "physical deformities were considered to be outward signs of an evil nature" (11). Not so much, according to Zamir, who states: "Various sources tell us that he was short, that one of his arms was smaller than the other, that his legs, too, were of unequal size, and that his shoulders were disproportionate. We are also told that he was not merely crook-backed, but had a 'mountain on his back,' and that his face was ugly" (501). Whether actual or a creation of Shakespeare, his deformity pushes him at least to some degree to "prove a villain." And Richard wastes no time jumping into his evil character, beginning his scheming as soon as the curtain rises: "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" (1.1.32-5). The manipulation of the other characters of the play begins here in earnest. The initial role that Richard plays is that of loving brother to Clarence, whom he must eliminate from the scene in order to attain the throne for himself. When the king, out of fear of revolt, sends Clarence to the Tower, Richard convinces him to go quietly and to patiently await rescue. Thus, the treacherous role-playing of Richard Gloucester begins: "Your imprisonment shall not be long. / I will deliver you or lie for you. / Meantime, have patience" (1.1.115-7). This declaration of love and support is nothing but a show. As soon as Clarence marches off to...

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