Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Richard III - A Villain

Richard III. As Shakespeare paints him, he is a thoroughly bad lot. The title of the first version of the play to be published, the quarto of 1597, makes that very clear, as it details his bad deeds throughout the course of the play:

King Richard the third.
His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence: the pittiefull murther of his iunocent nephewes: his tyrannicall vsurpation: with the whole course of his detested life, and most deserued death.

(Richard III)

I love that line - "his detested life." So, Richard is a murderer, a schemer, and unnaturally pitiless. Why do we care about him? Why do we listen to his many soliloquies, speeches delivered to no one but us, the audience? Why is Richard so fascinating?

Perhaps it's because, as a villain, he's fully aware and deliberate about it. No sooner have we met him again in the first speech of Richard III (he, of course, is our old acquaintance from Henry VI part 3), than he flat-out tells us of all his wicked plans: "I am determined to prove a villain" (1.1.30). I think it's this self-awareness about Richard that makes us watch him. He's decided his course, but he includes us in everything; he tells us his secrets, his jokes and his fears. He's laid the plots, but since he's told us about them, we are - perhaps unwillingly - complicit in the crimes and along for the ride. 

1 comment:

  1. In Henry VI, part 3 Richard asks, "Am I then a man to be beloved?" I guess the answer is no. :'(