William Shakespeare – Richard III


David Garrick as Richard III

David Garrick as Richard III 

As with any Shakespeare play I feel quite intimidated when I start reading any of his plays. I think this is because whenever I hear or read someones opinion or analysis of one of Shakespeare’s play it is always very insightful and detailed, while I usually do not seem to get any further than.. yes was nice. This blog is therefore also a forceful attempt for me to become more eloquent in expressing my opinions regarding a work of fiction (or non-fiction for that matter). So here we go;


In this play its eponymous villain is the most memorable of all characters not only because of his physical deformity but the fact that he revels in his depravity. It is this that makes the play so captivating to me and more even interesting is that Richard III’s real remains were at that time being examined to guarantee their authenticity. The question that is woven throughout the play is how Richard became so villanous. Is it a result from the scornful treatment he receives from the court because of his hunchback?  Or is he truly a Machiavellian creature who happens to have a hunchback? Since the recently exhumed body of the actual King tells us that the historical person did no have an actual hunchback, you might deduce that the invention of the hunchback character is a great example of Tudor propaganda. Yet it also makes you wonder whether a one becomes or is a villain because one looks heinous.


The plot of Richard III is fairly straightforward; Richard is the younger brother of the King Edward IV and the Duke of Clarence and incredibly jealous of their power. In the beginning he vows to “prove a villain” and immediately matches his words with deeds. He marries the Anne Nevil the widow of the previous Lancastrian Prince of Wales and has the Duke of Clarence locked up on grounds of treason, which in turn is based on a prophecy that someone with whose name starts with a G will kill the young princes. Richard hires two murderers to kill his brother in the Tower, who is tormented by ghosts of the dead. Richard’s murders kill the Duke and shortly afterwards the King dies and his young sons disappear leaving the way open for Richard to become King of England.


Center stage in this play is Richard development in a full-blown villain. Although he is villanous at the start his actions become more monstrous and immoral throughout the play. Although his actions appear to be unscrupulous, Richard seems to have some kind of conscience returning to him at the end of the play.  In the night before the battle at  Bosworth Field, Richard is haunted by ghosts of those who died at his hands resulting in Richard doubting his leader abilities. This doubt and lack of leading qualities is perfectly conveyed through his battle speech, or rather his attempt at a battle speech as he only conveys his doubts on his men of which some desert him to join the opponent’s army. It is interesting that at the end of the play Richard cannot even pity himself. He realises what he has done to get here and how immoral and gruesome those actions were. He has no one to blame for this but himself and his incapability to pity himself shows both his completion (so to speak) as a villain and his inability to become a villain. As the inability to pity can be said to be characteristic for a villain, yet Richard awareness of his immoral acts show some kind of conscience whether that be a tainted one or not.


The play ends with Richard’s inevitable dead, but not without shouting the illustrious words “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”. The play end in an apparently happy ending with the marriage between the two houses York and Lancaster, yet Richard’s villanous leaves a bitter aftertaste.


I can say I really liked this Shakespeare play, but then again I always prefered his histories over his tragedies and comedies. It is quite long and there are many characters in this particular play, but if you read carefully and are willing to put aside the early modern English spelling and vocabulary you will find a beautifully written and moving play.