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Kathleen Fabie’s Formal Post on William Shakespeare’s Richard III

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Was euer woman in this humour woo'd?
Was euer woman in this humour wonne?
Ile haue her, but I will not keepe her long.
What? I that kill'd her Husband, and his Father,
To take her in her hearts extreamest hate,
With curses in her mouth, Teares in her eyes,
The bleeding witnesse of my hatred by,
Hauing God, her Conscience, and these bars against me,
And I, no Friends to backe my suite withall,
But the plaine Diuell, and dissembling lookes?
And yet to winne her? All the world to nothing.
Hah!
Hath she forgot alreadie that braue Prince,
Edward, her Lord, whom I (some three monthes since)
Stab'd in my angry mood, at Tewkesbury?...
...I do mistake my person all this while:
Vpon my life she findes (although I cannot)
My selfe to be a maru'llous proper man.
Ile be at Charges for a Looking-glasse,
And entertaine a score or two of Taylors,
To study fashions to adorne my body:
Since I am crept in fauour with my selfe,
I will maintaine it with some little cost.
But first Ile turne yon Fellow in his Graue,
And then returne lamenting to my Loue.
Shine out faire Sunne, till I haue bought a glasse,
That I may see my Shadow as I passe.
                            Richard III, Act I, Scene II

These lines, spoken by Richard III upon parting with the Lady Anne, are the basis of an argument that Richard is not a victim of disability but a product of a pathologic nature. Pathologic used here to describe behavior that is habitual and compulsive and, in Richard’s case, unjustifiably evil. The play’s opening focus is the soliloquy of self-pity, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” in which Richard blames his unhappiness on his physical form. But a case can be made that Shakespeare is portraying Richard’s mental state and (lack of) character rather than the physical manifestation of the man. It is the soliloquy quoted above that is more telling of Richard’s true nature.

Richard attempts to convince the reader in his opening lines that he is “Cheated of Feature” and therefore reacting to everyone’s repulsion with vengeance. Yet his following encounters with Clarence, Brakenbury, Hastings and Anne all belie any physical repugnance toward Richard. Clarence, Brakenbury and Hastings treat Richard with utmost respect. Clarence considers Richard a confidant. Yet Richard follows the encounter with Clarence with an evil confession to the audience that he himself will send Clarence’s “Soule to Heauen,” foreshadowing his involvement in Clarence’s arrest.

An even more puzzling contradiction to the play’s opening lines is the reaction of Lady Anne to Richard’s confession to being her husband’s murderer. Their conversation begins on a hostile note as Anne suspects Richard is the culprit. Only once in several pages of dialogue does Anne make reference to Richard in a physical sense: “Blush, blush, thou lumpe of fowle Deformitie.” Her other insults to this point, however, have been so ferocious that this line can be taken as just another bit of vitriol as Anne expresses her contempt of Richard’s suspected crime. Yet, as Richard continues his verbal joust with her, Anne’s demeanor softens and she begins to be charmed by his wit and plied by his flattery, even as Richard more openly admits to killing Anne’s husband, Henry. Threatening to stab himself if Lady Anne wishes it, Richard proclaims: “This hand, which for thy loue, did kill thy Loue, Shall for thy loue, kill a far truer Loue, To both their deaths shalt thou be accessary.” Anne’s swoon at this point over Richard’s poetry is almost palpable.

Now the reader comes to the second soliloquy, quoted above, which Richard offers after Anne departs. Here Richard’s true nature is revealed and it has nothing to do with his physical form. He is smug, self-satisfied, and congratulates himself on his cunning: “I do mistake my person all this while: Vpon my life she findes (although I cannot) My selfe to be a maru’llous proper man.” Richard then plots a visit to the “Taylors…to adorne my body,” before burying Henry and “return lamenting to my Loue.” These are the words that expose the opening speech as a distraction, a device used by Shakespeare to make a physical metaphor of Richard’s ugly, evil soul.

Written by kfabie

September 13th, 2010 at 12:30 am

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