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Mairin Martin’s Formal Post on Shakespeare’s Life and Death of King Richard III

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“Your love deserves my thanks; but my desert
Unmeritable shuns your high request.
First, if all obstacles were cut away,
And my path were even to the crown,
As the ripe revenue and due of birth,
Yet so much is my poverty of spirit,
So mighty and so many my defects,
That I would rather hide me from my greatness,
Being a bark to brook no mighty sea,¬
Than in my greatness covet to be hid,
And in the vapour of my glory smother’d.”
– Richard, Duke of Gloster
Act III, Scene VII

Here, as in the opening soliloquy, exists one of the few references that Richard gives of himself being inadequate in some measure. This quote is taken as an excerpt from the lines in which Richard is addressing the Mayor and his train, after having tricked them by shows of false piety into begging him to become King. This part of the speech in which he feigns modesty and uncertainty at his capabilities of being king is the icing on the cake. It makes the Mayor and citizens cry for his coronation even louder than before. Richard is an evil genius of sorts, and his main strength lies in his understanding of how to flatter and put on a false front to gain the advantage.

Readers should take the scene as a warning to never underestimate Richard’s slyness. He works his silver tongue also with Anne to gain her hand in marriage and then with Elizabeth to gain her daughter’s. He flatters and makes protestations of love to Clarence and other such men whom he later kills, but the two incidents with Anne and Elizabeth are the most compelling because they show such a drastic change in sentiment of the women in such a short period of time that it gives the impression that Richard’s power of persuasion is almost of an other- worldly sort.

In this new light, the opening soliloquy (and other such moments) can be read as attempts to dupe the audience. Richard is playing the audience for the fool and invoking pity for the poor cripple who has lead a miserable life of disadvantage where-in he can never be a lover and dogs in the streets bark at his disfigurement. His insight to the human psyche is such that he perfectly understands the way in which society treats the disabled- as either a monster, or as a thing to be pitied, someone who is not fully formed and is therefore still a child who cannot be held accountable for his actions. Richard strives throughout the play, as is most clearly evidenced in his scene with the priests and the Mayor, to cast himself continually in this light of the innocent so that he will not be condemned as a monster.

This new reading of the character brings into question the views of its creator, Shakespeare, on disabled persons. Richard is a strong minded and extremely competent, powerful man. This is in stark contrast to the weakness that his physical impairments would seem to portray to an unsympathetic eye. In viewing Richard as such a clever man while also disabled, it could be supported that, to Shakespeare, disability was a thing of naught. He accepted it as just a part of life that did not have any bearing on capabilities or of reaching goals, even becoming King (although maybe Richard went about reaching those goals the wrong way).

Written by Mairin Martin

September 15th, 2010 at 8:47 am

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