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Susan’s Formal Post on Shakespeare’s Richard III (pt 2)

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“Thus, like the formal Vice, Iniquity, I moralize two meanings in one word.”

Richard, Act 3.1 line 82

In this quotation, Richard parallels himself to vice.  This has led many readers to believe that Richard is the personification of vice, or immoral conduct, throughout the play.  Because Richard is disabled, this implicitly links vice with disability.

This connection of vice and disability is also discussed in Sharon Snyder’s article “Infinities of Forms” through Andreas Mantegna’s painting “The Triumph of Virtue.”  This painting depicts a beautiful goddess expelling a variety of disabled figure from the garden of virtue.  Because they are being ushered out of the garden of virtue, it is implied that they represent the opposite of virtue, which is none other than vice.  Snyder also informs us that “the otherness of their figures serves as proof that the appropriate culprits have been identified and properly sentenced” (190).  In other words, the appearance of those being expelled validates their expulsion.  This equates vice to disability in a similar way in which the disabled Richard is implicitly equate to vice.

Another idea that Snyder suggests in reference to the painting is the saying “a sound mind in a sound body” (190).  If this is believed to be true, then the opposite must also be true.  Those who are being exiled from the garden of virtue clearly do not have sound bodies and therefore it is assumed that they cannot have sound minds.  This idea can also be applied to Richard.  From the beginning of the play, readers discover that Richard has a disfigured body.  In keeping with the above saying, this might set up a reader to expect Richard to be an un-sound character.  The reader might then go on to read the play with the expectation that Richard will be some kind of impulsive mad-man solely because he is disabled.  Or if they have already read the play, they might use the equation of vice and disability to justify, or at least provide explanation for, Richard’s actions.  One might even say that Shakespeare was being wholly unoriginal by presenting a character with a disability as a character full of vice.  Perhaps it would have been more shocking if Richard was a disabled representation of virtue.

I do not wish to support nor deny the legitimacy of the reader that fosters any preconceived notions or justifies Richard’s actions because of his appearance.  Nor do I wish to suggest that the equation of disability and vice is a solid one.  I only wish to suggest that if the equation is believed to be true, there is a possibility for the reader to understand this text in the ways I have presented above.

Can anyone think of other ways the connection between disability and vice could affect a reader’s interpretation of Richard III?

Written by Susan

September 15th, 2010 at 2:27 am