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Haley’s Formal Blog Post on Richard III

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Haley Miles-McLean’s Formal Post on Shakespeare’s Richard III,

through Act III Scene III

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,

Have no delight to pass away the time.

Unless to see my shadow in the sun

And descant on mine own deformity.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

– Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Act I, Scene I, page 8, lines 24-27

In Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard’s disability is used to convey his abhorrent nature in a physical form, as well as explain why he is so evil. In this opening scene, Richard says that as he cannot acquire a lover he is, “determined to prove a villain.” The use of the word determined is particularly important because it infers that Richard has been so thoroughly berated for his appearance that he has concluded he might as well act in manners as ugly as people see him. He states that in this time of peace he can only “descant” on his deformity. Although descant in this context could be used to simply mean that he shall comment on his disabled form, thinking about the word’s other definitions can add more to the interpretation. Descant can also refer to, “a melody or counterpoint sung above the plainsong.” Analyzing the line with this definition in mind the reader can think of Richard, the ‘cripple’, as a counterpoint to the societies normality (leading melody). In this way, Richard is stating that he could idle away the time by thinking of the ways in which his disability isolates him from the rest of society.

Throughout the play whenever Richard is ridiculed for his actions, his disabled body is insulted as well. By using his disabled figure synonymously with his horrid deeds, the reader is instructed to think of the disabled as inherently deviant people. In other words, Richard’s ‘hideous’ form is what has caused him to be such an ugly person on the inside. In Act I, Scene II, Lady Anne bemoans the death of her husband by Richard’s hand. She says, “Vouchsafe, defus’d infection of [a] man, of these known evils, but to give me leave by circumstance [t’ accuse] thy cursed self (13).” This disability is equated with an infection, a disease, and at the same time used in discussion of his murderous actions. By stating both at once, the reader automatically associates his appearance with his actions, the latter being the result of the former.

Considering the hatred he has faced, should we automatically assume that Richard is inherently evil, or is he the victim of circumstances? Has living in such a hostile environment led Richard to feel that he is not really one with humanity, that he has no moral obligation to be good if he is viewed as evil simply for his appearance? It is worth considering Richard’s actions throughout the play keeping this scene in mind; a scene which offers the reader a unique view into Richard’s mindset and the oppression he has faced as a result of his appearance.

Written by Haley

September 12th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

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awfully queer, wouldn’t you say?

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On the very day we were discussing readings by Siebers and McRuer, and trying to find a better e-text of Richard III for next class, who should post to the DS-HUM listserv inquiring about bibliographies on Shakespeare and disability but Tobin Siebers!  And who should reply but Robert McRuer!!  Here’s his post:

 HI Tobin, Marcy, and all…

I am certainly not a Shakespeare specialist in any way!  However, I do have
a piece coming out in the Duke UP volume called (I believe) Shakesqueer:
Queer Theorists Read Shakespeare, edited by Madhavi Menon.  Although
Shakespeareans and early modern studies folks are part of the project,
largely it is intended as a book written by non-specialists: she assigned
every Shakespeare play (and the sonnets) to one queer theorist and we were
invited to write a very brief essay from whatever perspective we brought to
the play, with transtemporal and interdisciplinary thinking encouraged.  I
agreed to participate on the condition that I could have Richard III. So,
there’s an essay in that volume, coming out in January, I think.  the piece
is called “Fuck the Disabled: The Prequel.”


Also, here’s a link to a piece on R3 from one of the numbers of Disability Studies Quarterly last year, entitled “Enabling Richard: The Rhetoric of Disability in Richard III“, part of a special section on Disabled Shakespeares

Written by cfoss

September 10th, 2010 at 8:52 pm