Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Another character in the play...?

Another character in the play…?
We touched on the subject of morality very briefly in class in regards to the
murderers and Clarence, but I think that a bit more attention needs to be paid
to it, and, more importantly, to the concept of the conscience. After reading
the conversation between the murderers and Clarence, I feel like Conscience
(yes, in capitals) should be considered another character, at least in Act I.
The two murderers are sent to kill Clarence, and are specifically warned by
Richard not to speak with Clarence, because he could convince them not to kill
him. Richard knows that Clarence will play up to their inner morality (which he
does). But before Clarence even has a chance, the two murderers become
enthralled in a conversation discussing how Conscience has interrupted their
nefarious duties. Here, Conscience is personified, and painted it as a meddling

The second murderer begins to have second thoughts, letting his conscience
interfere. But once he is reminded of his reward, he realizes just how
troublesome Conscience is. "'Tis a blushing, shamefaced spirit that mutinies in
a man's bosom. It fills a man full of obstacles." He feels that ,"every man that
means to live well endeavors to trust himself and live without." The play takes
the personification even further when Conscience is seen as almost corporeal as
the first murderer, now almost consumed with morality, exclaims that, "Zounds,
'tis even now at my elbow, persuading me not to kill the duke."  His counterpart
reminds him not to let Conscience take over his thoughts lest it make him sad.
Both murderers take this time to consider Conscience as a formidable foe in the
process of deciding one's actions, though both are able to prevail, inevitably
killing Clarence.
When Clarence wakes up and begins begging for his life, Conscience makes another appearance, this time with heavy religious undertones. The murderers admit to Clarence that they are commanded to do what they are about to do, and that the king is who commands it. Clarence responds that they are wrong because, “the great King of Kings hath in the tables of his law commanded that thou shalt do no murder.” God is King here, and his commandments should take precedent over King Edward’s. Clarence warns that revenge will be a consequence of this sin. It seems that the consequence is Conscience taking its toll. After the murderers kill the duke, the second murderer is once again stricken with his morality. He laments that it was a bloody and ill-dispatched deed, and confesses that, “like Pilate, would I wash my hands of this most grievous murder.” He likens himself to Pontius Pilate, who after sentencing Jesus to his crucifixion, publicly washes his hands as if trying to rid himself of guilt. Though the murderers do indeed kill Clarence, Conscience weeds its way into the deed, interrupting the reverie of a completed task, and hearkens back to the murderer’s earlier conversation about how Conscience is a like a meddling adversary.

1 comment:

Cyrus Mulready said...

This is a really nice consideration of Clarence as a figure of conscience, Jillian--most importantly, you consider how that word itself figures in 1.4. I think this is a scene that is central to understanding the rest of the play, as it represents (in part) the possibility for language and persuasion to be used toward virtue rather than Richard's nasty goals!