Richard, Duke of Gloucester, begins Act I with a soliloquy explaining that now is the terrible time; it is “the winter of their discontent,” which is yet another battle during the War of the Roses, a thirty-year civil war (1.1.1). His eldest brother, Edward IV, has come out on top, yet Richard is pissed. He is third in line and knows it will be difficult to become King. But not impossible, as his plotting will reveal. He was born deformed and blames his deformity on the plots he devises to get the crown. Already Richard explains that it isn't his fault that he is so wicked, saying,
RICHARD GLOUCESTER: But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass,
I that am rudely stamped and want love's majesty
He is the two-faced Janus, lying to his brother George about why he is being sent to the tower. He also maintains an authoritative voice, for instance, when he says to the halberdier (soldier) who wants him to move and let the King Henry’s coffin pass, “Unmannered dog, stand thou when I command./Advance thy halberd higher than my breast, Or by Saint Paul I’ll strike thee to my foot/And spurn upon thee, beggar, for thy boldness” (1.1.39-42). He is exasperating and not only rebuffs the anger that is directed at him, he gets off on it, as shown so clearly in Act 1, scene 2, when Lady Anne continuously blames him for her husband’s death and insults him while he is courting her. His villainy seems unbelievable when he tries to woo her while lying straight to her face over her husband’s coffin. How does he get away with it? He is apparently so deformed that dogs bark at him but he is clever as his plots and the stichomythian dialogue clearly show, and is undeterred even when Lady Anne spits at him. His deformity seems to enable him to strive to win, no matter the means.
When Richard asks of Queen Elizabeth, “Cannot a plain man live and think no harm,/But thus his simple truth must be abused/With silken, sly, insinuating jacks?,” you can’t help thinking that he has some gall! He uses his deformity as an excuse as to why they distrust him (1.3.51-53). He even says that he would “rather be a pedlar” than a king (1.3.149). Yet we, the audience, know that he is deceiving them all and Queen Elizabeth isn't fooled. Throughout much of history rulers are killed by others to gain power but rarely does a brother plot the end of his brothers in such a despicable and lying way. Once he has decided he will kill his brother George and then, when his brother, the king, Edward, dies, which should happen soon because,
LORD HASTINGS: The King is sickly, weak, and melancholy,
Once this happens, he will become the protector of his brother’s son, King Edward VI, and will have power over them all. He is so confident of his plots to get to the top; nothing will stand in his way. One can’t help thinking that it can’t just be his deformed back that makes him so evil. He was raised in a court that was concerned with battles and fighting for control of the English throne. He must have often been looked past as one who will never have power and yet he plots to get it.