Monday, October 22, 2012

Richard the Dissembler

    Some preliminary thoughts on Richard: there’s this question of dissembling nature, which Richard blames for his hideous outward form--but in Richard’s case outward in a sense does reflect inward, although his words and promises, appearances in language, gesture (a form of acting, Iago’s in kind) dissembles what is written even in the lines of his face, and in the lines of Margaret the prophetess and the images of Clarence's portending dreams. So he dissembles, but is a kind of known dissembler--as opposed to unsuspected, honest Iago. Richard is already embroiled in murder and usurpation, and yet with blood on his hands, he woos the wife of he whom he has murdered. And because of the “G” prophesy, his brother (George Duke of) Clarence is brought to jail, his name falsely suggesting a guilt which really belongs to his brother Gloucester. But Clarence believes he is to be delivered from prison by the hand of his brother, for the promise has reached him out of Richard’s very mouth, “I will deliver or lie for you,” (1.1 116) or lie to you, what you will. Richard will “urge his,” that is, the King’s “hatred more to Clarence,/ With lies well steeled with weighty arguments,” (1.1 147) and deliver him “From this earth’s thraldom to the joys of heaven” (1.4 236). But “Clarence still breathes,” while Richard is “Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time/ Into this breathing world scarce half made up” and has “no delight to pass away the time,/ Unless to spy my shadow in the sun/ And descant on mine own deformity” (1.1 25-27). (So let’s get this straight in a tangental word association: Deformity brings about the delivery of one of his own blood (perhaps of the same livery?) so that Richard is a devilish deity “whose all not equals Edward’s moiety,” (1.3 236) that is, he is half the son of York whose emblem is the sun, so that Richard is a half-sun shaped like a D, as in    D(evil), D(eliverer), D(issembler), D(isinheritor), D(iffused) and so on). Once Richard has turned his brother to the grave he will buy himself a looking-glass so that he may gaze upon his outward deformity fashionably adorned, but until that time he hopes the sun will shine so he “may see my shadow as I pass” (1.2 250). He “turns the sun to shade,” (1.3 264) a shifting shadow which easily dissembles the figure that casts it, like to the shades of Hades who visit Clarence in his prophetic dream from which he awoke trembling (mysterium tremendum) having passed into the other world, a hellish world from which Richard seems to spring, twisting words and appearances to his favor, so that when he’s suspected in the least of treachery,
    ...then I sigh, and with a piece of scripture/ Tell them that God bids us do good for     evil;/ And thus I clothe my naked villainy/ With odd old ends, stol’n of Holy Writ,/     And seem a saint when most I play the devil. (1.3 332-336)

1 comment:

Cyrus Mulready said...

I like your attention here to the demonic and hellish imagery in Richard's speech, Cliff, and the recognition of that in connection with Clarence's death. The imagery of heaven and hell, angels and demons, becomes more and more pronounced as the play moves forward as to become even heavy-handed by the final moments of the play. It's interesting that Shakespeare begins by making the devil somewhat appealing, as others have noted this week, setting up a necessary reversal by the end of the play.