In the reading questions for act 1 of Richard III, Professor Mulready posted an interactive video of Ian McKellan explaining his interpretation of Richard’s famous introductory speech at the beginning of the play. One of the things that struck me as I listened was his explanation of how Richard feels during this time. McKellan states that Richard feels as if things have changed, but that they are not better. Though “the clouds that loured upon [his] house [are] in the deep bosom of the ocean buried” (3-4) his own clouds are still over head. First of all, he is the third brother, which means he is nothing of importance in a family whose first son inherits the throne. Second, he is physically deformed and claims that he is not “fashionable” and that he is in fact “lamely” (22). He feels less important because of this but more than that, he feels left out because he is not attractive to women or even “dogs” who “bark” at him as he walks by (23). Overall, he feels that although everyone else is happy, that he is still not, and this upsets him more than anything. Because of this Richard decides to plot his way to happiness by making others unhappy with each other, as he is unhappy with everyone else for how he has been left by the wayside.
After discovering this feeling and plan of Richards through the video of Ian McKellan, I began to wonder if his plan would actually work. Will Richard III really be happy after he “prove[s] a villain” (30)? Personally, I believe that he will not. Not only do I believe this because this is The Tragedy of King Richard the Third but because of one of the major themes in the play: the power of language.
Richard III is a Master of manipulation. I mean, He uses language to seduce Lady Anne in front of the corpse of her husband, who he himself murdered! He plans on using this skill with language to create believable versions of “prophesies, libels and dreams” in order to move himself higher in society (33).
Though through our introduction to Richards’s skill, we see that it is almost unmatchable, we do find that his brother George is a match for his talent. Richard even says so himself. He states that “Clarence is well spoken” when talking to the murderers he sends to kill George and that he “may move [their] hearts to pity”, just as he has moved Anne’s heart to love (346, 347). When Clarence is confronted by these murderers and he is not in control, when he needs his language to save him most, it does not. The murderers loyalty to Richard is stronger than George’s skill and he is in the end defeated.
Because it is plain that there is a connection between Richard’s skill with language and that of his brother George, I think that it is probable that there is also a connection between the fate of George and the fate of Richard himself. It seems that George’s failure to use language to get himself out of trouble when he did not have the upper hand, will foreshadow Richard’s fall, when he does not have the upper hand psychologically or physically, as he often has in this first act. Therefore, going back to my original question, I predict that Richard’s plots, driven by his skill with language, will ultimately fail in making him happy.
What does everyone else think?