Monday, October 22, 2012

Richard III: Accepted Murderer

Richard kills people left and right and gets away with it it seems. And he doesn’t kill just anyone, but people in high places. He is never imprisoned or punished by any judicial or political means either. It’s not even like he hides his murderous acts. He does lie about them on occasion but for the most part people know who he has killed and he even confesses to it. It is interesting, however, that he never really comes out and says he committed the murders he did clearly; he always uses third person, says it in some other clever way, or just blatantly lies. He blatantly lies about not killing Anne’s husband in Act 1, scene 2 when he says, when speaking to Anne, “I did not kill your husband” (1.ii.93). Then he proceeds to blame Edward, saying “Nay, he is dead, and slain by Edward’s hands” (1.ii.95). Anne wisely counters him, knowing full well that he is lying yet again.
Richard tries to rationalize murdering the king shortly after, when he admits to Anne that he killed him. Anne says, “[The king] is in heaven, where thou shalt never come” and Richard cleverly responds, “Let him thank me, that help to send him thither, / For he was fitter for that place than earth” (1.ii.110-12). He is persistently twisting words around, trying to make himself look good and to justify his heinous acts.
Perhaps it is his wit that keeps him out of trouble with the law, or maybe his incessant lying does the trick. Does he talk his way out of punishment? Or does everyone just know that he has killed men and not seriously punish him because of his place in society? Maybe the laws were different in Shakespeare’s time, particularly concerning royalty. Would he be punished for his murderous acts if he were a peasant or a person of the lower class? Does he get away with murder because people feel bad for him? That surely doesn’t seem to be the case as many greatly detest him and are not afraid to tell him.
Also, the fact that people seem to know about Richard’s wrong-doings and still consider him next in line to be king, or protector in this case, is baffling to me. They are essentially condoning murder, even as a method to get to the throne.


Sam Montagna said...

You ask some really good questions that never occurred to me before and questions that I, now, want answers to. Everyone does seem to accept Richard's crimes as just the fact of life. As for his lying, he has to. He has to try and justify his actions and twist them to make himself look good or he will definitely be punished. I think he has to create an aura of mystery around his crimes by twisting his words and by justifying it so the other characters will just accept it as a mystery. He can avoid punishment and people can suspect him all they want without any definite proof.

Joshua Briggs said...

This post raised some interesting questions indeed. It is possible that these actions took place under the chaos of war. We don't know exactly when murders prior to the start of the play took place (perhaps this is addressed in prior plays), it seems plausible that these murders could have happened on the battle field. This would be another example of Richards ruthlessness, as slaughtering your own soldiers while they are engaged in combat is a cowardly action. As for the murder of Clarence, I wonder how common being executed in the Tower was at the time? Was this a frequent occurrence? I know conditions in the tower were rough, perhaps this ambiguity allows Richard to get away with his crimes unpunished for so long? I look forward to this being addressed later in the play.

Kaitlyn Schleicher said...

I never thought about that before. This is true for many of Shakespeare's plays I believe - where is the punishment? I don't know much about early English history, but I imagine there must have been some way of punishing the wrong-doers or else the country would have criminals creating madness and hysteria left and right. I guess that was up to the king, in which case it makes sense in this play why he never gets in trouble - he is royalty himself. I think it's hard to connect to in a society with DNA tests and life imprisonments.

Cyrus Mulready said...

Josh is on the right track--it's important to note that Richard "murdered" Anne's family during a time of war, a time in which he flourished. I think that part of what Shakespeare is pointing our attention to in this play is the difference between wartime and peacetime, and the fact that Richard cannot recognize the difference. There is a way, in other words, in which the war never really ends for Richard, and I think that is good insight of Jessica's post, that the patterns of violence really pick up from the Wars of the Roses and continue to influence the world of the play.