Sunday, October 21, 2012

Understanding the Motivation behind Richard's Villainy

Throughout Shakespeare’s plays, villains are often ill treated individuals who are looking for revenge. In The Tragedy of Othello, we are clearly told the motivation of Iago’s villainy--  Cassio’s promotion over him, and the possibility of Othello sleeping with his wife. On the other hand, we do not clearly hear about the inciting incident that causes Richard’s villainy in Richard III. Instead, the play begins with Richard in a state of purely evil thought, and we see no real explanation for this behavior. Richard Gloucester says, “And therefore since I cannot prove a lover/ to entertain these fair well-spoken day,/ I am determined to prove a villain/ And hate the idle pleasure of these days./ Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,/ By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams/ To set my brother Clarence and the King/ In deadly hate against the other” (1.1.30-35). In this opening speech, Richard reveals his villainous intentions to the audience, but he does not make his motives entirely clear. He only says that he will be a villain since he is deformed and cannot be a lover. This explanation hardly shows any type of internal motivation to become a villain.

In Act I of the play, we are left to assume that Richard’s motivation to ruin his brother’s reputation comes from jealousy and a lust for political power. As the youngest son of the family, Richard does not have the same accessibility to land and power as his brother does. In the opening speech, Richard says, “But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,/ Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;/ I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty/To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;/ I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,/ Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,/ Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time/ Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,/ And that so lamely and unfashionable/ That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;/ Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,/ Have no delight to pass away the time,/ Unless to spy my shadow in the sun/And descant on mine own deformity”(1.1.14-27). Here we see Richard feeling bitter and alone at a time of pure happiness. Everyone is joyfully celebrating the end of the war, but he is left with his deformities. This therefore leaves Richard with the short end of the deal. While everyone sees the glory and victory of the situation, he is left with his crippling injuries. Similarly, he is left at the short end of the deal in his family. While his brother George (Duke of Clarence) has the ability to rise to power upon of death of his father, Richard does not have this same accessibility to political power. Here, we see that the happiness of other individuals have come to mock Richard’s unfortunate situation. The inciting incident that causes Richard’s villainous action in the play could therefore be considered the mocking celebration in the mix of Richard’s personal suffering.


Krystal Haight said...


Yes, Richard definitely receives the “short end of the deal in his family!” In fact (I cannot believe that I am writing this), if he was not so evil, I have to admit that I would actually feel sorry for him. Before you think that I am crazy, give me a chance to explain. First of all, he states how ugly he is, and how he feels as though he cannot participate in the celebration due to his deformed figure. Therefore, I think Richard has some serious self-conscious/self-esteem issues. Furthermore, he does not have a good chance/opportunity to gain power, since he is not the oldest brother in his family. I can see why he would be so upset, since power was extremely sought-after in Shakespeare’s time. As you write, “the happiness of other individuals has come to mock Richard’s unfortunate situation.” He is an unattractive, powerless man among better looking, powerful men. Thus, I can understand why he is so miserable. With that said, his villainous attitude is not justifiable!

Liz Schiavo said...

I agree, I do feel bad for Richard but then again I don't. Poor Richard, he's slightly deformed and wants power in the worst way but then again, how bad is his deformity really? Is he just using it as an excuse? "I'm deformed and I have no power, I'm going to seek revenge and make everyone else miserable because I am.."

Cyrus Mulready said...

One of the things that makes Richard an interesting figure (to me, at least) is that he embodies some of the values that we admire in our society. He overcomes physical limitations and disability, he succeeds in a world where he shouldn't, and he seizes power even though lineage is not in his favor. The problem, of course, is that he does this through murder and bold manipulation! But the interpretations of Richard that interest me tend to be those that also recognize that there is more to him than a simple villain.