Richard III
by William Shakespeare

Review by Edward Tanguay
May 27, 1996

Richard is someone to boo every time he comes out. After having killed Anne's husband and father, he has the gall to ask her to marry him, then this:

Anne: He is in heaven, where thou shalt never come.Gloucester: Let him thank me, that holp to send him thither; forhe was fitter for that place than earth.Anne: And thou unfit for any place but hell.Gloucester: Yes, one place else, if you will hear me name it.Anne: Some dungeon.Gloucester: Your bed-chamber.

Boo, hiss, boo . . . Richard is Lucifer and Satan incarnate. He's as solidly and predictably evil as Frank Booth yet as eerily and consciously two-faced as something out of a Stephan King novel. He's a Hitler character--raving mad and starkly evil yet lucid enough to outwardly lie and deceive completely and bitterly. The guy is an evil soul, through and through bad. You hate him from the beginning. He is too bad to be real. He is ugly on top of that. Then why does Anne decide to marry him? What was she thinking? I didn't understand that decision. Later in the play when Queen Elizabeth consented to convince her daughter to marry Richard (after he had already knocked off Anne), I saw that as a ploy to buy time to get her daughter as far away from Richard as possible. But Anne, she really made a mistake.

Do we ever like Richard in this play? I don't think so. I think he is solidly evil from the very beginning and doesn't really get more evil, even when he has the children murdered ("those little bastards in the tower" [!]). I mean, someone who would try to get the wife and daughter of two men he has just killed into bed with him would also kill children--this comes to us as no surprise. In this sense, Richard is not a tragic figure, just a terribly bad and through and through evil person who is finally stopped in his murderous rush of insanity. In this sense, Richard is not real. You can't imagine someone who doesn't have at least some pangs of conscience. He does seem to show SOME affection for his mother (who detests him [note she wished she had "strangled him in her accursed womb"--now THAT'S rancor!]), but then coldly tells her to stop wasting his time and get out of the way of his caravan off to war. No, Richard is one color: the color of complete sin and hate for life and others and goodness. In this sense, this play is too much of a melodrama for me to enjoy it as much as other Shakespeare plays which show human nuances in character (at least regret accompanying evil deeds) in its characters (Othello for instance). The ending of Richard III is disappointingly short, simple, and melodramatic. We hardly even know the good guy (or were we supposed to have gotten to know him in the Henry plays?)

At any rate, what I DID enjoy in this play (as in all Shakespeare plays) is the beautiful language. This play excelled in name-calling:

Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity . . .Never hung poison on a fouler toad.Out of my sight! thou dost infect my eyes.Thou loathed issue of they father's loins!Thou rag of honour!. . . this poisonous bunch-backed toad.O Buckingham, take heed of yonder dog!From forth the kennel of thy womb hath creptA hell-hound that doth hunt us all to death:The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar!

I liked the part where Richard is talking to Stanley while Buckingham keeps interrupting. Shrewd Stanley was wisely keeping his mouth shut to avoid being discovered while the big oaf Buckingham kept cutting in about his promised future dukedom only to be cut off every time by Richard. A nice scene that sculptures each of their three characters.

I knew Shakespeare would not let us get away with having two children murdered without making it as poignant as possible. This from the speech of Tyrrel:

"O, thus," quoth Dighton, "lay the gentle babes":"Thus, thus," quoth Forrest, "girdling one anotherWithin their alabaster innocent arms:Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,Which in their summer beauty kissed each other.A book of prayers on their pillow lay;Which once," quoth Forrest, "almost changed my mind;But O! the devil"--there the villain stopped;Whilst Dighton thus told on: "We smotheredThe most replenished sweet work of NatureThat from the prime creation e'er she framed."

I liked the phrase by Queen Margaret's that signaled the turning point of Richard's power:

So now prosperity begins to mellowAnd drop into the rotten mouth of death.

The volley between Richard and Queen Elizabeth in Act IV, Scene 4 is classic. I would like to see it performed well.

So THIS was the guy who would give his kingdom for a horse! What a little cultural find!

It's an interesting question how much this play mirrors history. I read that Shakespeare played quite a bit with the time (of course, all

of these events didn't happen in a week). I wonder how much he stuck to the historical facts and how much he Shakespearized the raw history of these characters and their doings.

I found that the power swings back and forth (Richard duping and axing his way up, joining Hastings and Buckingham to him, then hacking them off, the "dispatching" of Elizabeths family one by one [or two by two actually]) made the play intriguing to follow.

It's good to know that three other plays by Shakespeare have many of the same characters as this play--kind of a bonus after getting to know who these guys are, which is not easy as they are pretty interbred and a good percetage of them have the same name (Edward, Richard, or Elizabeth). I can't wait to see this play in the theatre someday! (Has Dennis Hopper ever played Richard III? He could add a nice, frustrated, psycho-modern touch to the character, I think!)

Edward Tanguay

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