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Richard III Essay, Research Paper
1. "The tragedy of Richard III lies in the progressive isolation of
its protagonist". Discuss.
From the very opening of the play when Richard III enters "solus",
the protagonist’s isolation is made clear. Richard’s isolation progresses
as he separates himself from the other characters and breaks the natural
bonds between Man and nature through his efforts to gain power.
The first scene of the play begins with a soliloquy, which
emphasizes Richard’s physical isolation as he appears alone as he speaks to
the audience. This idea of physical isolation is heightened by his
references to his deformity, such as "rudely stamp’d…Cheated of feature
by Dissembling Nature, deformed, unfinished. This deformity would be an
outward indication to the audience of the disharmony from Nature and
viciousness of his spirit. As he hates "the idle pleasures of these days"
and speaks of his plots to set one brother against another, Richard seems
socially apart from the figures around him, and perhaps regarded as an
outsider or ostracized because of his deformity. His separation from is
family is emphasized when he says "Dive, thought’s down to my soul" when he
sees his brother approaching. He is unable to share his thought with his
own family as he is plotting against them. Thus, we are given hints of his
physical, social and spiritual isolation which is developed throughout the
play. But despite these hints, he still refers to himself as part of the
House of York, shown in the repeated use of "Our".
The concept of Richard’s physical isolation is reinforced in his
dealings with Anne in Act I scene ii. She calls him "thou lump of foul
deformity" and "fouler toad" during their exchange. Despite these insults,
she still makes time to talk to Richard, and by the end of their exchange,
she has taken his ring and been "woo’d" by him. After Richard has
successfully gained the throne, he isolates himself when he asks the crowd
to "stand all apart" in Act IV scene ii. And later, when Richard dreams,
he is completely alone. Physical isolation in Richard’s deformity wins
sympathy from the audience as we pity his condition. But Richard uses his
deformity as a tool against the other characters, to portray them as
victimizing Richard. Thus the sense of tragedy is lessened by his own
actions, even though his isolation may become greater as the play
Richard’s psychological isolation is conveyed through his lack of
conscience in his murderous acts. Nowhere does he feel remorse for his
murders, until Act V scene iii when he exclaims "Have mercy Jesu!" and "O
coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!". In this turning point,
Richard’s division from his own self is made clear from "I and I", and "Is
there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am!" He has conflicting views of himself
and realizes that "no creature" loves him, not even himself. We also never
the "real" mind of Richard, for he is always playing a role, of a loving
brother to Clarence, a lover to Anne or a victim to the others. We feel
sympathy for Richard as he awakes in a vulnerable position and for the
first time acknowledges the evil that he has done. But as he only reveals
his feelings of guilt in the last act of the play, we do not see him in
internal turmoil and thus the sense of psychological tragedy cannot be
Socially, Richard is isolated from both the upper and lower classes
of society. In Act I scene iii, Richard sarcastically calls Elizabeth
"sister", and she contemptuously calls him "Brother of Gloucester" making
a mockery of familial bonds. Margaret calls him "cacodemon" and "devil",
and any unity that the characters have on stage is temporary and
superficial. In act III, the citizens are said to be "mum" and "deadly
pale", which gives a sense of quiet opposition to Richard’s activities.
Richard is thus separated from all around him. Temporarily, we see Richard
and Buckingham share a kind of bond, as Richard calls him "My other self",
"My Oracle" and "My prophet". But they part when Buckingham hesitates to
kill the young princes when Richard says "I wish the bastards dead". This
is the only time the audience sees Richard act with any other man, but we
realize that it is for purely political purposes and that the union exists
only while Buckingham remains useful to him. Our sympathy for Richard is
limited as we see that he has no true friendships, and does not genuinely
care for his family or friends. Thus even in his increasing isolation the
sense of tragedy upon his death is not really saddening to the audience as
there is no real sense of waste at his loss.
Richard isolates himself from God, as he claims to be above God’s
law and only uses religion as a tool to appear holy before he is King. But
ironically, although he breaks the bonds between man and Nature, he is a
tool of Divine Justice as he kill those who were sinners, for example
Clarence who recalls his horrible dream and realizes his guilt early in the
play. As the murders accumulate so does his separation from God, and the
need for his death increases. But being closer to his death brings him
closer and closer to being with God. Thus although Richard may not realize
it, he is never too far from God.
But Richard does not increasingly isolate himself from the
audience. From our omniscient position, we share in Richard’s wit,
sarcasm, and the dramatic irony brought about when other characters are not
fully aware of the implication of his words. Richard also shares his
feelings with us, although he is not always truthful. But the fact that
he enjoys his villainy to such a great extent, and feels no remorse for his
murders reduces him to a figure of Vice, and is not really seen to be a
tragic figure of great proportions.
In his killing, we see the guilt of Clarence, King Edward, Rivers,
Hastings Buckingham and Lady Anne exposed before their deaths, along with
all those who die. Thus their deaths are necessary and the audience
remembers that. Also, the deaths appear off-stage, which lessens the
impact of their deaths.
The most poignant part of the play occurs in seeing the young
princes talk happily and innocently to their uncle and "Lord Protector".
York says "I shall not sleep quiet in the Tower", and we pity them, as they
are young and afraid, and are forced to go there because, as the Prince
says, "My Lord Protector needs will have it so". The children had appeared
happy , and the Prince had shown wit and intelligence in his conversation
with his uncle. This appears to be the greatest tragic loss in the play,
which is heightened because of their youth and innocence. The tragedy of
the protagonist is felt because of his attractiveness as a villain and as
someone who is not constrained by the rules of society. However, the
audience never forgets that he is wicked and therefore we cannot feel a
sense of great loss of potential or waste in his death.
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