Introduction: Richard III
Outstanding for its violence and striking for its postmodern preoccupation with prophecy and the supernatural, Richard III renders masterfully one of the most disturbing episodes in later medieval English history. Though its main character, Richard, was unlikely ever to achieve a sympathetic memory, this play almost certainly cemented his popular reputation as an evil, egomaniac “son of hell”, and its account of the murder of the Princes in the Tower has had a lasting historical legacy.
The crazed protagonist’s self-love – “Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I” – is communicated in a variety of ways, both blunt and subtle, over the course of the play. Richard speaks more than a third of the lines in the script and from the very beginning is essentially his own sole ally. Inspired by his ambition to gain the throne, he is capable of total heartlessness – he is ultimately responsible for six deaths, not including his own – and can cover his tracks through a troubling facility for the communication of outright untruth. Like Othello‘s Iago, Richard manipulates those around him through clever language and the exploitation of emotion, leaving in his wake a trail of guilt, grief and fear. Some of the most artful language and captivating tragedy in all of Shakespeare is to be found in this, the playwright’s penultimate history.
Contributed by Emma Mustich