Tag Archives: Richard III

“Richard III” by William Shakespeare: Deformity and Evil

To really understand this play, you must have a basic understanding of the concept of the great chain of being.

For Medieval and Renaissance thinkers, humans occupied a unique position on the chain of being, straddling the world of spiritual beings and the world of physical creation. Humans were thought to possess divine powers such as reason, love, and imagination. Like angels, humans were spiritual beings, but unlike angels, human souls were “knotted” to a physical body. As such, they were subject to passions and physical sensations—pain, hunger, thirst, sexual desire—just like other animals lower on the chain of being. They also possessed the powers of reproduction unlike the minerals and rocks lowest on the chain of being. Humans had a particularly difficult position, balancing the divine and the animalistic parts of their nature. For instance, an angel is only capable of intellectual sin such as pride (as evidenced by Lucifer’s fall from heaven in Christian belief). Humans, however, were capable of both intellectual sin and physical sins such as lust and gluttony if they let their animal appetites overrule their divine reason.

(Source: Wikipedia)

To emphasize the importance of this concept, Shakespeare uses the word “knot” extensively throughout the text, symbolizing things from marriage to physical form. And just as Shakespeare and other Renaissance thinkers believed in the correspondence between the worldly and the divine realms, they also believed that the physical and the spiritual aspects of an individual were also knotted together.

Richard is a despicable character who seems to lack any redeeming qualities. He revels in his depravity and it is impossible to feel any sense of empathy for this person who is presented as the English equivalent of a Caligula. But what I find the most interesting is that Shakespeare establishes a clear connection between Richard’s physical deformities and his evil nature. In fact, during Richard’s opening soliloquy, the connection is immediately established.

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:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures 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 the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.

(Act I: scene i)

We can contrast this with a description of Edward, whose physical beauty reflects the nobler qualities of a human being.

Hath she forgot already that brave prince,
Edward, her lord, whom I, some three months since,
Stabb’d in my angry mood at Tewksbury?
A sweeter and a lovelier gentleman,
Framed in the prodigality of nature,
Young, valiant, wise, and, no doubt, right royal,
The spacious world cannot again afford
And will she yet debase her eyes on me,
That cropp’d the golden prime of this sweet prince,
And made her widow to a woeful bed?

(Act I: scene ii)

And again, Shakespeare reiterates that an individual’s face, or physical expression, is a direct reflection of what that person is like inside, and the thoughts and feelings that the person has within.

I think there’s never a man in Christendom
That can less hide his love or hate than he;
For by his face straight shall you know his heart.

(Act III: scene iv)

In our modern society, we want to tell ourselves that we do not judge others by their appearances, when in actuality, we still do. Studies have shown that individuals are considered more trustworthy if they have a nicer appearance. And there is the whole issue of judging blacks and people who look Arabic strictly upon how they look. We are not going to change this part of our collective being overnight, but we need to acknowledge this tendency and work toward changing it.

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Review of “Kill Shakespeare: Issue #2”

KillShakespeare_02I read the second issue in the Kill Shakespeare comic series this morning and now I am officially hooked. It has proven to be not only well-written, but visually gripping.

The story continues with Richard III and Hamlet heading out on the quest to find Shakespeare. They are now joined by Iago, who is as crafty in this tale as he is in Othello. There are several confrontations and a building tension between Richard and the unseen army of Macbeth.

There is a scene where Richard “plucks out the eyes” of Hastings that is reminiscent of the great scene in King Lear. The images are extremely graphic and not for the young or squeamish. I will never forget the first time I read King Lear in college and we discussed the “plucking of the eyes” scene. My professor said that she thought it was one of the most horrific scenes written for the stage. I personally find some of the scenes in Titus Andronicus to be more disturbing, but this is right up there.

Finally, there is a great quote spoken by Richard in response to Hamlet’s query regarding Richard’s deformity. Richard replies: “And for my own people to have a ruler who is flawed? It lets them take comfort in their own weaknesses.” This made me think about the state of politics in the US. There are many people who view educated leaders as “elitist” and not to be trusted, while showing support for those politicians who appear less smart because they are viewed as “regular guys.” It is like people want an uneducated leader because it gives them the idea that anyone can become a leader in this country. Rather than having leaders who embody the ideal for which we should strive, we are seeking to being our leaders down to our level.

I will be downloading and reading the rest of the issues soon. Stay tuned for my thoughts on the rest of the series.

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Kill Shakespeare: Issue #1

KillShakespeare_01I recently installed the Comixology app on my iPad, which allows me to download and read digital versions of comics. I do not claim to be knowledgeable about comics, but I enjoy reading them on occasion. Anyway, I started browsing through the free comics and came across Kill Shakespeare. Comics and Shakespeare – how could I go wrong?

There are 12 issues in the series and the first two are free (good way to hook you in). I downloaded the two freebies and figured I would give it a shot. After reading the first issue, I am sure I will be purchasing the last ten.

The story begins with Hamlet being banished to England, with the twist of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exposing Claudius’ plot to have Hamlet killed and swearing allegiance to Hamlet. After getting tossed overboard in a fight with pirates, Hamlet washes ashore and is rescued by Richard III. Richard, along with the three witches (a la Macbeth), convince Hamlet to seek out the wizard William Shakespeare with the goal of stealing his quill, an object of mystical power. In return for Hamlet’s assistance, Richard and the witches promise to restore Hamlet’s father to life. That is where Issue #1 leaves off.

At first, I had difficulty accepting the liberties taken with the characters. Really–Rosencrantz and Guildenstern siding with Hamlet? But as soon as I was able to let go of my preconceived notions of the characters, the story began to work for me, particularly since there were some great lines woven into the story. An example of this is when a malevolent spirit appears to Hamlet and tells him: “Thou art the one who shall pass into the forbidden place. Thou art the one who shall tread upon the globe’s floor.” I love that the writer tied in an allusion to the Globe Theater.

As far as the artwork goes, I found it great. The panels shift from dull and gloomy where appropriate, to vivid and colorful during scenes of vibrant fantasy. The characters are also very lifelike and not stiff at all.

If you are a Shakespeare buff like I am, and you also enjoy a graphic novel or comic on occasion, then you will want to check out this comic. Personally, I am eager to get on with the next issue. I’m curious to see how other Shakespearean characters are tied into the story. I’ll be sure to let you know my thoughts on the subsequent installments.

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