A hero is defined as “a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability, an illustrious warrior, a person- a man admired for noble achievements & qualities (e. g. courage), the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work”. A villain is defined as “a scoundrel, rascal; also a criminal, a character in a story or play whose evil actions affect the plot”. I feel as if I should define “antihero” as this could be a relevant term for Richard. An antihero is defined as “a protagonist who lacks traditional heroic qualities (e. g. courage).
The question is very relevant to the character of Richard. I believe this is because he encompasses two personalities, which in itself makes him villainous, but also makes him a character of several dimensions. Certain qualities fall into the categories of “villainous” & “heroic” but Richard’s character is not simply one or the other, since he embodies characteristics which fall into both categories. During Richard’s life, there was a great lack of political stability. The Wars of the Roses (which lasted 30 years) was fought between the houses of Lancaster (red rose), & York (white rose).
By the end of the play, the crown belongs to Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who is linked to Lancaster. It is often thought that Tudor monarchs encouraged a particular view of history which claimed they were the rightful monarchs. Therefore, if Richard were to be portrayed as a villain, the hero of the story would surely be Richmond, with him as the main character defeating Richard in the finale. However, he is not the main character, and plays a backseat role in the story. I think this is likely to affect my conclusion as to whether Richard is a hero or a villain.
In the 16th century, Richard’s deformity would have been perceived as a curse, and he most probably would have been ridiculed in society, so the audience are more likely to have seen him as a villain in my view, and despite his charm would’ve have wished him a bitter end, in contrast to modern day audiences. An important factor in his perception is the staging of Richard III. Because he has a friendly relationship with the audience, they are not going to mistrust him or look upon him in a bad light. Richard addresses the audience from the outset, & because of this, the audience have no reason to doubt him.
Also in his opening soliloquy, he gains a certain level of sympathy from modern day audiences due to his deformity “But I – that am not shaped for sportive tricks…. I – that am rudely stamped….. Cheated of feature by dissembling nature”, where the use of the language “cheated” implies he has been dealt a harsh hand, his situation is not fair, & most importantly, he has done nothing to deserve his deformity. However, he perhaps loses sympathy, & shows villainous qualities in the following part of the soliloquy “Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous…as I am subtle, false, treacherous” (lines 32-37 act 1 scene 1). He admits he possesses villainous qualities of being subtle, false & treacherous.
He has not been made to think this, he knows it. He admits it, & he is (at least with the audience) honest about his evil. However, this does not make the audience dislike him, nor wish him a bitter end. If anything it shows him to have charm, which is potentially a heroic or a villainous quality. Overall, in this opening speech, the heroic qualities he has shown are: charm, honesty, charisma, intelligence & he has endeared himself to the audience.
The villainous qualities he has shown are: treachery, disloyalty, jealousy, self pity, & he has shown he is false, double crossing, & power hungry. Also, to some extent he is a rebel, a non-conformist. This could be heroic or villainous, in the sense that he abides by his own rules (heroic), or that he is against society (villainous). Some qualities however, like intelligence, can fall into both categories of “heroic” or “villainous”. Richard’s role in the story can easily classify him as a hero. As I mentioned before, in my definition of the word hero, Richard is the principal male character in this story.
Nearly every other character has a supporting role, & Buckingham is the next biggest character, who would definitely not be classified as a hero due to the fact he is Richard’s right hand man. Again, as I have already mentioned, the other obvious choice for the role of the hero in this story could have gone to Richmond, but as his role is too small in the story the audience doesn’t have a chance to empathise with him. If he had told the story from his perspective, there is no doubt whatsoever that he would have been the flawless hero & Richard would be the dastardly villain.