Throughout the play ‘Richard III’, the various facets of the main character Richard emerge and are displayed to the reader in a number of ways. Fixated on his goal of becoming King, Richard’s behaviour and remarks seem to centre on this obsession. This becomes evident to the reader from the opening soliloquy, in which Richard uses a well-used technique of his, pathos, to try and generate pity from the reader/audience. Richard uses this technique on a number of occasions, using his deformities as a way to gain the upper hand against his enemies.
For example, in the very opening soliloquy, he uses his deformities as an excuse for his evil, ‘And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these well-spoken days, Then I am determined to prove a villain’ 1 Richard again uses his deformities as ammunition in an argument against the Woodvilles, the royal family, whilst also exhibiting to the reader his acting skills, pretending with mock horror that he is disgusted at Elizabeth and the Woodvilles for implying that Richard hates her and her family, ‘Because I cannot flatter and look fair, Smile in men’s faces, smooth, deceive and cog…
I must be held a rancorous enemy. ‘ 2 Richard’s frequent use of his acting skills also enables him to convince many people many times throughout the play that he is something that he is not. For example, Richard and Buckingham play-act in front of the Mayor in an attempt to frighten him into thinking that an attack is imminent on the Tower of London, ‘Lord Mayor – Look to the drawbridge there! Hark, a drum! Catesby, o’erlook the walls! Lord Mayor, the reason we have sent – Look back, defend thee, here are enemies! ‘ 3.
Another example of Richard’s clever acting is shown to the reader before Richard accepts the throne, when he intentionally lets himself be spotted reading a prayer book by Buckingham, in an attempt to appear saintly and modest, ‘And see, a book of prayer in his hand, True ornaments to know a holy man’ 4 During this very same act, he pretends to be reluctant to take to the throne, adopting the attitude of a humble, ordinary man who does not want such power and responsibility. He even goes as far as to say that he believes he is unfit to become King, arguing again that his deformities prevent him from achieving what he wants,
‘Yet so much is my poverty of spirit, So mighty and so many my defects, That I would rather hide from my greatness’ 5 The reader may sense almost a double irony at this statement, as by this point in the play the reader should have formed the opinion that Richard really isn’t fit to become King. Richard takes a risk by making this statement, as he must be well aware of the unrest that he is causing and the enemies that he is making throughout the play. Richard takes many risks throughout the play, risks that are fuelled by Richard’s desire to gain power.
Shakespeare portrays Richard’s burning desire to become King as bordering on the insane, and this is exemplified by the enormous risk Richard takes when he gives Anne the chance to kill him, ‘Lo, here I lend thee this sharp-pointed sword… I lay it naked to the deadly stroke And humbly beg the death upon my knee’ 6 Richard demonstrates to the reader during this scene his manipulative skills and his wonderful command of the English language, using his power of words to bring Anne under his spell, ‘Look how my ring encompasseth thy finger, Even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart’ 7.
Richard also uses flattery in this scene as he manipulates Anne, once again using his quick wittedness and his way with words, ‘Teach not thy lip for such scorn, for it was made For kissing, lady, not for such contempt. ‘ 8 During this scene Richard also exhibits the first signs of his arrogance, as, having succeeded in wooing Anne, he proceeds to brag to the reader in a soliloquy about his brilliance, implying that he thinks people are disposable, ‘Was ever woman in this humur wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won? I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long. ‘ 9.
This soliloquy also shows Richard’s darker side, as he clearly shows no remorse for the murders that he has committed, ‘What, I that killed her husband and his father… And yet to win her, all the world to nothing! Ha! ‘ 10 Richard’s mocking and sardonic tone that he adopts throughout most of this scene is characteristic of the way he behaves, and although the terrible things that Richard as done far outweighs the good, the audience cannot help but marvel at the strange humour of the man, and his character remains deeply absorbing throughout the entire play, as more facets of his character are revealed.