SHAKESPEARE*S RICHARD III

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SHAKESPEARE’S RICHARD III
Bevington, Welsh and Greenwald,
Shakespeare: Script, Stage, Screen.
(Chapter 11)
Plot Overview
After a long civil war between the royal family of
York and the royal family of Lancaster, England
enjoys a period of peace under King Edward IV
and the victorious Yorks. But Edward’s younger
brother, Richard, resents Edward’s power and
the happiness of those around him. Malicious,
power-hungry, and bitter about his physical
deformity, Richard begins to aspire secretly to
the throne—and decides to kill anyone he has to
in order to become king.
Using his intelligence and his skills of
deception and political manipulation,
Richard begins his campaign for the
throne. He manipulates a
noblewoman, Lady Anne, into
marrying him—even though she
knows that he murdered her first
husband. He has his own older
brother, Clarence, executed, and
shifts the burden of guilt onto his
sick older brother King Edward in
order to accelerate Edward’s illness
and death. After King Edward dies,
Richard becomes lord protector of
England—the figure in charge until
the elder of Edward’s two sons grows
up.
Next Richard kills the court
noblemen who are loyal to the
princes, most notably Lord Hastings,
the lord chamberlain of England. He
then has the boys’ relatives on their
mother’s side—the powerful
kinsmen of Edward’s wife, Queen
Elizabeth—arrested and executed.
With Elizabeth and the princes now
unprotected, Richard has his political
allies, particularly his right-hand
man, Lord Buckingham, campaign to
have Richard crowned king. Richard
then imprisons the young princes in
the Tower and, in his bloodiest move
yet, sends hired murderers to kill
both children.
By this time, Richard’s reign of
terror has caused the common
people of England to fear and
loathe him, and he has alienated
nearly all the noblemen of the
court—even the power-hungry
Buckingham. When rumors begin
to circulate about a challenger to
the throne who is gathering
forces in France, noblemen defect
in droves to join his forces. The
challenger is the earl of
Richmond, a descendant of a
secondary arm of the Lancaster
family, and England is ready to
welcome him.
Richard, in the meantime, tries to
consolidate his power. He has his
wife, Queen Anne, murdered, so
that he can marry young
Elizabeth, the daughter of the
former Queen Elizabeth and the
dead King Edward. Though young
Elizabeth is his niece, the alliance
would secure his claim to the
throne. Nevertheless, Richard has
begun to lose control of events,
and Queen Elizabeth manages to
forestall him. Meanwhile, she
secretly promises to marry young
Elizabeth to Richmond.
Conclusion
Richmond finally invades England.
The night before the battle that
will decide everything, Richard has
a terrible dream in which the
ghosts of all the people he has
murdered appear and curse him,
telling him that he will die the next
day. In the battle on the following
morning, Richard is killed, and
Richmond is crowned King Henry
VII. Promising a new era of peace
for England, the new king is
betrothed to young Elizabeth in
order to unite the warring houses
of Lancaster and York.
RICHARD III (1592-1594)
Although the play is long and confusing, it
remains one of Shakespeare’s most popular. It
continues the story of HENRY VI about the 15th
century rivalry of the Houses of Lancaster and
York
-Richard’s rise to power
-Richard’s fall at the hands of the Earl of Richmond
(Henry VII) at the Battle of Bosworth (1485)
First Quarto (1597)
THE TRAGEDY OF KING
RICHARD THE THIRD,
CONTAINING, HIS
TREACHEROUS PLOTS AGAN
HIS BROTHER CLARENCE: THE
PITIFUL MURDER OF HIS
INNOCENT NEPHEWS; HIS
TYRANNICAL USURPATION:
WITH THE WHOLE COURSE OF
HIS DETESTED LIFE, AND
MOST DESERVED DEATH
The evil in the play is more fascinating than the good
Richard (Duke of Gloucester) emerges from
the events in the 2nd and 3rd parts of Henry VI
(1589-1592)
I can add colors to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for
advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to
school.
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
Tut! Were it farther off, I’ll pluck it
down.
(Henry VI, Part 3: 3.2.191-195)
Richard’s ascendancy
At the end of Henry
VI, he helps to stab
Henry’s son Edward
on the battlefield,
then murders
Henry himself in
the Tower of
London. Finally,
comparing himself
to Judas, he kisses
his brother’s son,
the infant Prince
Edward.
Characters: Conspirators
• Richard dominates most of the play. At 1164
lines, his role is second in length only to Hamlet.
• He grounds his villainy in his physical deformity
that prevents him from being a lover—therefore,
he has “determined to prove a villain”
• He is performer as well as audience. Note how
he gloats after successfully wooing Lady Anne
(1.2.230-232)
Other characters
• THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM who
assists Richard’s plots
• EDWARD IV, who dies in Act 2
• GEORGE, DUKE OF CLARENCE, who
dies in the tower
• WILLIAM, LORD HASTINGS
• LADY ANNE, the daughter of Henry
VI who marries Richard 
• QUEEN MARGARET, a prophetess
• RICHMOND, Richard’s chief
antagonist and nemesis
Sources and Inspirations
• Efforts to rehabilitate Richard’s image
(largely by blaming the Tudors for
smearing him for their own political
gain) have gone largely unheeded
• His major sources were Hall’s UNIONS
and Holinshed’s CHRONICLES
• Other inspirations may have included
THE FOUNDATION OF RHETORIC (1563)
a school primer that the Young
Shakespeare probably read
Sources and Inspirations
• THE MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES
• THE TRAGEDIES OF SENECA
• The conventions of the stage
Machiavel
• The medieval morality plays (and
the personified character of Vice)
• Marlowe’s JEW OF MALTA (1590)
uses soliloquy as Richard does
LANGUAGE AND STRUCTURE
• Richard’s speeches span the stylistic range of Shakespeare
and are filled with rhetorical flourishes and antithesis
• “His hyperbolic speeches, his rants, and his blustering
promises are so tonally ambiguous they are as likely to elicit
laughter as fear.”
• A spirit of camp has permeated several notable
interpretations of the play, notable the spoof by Neil Simon in
THE GOODBYE GIRL and in the Richard Longcraine film with
Ian McKellan
LANGUAGE AND STRUCTURE
• Richard is determined to prove a villain, but he cannot
entirely control events…Queen Margaret represents the
remnants of the defeated Lancasters and forecasts the
Tudors future…her curses suggest desperation and divine
retribution
• Other women in the play express the sense of loss, grief
and grievance
• The structure of foreordained events turns in such a way
that the very actions Richard takes to insure his power,
once he reaches the pinnacle, assure his downfall and the
fulfillment of Margaret’s prophecies
THEMES AND ISSUES
• CONSCIENCE AND AMORALITY are key themes in Richard III
• Buckingham is executed on All Souls Day
• The executioners of Clarence argue about the rightness of their
act
• Tyrrell’s account of the killing of the princes is filled with “dregs
of conscience”
• Shakespeare clearly contrasts Richard and Richmond…Richard is
a hellhound whereas Richmond is calm, princely, and pious
• Unlike Clarence and Buckingham, Richard faces his death
unrepentant
• And, unlike IAGO, Richard rationalizes his evil as the effect of his
physical deformity
• In Richard’s mind, MIGHT is the only RIGHT
REGICIDE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
Richard is a devil figure come to cleanse the
kingdom for its earlier crime of deposing and
murdering Richard II
Richard is an energetic villain
THE ART OF THE ACTOR AND THE SEDUCTIVE
POWER OF WORDS
Richard attracts women not as a lover but as a
performer
STAGING CHALLENGES
• Traditionally, the play has been cut and
amended, since the time of Colley Cibber,
the 18th century actor-manager
• Few productions have staged the entire
script
• Passages most often omitted are the formal
arguments between Richard and the Queen
in 4.4…the long speeches in the
middle…omitting characters (often Stanley
and Queen Margaret)…In his film, Olivier cut
most of Richard’s conscience-afflicted
speeches before Bosworth
STAGING CHALLENGES
• The “hump” has been played in various ways
by different performers
• Richard’s nightmare is a major challenge
because it is presented to the sleeping rivals
Richard and Richmond
• Stage battles, especially Bosworth Field
challenge producers and actors
RICHARD III ONSTAGE
Richard III is a popular role among the greatest actors drawn by his
villainy and melodramatic excesses as with Edmund Kean, Edwin Booth
and Henry Irving in the 19th century and Donald Wolfit, Laurence
Olivier and Antony Sher in the 20th. Actors drawn to the more
psychological underpinnings include William Macready (19th century)
and John Barrymore, Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer and Ian
McKellan in the 20th century.
Booth, Olivier, Sher (L to R)
Elizabethan Age
The first productions
probably occurred at THE
THEATRE. One stage
direction in 3.7 suggests
that Richard and his
bishops appear above in
the gallery, an efficient
use of the Elizabethan
stagehouse
18th and 19th Centuries
SPECTACLE AND MELODRAMA
triumph
Between 1700 and 1850, the
acting version in use was a version
devised by Colley Cibber for his
production at Drury Lane
Even in the Olivier film, some
vestiges of the Cibber adaptation
persist with its emphasis entirely
on Richard’s villainy.
David Garrick
First played the role in 1741 and is depicted in
the famous Hogarth portrait 
Edmund Kean
William Hazlitt described
Kean’s performance as
“more refined than Cooke;
more bold, varied and
original than Kemble…” in
a famous review in 1814.
William Charles Macready
Covent Garden, 1819
Played the Cibber version
and two years later, did a
version more closely
adhering to Shakespeare’s
original text.
Samuel Phelps and Henry Irving
20th Century
Alec Guinness, 1947
Anthony Sher, 1984
RSC – War of the Roses
The War of the Roses
series were three plays
adapted from the three
Henry VI plays and Richard
III. They were generally
considered to be the
pinnacle of the RSC’s
achievments. Directed by
Peter Hall, Designed by
John Bury and adapted by
John Barton.
RSC 8 Histories Marathon
Visitors to London couls
see all eight history plays,
more or less uncut, during
the 2000-1 season at the
Barbican. Michael Boyd
directed a “bloody closein staging” of Richard III
and the Henry VI plays.
On Television and Film
FIRST SILENT FILM was in
1908 directed by J. Stuart
Blackton and William V.
Ramous.
Frank R. Benson appeared
as Richard in 1911 
Silent Films
Frederick Warde, 1912
Final silent film was a German
production in 1919.
1995 - Olivier
1982 – Jane Howell (BBC)
This production is widely
regarded as one of the most
successful of the BBC series.
It retains most of the text.
Richard’s is the only death
shown in the film. He is
shown on his knees as he is
impaled upon Richmond’s
sword.
1995 – Richard Loncraine
Adapted from Shakespeare
starring Ian McKellen,
Annette Bening, Jim
Broadbent, Robert Downey
Jr., Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin
Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith,
John Wood and Dominic
West.The film relocates the
play's events to a fictionalized
version of Britain in the
1930s. The film was based
upon a NT production staged
by Richard Eyre.
1996 – Looking for Richard
Al Pacino's deeply-felt
rumination on
Shakespeare's significance
and relevance to the
modern world through
interviews and an indepth analysis of "Richard
III."
Spin-offs
The Tower of London (1939) remade in 1962 by Roger
Corman. Vincent Price
appeared in both films.
Kevin Spacey
BAM, New York, 2012
Peter Sellers and the Beatles
Craig Ferguson
Ian McKellan on the opening speech
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York,

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